11/05/2004 12:00AM

Many willing to test Lady Tak

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Although Lady Tak will be favored, she must cope with 11 rivals in the Churchill Downs Distaff.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - They're not running scared from Lady Tak; they're just running, period. Twelve fillies and mares passed the entry box to race Sunday in the $200,000 Churchill Downs Distaff, a Grade 2 handicap that surely will have Lady Tak as a solid favorite but drew a host of intriguing challengers nonetheless.

, with John Velazquez in from New York to ride for trainer Steve Asmussen, brings a glitzy record into the one-mile CD Distaff, and early projections were that her lofty reputation would limit the field size. But that's certainly not what happened Friday when entries were taken, and that's a very good thing as far as racing fans are concerned.

Asmussen, the runaway national leader in wins this year, has always been high on Lady Tak, so he is unfazed about who and how many have shown up to test her.

"She's shown what she can do, short or long or in between," said Asmussen.

Indeed, with 10 wins from 17 starts, Lady Tak has little to prove. Last year at 3, she won the Grade 1 Test Stakes in eye-popping fashion, and although she appeared to have lost a step or two during the winter, she has come back to win four of her last five races, including a triumph four weeks ago in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom at Belmont Park.

Asmussen concedes that the distance of the CD Distaff may be stretching the outer limits of Lady Tak's effectiveness, but "she ran well in races like the Kentucky Oaks at a mile and an eighth and some other two-turn races. The one-turn mile should be well within her scope. She's trained well lately, and I think she'll run a big race."

As the 123-pound highweight, Lady Tak will spot her rivals four to 12 pounds starting from post 3. Among her notable challengers are My Boston Gal (post 2) and Mayo on the Side (post 10). Their trainer, Carl Nafzger, is going for his third straight win in this race, having won in 2002 with Softly and last year with Lead Story.

"Am I going for a three-peat?" Nafzger asked playfully. "Well, yeah, I'm going for it."

My Boston Gal comes off a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland.

, Nafzger noted, "has had an up-and-down year, although she did run a nice race last time at Keeneland," while Mayo on the Side, winner of the Grade 1 Humana Distaff here in May, "has already shown what she can do when things shape up for her."

Other contenders include (post 1), winner of the Turfway Breeders' Cup in September for D. Wayne Lukas; Island Sand (post 12), a 3-year-old who won the Grade 1 Acorn in June but has struggled in recent months because of troubles with displacing her palate; Halory Leigh (post 11), whose recent allowance victory at Keeneland suggests she has come to peak form; and the stretch-running My Trusty Cat (post 6), who also has come to hand in recent starts for trainer Dave Vance and jockey Pat Day.

"My filly really, really got good up at Saratoga," said Vance. "She's a cool-weather horse, and I think the way I've had her sprinting has kind of turned things around for her. This is a real tough spot, but if they run away from her early and she settles in, she might have a chance to come running at them."

The rest of the Distaff field is Revolutionary Act, Wildwood Royal, Miss Fortunate, There Runs Hattie, and La Reason.

The Sunday card is an outstanding one. Besides the CD Distaff, which goes as the 10th of 11 races, six allowances and no claiming races are on tap. First post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern.