01/04/2002 12:00AM

Lake Lady explores deeper waters

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NEW ORLEANS - Lake Lady drowned her opposition in Kentucky last fall, winning her last two starts by a combined 20 lengths. Now it's time to see how she swims in deeper waters.

With seemingly limitless potential, Lake Lady makes her stakes debut Sunday in the $75,000 Thelma Stakes, a six-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies at Fair Grounds. Lake Lady faces 10 rivals, including the Pontalba Stakes winner Flick, the only horse to have beaten Lake Lady in her three-start career.

Lake Lady's loss came in her debut at Keeneland, when she raced without Lasix and suffered through a wide trip over a muddy racetrack.

There has been no touching her since. Lake Lady won her maiden

24 days later at Churchill Downs by more than eight lengths and came right back to win a Churchill allowance race by more than 11 lengths. She also showed a dimension that trainer Steve Asmussen didn't really know existed in her.

"It's something you can't see in the morning," said Asmussen. "When they get to the eighth pole after having already run a good pace, and they lean forward and take off like that."

However impressive she might have been this fall, Lake Lady must still prove she belongs in stakes company. "Definitely, this is a bridge race for her," Asmussen said.

Asmussen would like to stretch out Lake Lady to two turns, in hopes of winning major stakes races later in the Fair Grounds meet, and part of his plan for the Thelma is to get Lake Lady in behind horses and teach her more than she had learned during favorable trips that led to blowout victories.

"We'll try to get her to settle early," he said. "She had an outside draw in all those races. She's going to eat some dirt this time."

Well, maybe not. Lake Lady has drawn outside again, breaking from post 11, and jockey Donnie Meche may not have much chance to get her in behind horses.

Flick, who has won two of her four career starts for trainer Tom Amoss, has worked four times since the Nov. 25 Pontalba - probably her best race - and should be set for another top performance.

The field also includes Vicki Vallencourt, 4 1/2-length winner of the Indian Princess at Keeneland, where she beat Purple Princess, who runs in the Thelma and was second in the Pontalba.

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