Updated on 09/16/2011 7:06AM

Opposites attract in Ashland


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland opens its eagerly awaited spring meeting Friday and quickly gets down to serious business on Saturday with its presentation of the $500,000 Ashland Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Just as the Blue Grass Stakes, the feature here on April 13, serves as a prelude to the Kentucky Derby, the Ashland offers a definitive look at the Kentucky Oaks, and the scene, in a word, is competitive.

Not in numbers, but in quality. The Ashland, so rich in tradition, appears to be a two-horse tale involving Belterra and Take Charge Lady, with their contrasting styles. Take Charge Lady is full of speed, as she demonstrated in winning the Fair Grounds Oaks. Leading past every pole, she won by five lengths. That was her fifth victory in seven starts, and her two wins this season show marked improvement over her 2-year-old form.

Belterra, too, seems very solid. She has a powerful stretch move that brought her victory in all three of her starts last year, including a win over Take Charge Lady in the Golden Rod at Churchill Downs.

But like most closers, she needs a realistic pace up front to make her late punch more effective. Freshened for several months, she needed her 3-year-old debut in Gulfstream's Bonnie Miss and should be sharper in the Ashland.

Awaiting Belterra and Take Charge Lady in Louisville will be such gifted fillies as You and Bella Bellucci. The Kentucky Oaks could be special, but that is ahead and the Ashland is now.

As noted, her speed makes Take Charge Lady particularly dangerous in the small field for the Ashland. She should also get an assist from the conformation of the track. Races contested at 1 1/16 miles like the Ashland finish in midstretch at the first winning post. Next month, at Churchill Downs, with its long stretch run, the advantage is very much in favor of Belterra.

Take Charge Lady was well named. A big and robust Dehere filly, Take Charge Lady won at first asking here at Keeneland last spring then was put away until early fall when she confirmed her form at Turfway Park. That set the stage for her victory in the Alcibiades at Keeneland, in which she successfully employed stalking tactics.

The Alcibiades triumph earned her a trip to New York for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, but for the first and only time in her career, she finished out of the money.

"Between the time she departed for New York and the time she returned to Kentucky, she lost 70 pounds," trainer Ken McPeek said. "We still don't know the circumstances. She could have been dehydrated or perhaps it was a virus, but it had to have affected her. She showed no sign of unease so we ran her back in the Golden Rod and she finished second to Belterra."

Take Charge Lady was turned out in Ocala, Fla., returned to the barn Jan. 1, and obviously benefited from the holiday. She filled out into Ruffianesque proportions and won two stakes at Fair Grounds by impressive margins.

Purchased for $175,000 on behalf of Feye and Jerry Bach of Cincinnati, who race as the Select Stable, Take Charge Lady was acquired by McPeek the same day he bought the Bachs a colt named Repent for $230,000. Repent, winner of the Louisiana Derby, will also see action on Saturday as the favorite for the Illinois Derby at Sportsman's Park.