03/11/2003 12:00AM

Lady Tak proves she's top-notch

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NEW ORLEANS - Lady Tak went into last weekend an undefeated filly with something to prove on a national level. She came out of it an easy winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks and a leading contender for the most important 3-year-old filly race in the country, the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.

But Lady Tak has other business before the May 1 Oaks. Trainer Steve Asmussen confirmed on Monday that Lady Tak's next scheduled race is the Grade 1 Ashland on April 5 at Keeneland.

"This way we can train her here [at Fair Grounds] and go straight to Kentucky," said Asmussen.

Fair Grounds closes at the end of March, so when Lady Tak ships north with Asmussen's Kentucky string, her preparation for the Ashland will essentially be complete.

Lady Tak, owned by the Heiligbrodt Racing Stable, won her first four starts without being challenged, but her pedigree tilts toward sprinting, not stamina, and her relatively slight frame and intense early speed suggested Lady Tak might have distance limitations. Instead, her 3 1/2-length win Saturday over Atlantic Ocean in the Grade 2 Oaks had observers here still buzzing days later. It was not just the wide margin of her victory over talented horses, but the way Lady Tak won her first attempt at a true route, rating well behind a slow pace and taking over with a dazzling move coming off the far turn.

"I think she came out of the race in great shape," Asmussen said. "She ate everything up. It's just a pleasure to be associated with a filly as good as this."

Belle of Perintown finished third and was no match for Lady Tak in the Oaks, but she could take another shot at Lady Tak next month in the Ashland, trainer Eddie Kenneally said on Monday.

"We'll look at the Ashland and the Fantasy" at Oaklawn, Kenneally said. "It will be one of those two."

Belle of Perintown won the Grade 2 Silverbulletday by more than eight lengths three weeks before the Oaks, but she had less racing luck this time. "She was stuck in a little pocket out there, but I'm not making excuses," Kenneally said. "She ran very well."

Pimlico Special, by way of Ben Ali

Trainer Neil Howard's goal is to get Mineshaft a Grade 1 win, and Howard has set his sights on the Grade 1 Pimlico Special on May 16. If Mineshaft's campaign develops according to the tentative plan, he would also start in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap later this summer at Churchill Downs.

Howard has toyed with various plans for the colt since his convincing win here March 2 in the New Orleans Handicap, but he and Mineshaft's owners have come up with a campaign that could start with the April 25 Ben Ali at Keeneland. The Ben Ali is a Grade 3 race with a $100,000 purse, but it would set Mineshaft up for the Pimlico Special, which returns this season after a one-year absence.

Mineshaft also remains under consideration for the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. "If that were still a Grade 1, we'd be there," Howard said.

On Wednesday, Mineshaft will have his first work since the New Orleans Handicap, "an easy half-mile, just to stretch his legs," said Howard.

"Knock on wood, he came out of the last race in great shape. We don't plan to back off on him now. He's still losing the baby fat on his hindquarters," Howard said.

Meanwhile, the racing career of the Howard-trained 3-year-old Political Risk remains on hold. An impressive winner in his six-furlong debut, Political Risk was entered in a six-furlong allowance for Sunday and a two-turn allowance for Thursday, but both races failed to attract sufficient entries and were scrapped.

Bonapaw returns to sprinting

For now, Bonapaw's route experiment has ended. Third in the two-turn Whirlaway here Feb. 9, Bonapaw set the pace but faded badly in the stretch run of the New Orleans Handicap. His next start will come Sunday in the Pelleteri Breeders' Cup, a six-furlong race that he won two years ago.

"We're going to sprint again," trainer Norman Miller said as he cooled out Bonapaw after the gelding's morning exercise on Monday.

Despite his recent races, Bonapaw has held his weight well and still looks fresh, and Miller has been pleased with the horse's recent training.

Bonapaw's only sprint start this meet produced a last-place finish Jan. 12 in the Colonel Power Handicap, but the race came less than two weeks after he had returned to training following a winter break.

Can 'Tiger' catch Prince Consort?

Thursday's ninth-race feature has a short field and a simple plot line. Prince Consort will race on the lead, and Halo's Tiger will try to run him down.

The six-furlong race, for second-level allowance horses or $40,000 claimers, drew a field of only five. On paper, Prince Consort and Halo's Tiger are the standouts. Prince Consort may lack the quality Halo's Tiger possesses but he has sprint speed, and Halo's Tiger does not.

Halo's Tiger rallied to win his last try at six furlongs - which came Aug. 17 at Arlington - but in his most recent start he tired in the stretch of a route race and finished sixth as the 2-1 favorite. Trainer Al Stall waited 23 days before Halo's Tiger's next timed workout, and the brief freshening could produce a sharper effort.

Prince Consort just raced March 4, when he finished second in a race at this class level. Prince Consort stalked the pace and made a run at Kristy's Excellent, the early leader, but a speed bias cut down his rally and Kristy's Excellent held on for a one-length win. With less early pace in Thursday's race, Prince Consort becomes the one to catch.