Updated on 09/16/2011 8:16AM

Powerful Oaks may give Derby run for money


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - To date, they have been splashier than the majority of their male counterparts. That is primarily why the word has spread that with such 3-year-old fillies as Take Charge Lady, You, and Bella Bellucci in the field, the 128th is better than the 128th Kentucky Derby.

What "better" means will have to be determined this weekend, but let there be no doubt that the Grade 1 Oaks, which will be run Friday at Churchill Downs before an expected crowd of nearly 100,000, should be a sensational race indeed. Take Charge Lady, a romping winner of all three starts this year, could be a slight favorite after drawing post 9 in a field of 10 entered Tuesday in the filly classic.

Her main challengers are expected to be You, already a winner of three Grade 1 races for trainer Bobby Frankel, and Bella Bellucci, a gray filly who is 2 for 2 this year with stakes wins in New York and California.

Frankel, who has won two of the last four Oaks with Keeper Hill (1998) and Flute (2001), has been quietly confident in recent days. Like most horseplayers, he believes the fillies to beat will be Take Charge Lady and Bella Bellucci.

You, said Frankel, "has handled this track as well as either of my two winners. She is really doing well here."

Likewise, Neil Drysdale, trainer of Bella Bellucci, is happy with the way Bella Bellucci will come into the Oaks. "She's big, strong, and fast," he said. "Just what you want."

Also part of the field for the $500,000, 1 1/8-mile Oaks are Habibti, who spent the winter in a searing rivalry with You, and Imperial Gesture, whose winter months in Dubai were highly productive ones, considering the way she twice defeated her Godolphin Racing stablemate, Tempera.

One of the more notable aspects of the Oaks lineup is that it is missing Belterra, the Unbridled filly who was highly regarded earlier this year but recently underwent throat surgery to correct an entrapped epiglottis. Until Tuesday morning, trainer Carl Nafzger held out hope that Belterra would be able to make the Oaks, but finally he let go.

"I just didn't have enough time," said Nafzger.

A handful of other top fillies also dropped out of Oaks contention in recent days. Most dramatic was the loss of Tempera, Godolphin's 2001 Eclipse champion who was euthanized Sunday night after foundering following a brief illness. Other defections, for various reasons, were Lake Lady, Chamrousse, See How She Runs, and Traci's Wild.

In their stead, an assortment of fringe contenders and outright longshots help fill out the Oaks lineup. Those fillies are Farda Amiga, Take the Cake, Ms Brookski, Art Fair, and Ile de France.

The Oaks is carded as the ninth of 10 races and will be televised live on ESPN2 on a one-hour broadcast beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern. It was one of five Friday stakes for which entries were drawn Tuesday. In the others:

Forest Secrets and Spain were assigned posts 1 and 2 as the likely favorites in the second-richest race of the day, the $300,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap (race 7). A victory by Spain could make her the richest filly-mare earner in North American racing history, surpassing the current record-holder, Serena's Song.

In all, eight fillies and mares were entered in the Louisville BC, a Grade 2 race run at 1 1/16 miles. The field: Forest Secrets, 119 pounds, Pat Day; Spain, 118, Jerry Bailey; De Bertie, 113, Kent Desormeaux; Zeta, 109, Jorge Chavez; Maltese Superb, 113, Edgar Prado; Mystic Lady, 118, Eibar Coa; Red n'Gold, 112, Robby Albarado; and Trip, 114, John Velazquez.

National Park drew the inside post in the $100,000 Crown Royal American Turf (race 8), a Grade 3 turf race for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

A field of 10 was entered, including Red Masque (post 10), whose connections said after the colt won the recent Forerunner Stakes at Keeneland that they would have liked to run in the Kentucky Derby. Red Masque has no graded stakes earnings, however.

Morluc and Testify, who finished one-two last year for Randy Morse in the $100,000 Aegon Turf Sprint, are back for more in this year's Aegon, race 6. Morluc drew post 10 and Testify will start from post 8 in a full field of 12 older horses in the five-furlong turf race.

The south Florida standout Cellars Shiraz is one of 10 3-year-old fillies entered in the $100,000 Edgewood Stakes (race 4), the filly counterpart to the Crown Royal.

Three maiden-special races and two allowances also are carded for Friday, when first post is 11:30 a.m.

Kentucky Oaks 128 Field

PostHorseJockeyMorning Line

1.Farda AmigaC. J. McCarron30-1

2.HabibtiV. Espinoza6-1

3.Take The CakeR. R. Douglas15-1

4.YouJ. D. Bailey7-2

5.Ms BrookskiJ. Chavez30-1

6.Bella BellucciG. Stevens3-1

7.Imperial GestureL. Dettori4-1

8.Art FairTroilo50-1

9.Take Charge LadyA. J. D'Amico2-1

10.Ile de FranceA. Solis30-1