04/02/2003 12:00AM

McPeek counting on his 'Lady' to fire


HOT SPRINGS, Ark - Take Charge Lady ran one of her best races following a layoff last year, and her trainer, Ken McPeek, is hoping for the same Saturday, when she takes on Azeri in the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

"She ran a 109 Beyer Speed Figure last spring at Fair Grounds off the layoff, and that was as a 3-year-old," said McPeek. "You'd like to think she'd be better this year."

Take Charge Lady, owned by Select Stable, was outstanding last year. After winning her 3-year-old debut by more than eight lengths in the Grade 3 Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds, she went on to capture that track's Grade 2 Oaks; the Grade 1 Ashland; and the Grade 1 Spinster.

Take Charge Lady closed out her 6-for-10 season on Dec. 7 with a wire-to-wire win in the inaugural $275,000 Great State Challenge Distaff at Sam Houston Race Park. She was given a vacation in Ocala, Fla., after that race.

For her comeback, she will be ridden by Shane Sellers, who replaces Take Charge Lady's rider Edgar Prado in her last five starts.

"Edgar's decision," said McPeek.

Prado has the mount on Dynever in the $250,000 Aventura for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

Take Charge Lady is second high weight at 118 for the Apple Blossom, and was scheduled to be flown to Oaklawn on Thursday.

Azeri, Medaglia d'Oro arrive

Azeri, weighted at 123, and Apple Blossom starters Affluent, 117, and Rhiana, 110, flew into Hot Springs on Wednesday morning on the same plane that also brought Medaglia d'Oro and Kudos for the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, also on Saturday.

Azeri and company arrived from Ontario Airport in Southern California at about noon Wednesday. The 2 1/2-hour flight was on schedule, and the connections of Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, and Medaglia d'Oro said both horses shipped well.

Bien Nicole makes six

The Apple Blossom field grew to six Wednesday when Bien Nicole, winner of the Grade 3, $200,000 Oaklawn Breeders' Cup in her last start, was committed to the race. She is owned by John and Kris Richter and trained by Donnie Von Hemel.

Bien Nicole had also been under consideration for the $50,000 Bayakoa here Sunday, or the $75,000 Irving Distaff at Lone Star Park.

"I just talked to Mr. Richter, and we're going to give it a try," said Von Hemel. "There were a lot of factors involved in the decision, some being how she's training, and I feel like she's training excellent right now.

"We also don't have to move an inch. We're here. We don't have to go somewhere to hook those tough mares, so we'll take a shot at them."

Bien Nicole was a four-time stakes winner on turf last year and switched to dirt for her 5-year-old debut last out and won the Oaklawn BC. It was her first main-track attempt since she won her maiden race on dirt in September 2001.

Weighted at 115, Bien Nicole will be ridden by Don Pettinger.

The sixth member of the Apple Blossom field is Mandy's Gold, who will carry 116.

Eugene's Third Son likely for derby

Eugene's Third Son will run in the Grade 2, $500,000 Arkansas Derby pending travel arrangements, said his trainer, Patrick Byrne, on Wednesday. Eugene's Third Son would be a major contender in the 1 1/8-mile derby, which closes out the Oaklawn meet on April 12.

"I'm 90 percent coming," said Byrne. "I'm trying to get flight arrangements sorted out."

Eugene's Third Son was second, beaten a neck by New York Hero in the Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End at Turfway Park on March 22. Before that race, he won an entry-level allowance over Formal Attire at the nine-furlong distance of the Arkansas Derby.

Byrne said Eugene's Third Son came out of the Lane's End "in really good shape."

The trainer added, "He was a little tired off of that race, and will make a move forward off of it. He should be a lot tighter for this race."

Byrne plans to work Eugene's Third Son six furlongs on Friday. "It will be a maintenance breeze," he said. Eugene's Third Son is based at Churchill Downs.

Eugene's Third Son has won 2 of 4 starts and $152,925 and races for Serengatti Stable.

Slider joins Handicap cast

Slider, who has won both of his starts at the meet, has joined the lineup for the Oaklawn Handicap. His presence makes for four firm starters in the race. Medaglia d'Oro, Kudos, and Crafty Shaw are the others.

Slider went through his final preparations for the race Wednesday.

"We gave him a two-minute lick, and had him pick it up from the quarter pole to the wire," said Joe Woodard, who trains Slider for Billy Hays and who has given the mount to Carlos Marquez Jr.

* U S Jets, Expensive Risk, and Pie's Lil Brother will meet in the featured 10th race Friday, a six-furlong allowance worth $34,000.