11/25/2002 12:00AM

McPeek barn wrapping up banner year


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - This has been a breakthrough year for trainer Ken McPeek. Not only did he send out horses to win major races, including the Belmont Stakes, Louisiana Derby, Florida Derby, Blue Grass, and Spinster Stakes, but his stable's earnings have more than doubled his previous high - from $2.9 million to $6 million-plus and counting - and he has picked up a number of new high-profile clients along the way.

In just a few days, McPeek will pack up and head off to Hollywood, Florida, where he and his wife, Sue, have a home. After stopping off to check on some of his developing stock in Ocala, he will move on to Gulfstream Park, where he will begin getting ready for what he can only hope will be a year to equal or surpass this one.

"I am so proud of everybody associated with our stable for the job they've done this year," said McPeek. "It has been an incredible year."

Yet before he closes the books on 2002, McPeek still has a few more things left to do. One of the first is to make Take Charge Lady a winner in what could be her final start of the year on Thursday, in the $250,000 Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Take Charge Lady was one of the major disappointments of the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup, finishing sixth as the 3-1 second choice in the Distaff. McPeek was able to account for the showing quickly, saying Take Charge Lady had a guttural pouch infection that hindered her performance.

"It's about like a head cold," he said Monday at Churchill. "It's something you can't detect until after they've run. It was bad timing and a small excuse, I guess. Since then, we've treated her with antibiotics, and everything's gone real well."

Take Charge Lady has won five races and more than $1.2 million for the Select Stable of Jerry and Feye Bach this year.

A 3-year-old Dehere filly whom McPeek calls "a little thin-skinned, a horse that doesn't have a heavy coat or carry a lot of weight," Take Charge Lady will carry high weight of 122 pounds in the Falls City, which is one of four Grade 2 races that will help close out the Churchill fall meet over the final three days of racing.

Edgar Prado will be in from New York to ride Take Charge Lady. Other probables for the 1 1/8-mile race are Allamerican Bertie, who will carry 117 pounds; Printemps, 117; Softly, 116; With Ability, 116; Lady Shari, 115; Due to Win, 112; and possibly Hi Tech Honeycomb, 110.

Other confirmed rider assignments include Pat Day on Allamerican Bertie and Jon Court on Softly.

McPeek said that although Take Charge Lady soundly defeated Allamerican Bertie in May in the Dogwood Stakes, he acknowledged that Allamerican Bertie, trained by Steve Flint, has improved substantially in the interim. "I've got a lot of respect for her," said McPeek. "Steve's going to make us work for this one."

McPeek said he may still consider Take Charge Lady for the Dec. 7 Great State Challenge at Sam Houston but that "everything would have to fall right" for her after the Falls City.

Lido Palace tops Clark weights

Weights also have been released for the richest race of the meet, the $400,000 Clark Handicap on Friday. Among the horses likely to start, those assignments are Lido Palace, 121 pounds; Tenpins, 118; Dollar Bill, 117; Gander, 117; Crafty Shaw, 116; Generous Rosi, 114; Hero's Tribute, 114; Perfect Drift, 114; Najran, 113; Neon Shadow, 113; and American Style, 110.

Two $200,000 races for 2-year-olds, the Kentucky Jockey Club and Golden Rod, are the co-features on Saturday's closing-day card.

First post for each of the final three programs of the meet will be 11:30 a.m. Eastern. Eleven races will be run Thursday, and 12 will be carded for Friday and Saturday.

Four-win Day

Sunday was just another day at the office for Pat Day: The perennial riding king rode four winners, including Elite Mercedes in the ninth-race feature.

Elite Mercedes, a gray 5-year-old trained by Elliott Walden, was coming off a lengthy layoff in winning an allowance race as the even-money favorite.

Day, who has clinched his 33rd Churchill riding title, will miss closing day to ride Good Journey in the Citation Handicap at Hollywood.

Nafzger leading trainers

Heading into the final five-day stretch of the meet, Carl Nafzger held a two-win lead over McPeek and Dale Romans atop the trainer standings. All three trainers won one race Sunday, with Nafzger getting his 13th victory with Affable ($5) in the sixth race.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who have won or shared the owners' title at the last five Churchill meets, held a 6-5 lead over Buckram Oak Farm through Sunday.

* Glick, a former stakes winner who has been competing in high claiming races this year, is the probable favorite in the feature race here Wednesday, when first post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern.