10/03/2003 12:00AM

Take Charge Lady a Keeneland gem

Take Charge Lady's career earnings of more than $2 million include the winner's share of last year's Spinster.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - It might be debatable whether Take Charge Lady has ever truly belonged in the elite of her class. The two worst starts in her 19-race career both came in the Breeders' Cup, and although she has amassed over $2.1 million in earnings and nearly defeated the great Azeri early this year, she has been soundly defeated by other divisional standouts such as Sightseek and Wild Spirit.

But if Take Charge Lady can win the Grade 1 Overbrook Spinster Stakes for the second straight year, there will be no arguing this: She has earned a place in Keeneland's glorious history. Having already won the three most prestigious filly or mare races at Keeneland - the 2001 Alcibiades, 2002 Ashland, and 2002 Spinster - she would become the fourth two-time winner of the Spinster and the first to win four of the track's top-tier events.

"You don't make over $2 million being a bad horse," said the filly's trainer, Ken McPeek. "Her Breeders' Cup races have been disappointing for everybody, but I think she had some pretty obvious excuses coming out of them. This year, we've got dead aim. Hopefully, this will be our chance to make amends."

With only five opponents entered against her Sunday in the 48th running of the $500,000 Spinster, Take Charge Lady, owned by the Select Stable of Jerry and Feye Bach, will be a strong favorite to repeat as champion of what long has been the showcase race of the Keeneland fall meet. Her main rivals appear to be You and Printemps, the respective two-three finishers in this race last year.

Take Charge Lady, a 4-year-old by Dehere, was compromised earlier this year by a foot bruise that McPeek said, "made its way through the coronet band and abscessed. That's completely a non-issue now. She's 100 percent."

A big effort by Take Charge Lady most likely would get her to the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita. McPeek said the Nov. 27 Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs might complete her schedule for the year, but first up is the Spinster.

"She's doing great right now," said McPeek. "She's been dragging [exercise rider] Helen [Pitts] around the track in the morning. Our main concern has been about her going too fast. It'll be good to let her run Sunday."

With Edgar Prado riding, Take Charge Lady figures as a dangerous front-runner in the 1 1/8-mile Spinster, with perhaps only Miss Linda likely to pose an early challenge.

The complexion of the race was altered earlier in the week when Wild Spirit, who had defeated Take Charge Lady by six lengths in the Delaware Handicap in July, was declared out of the race by her trainer, Bobby Frankel. The Spinster had tentatively been scheduled as the next race for Wild Spirit, who most recently won the Grade 1 Ruffian at Belmont under Jerry Bailey.

Instead, Frankel arranged for Bailey to ride You, his multiple Grade 1 winner who has won nine of 22 starts and earned over $2 million. Owned by Edmund Gann, You is going for a third graded victory in Kentucky this year, having already won the Louisville Breeders' Cup and Fleur de Lis at Churchill in the spring.

Besides the top three finishers from last year, the field for the Spinster includes Miss Linda, who upset the 2001 Spinster at nearly 22-1; Desert Gold, most recently second in the Grade 3 Gardenia at Ellis Park; and Reason to Talk, winner of two stakes this year, the Doubledogdare and Dade Turf Classic.

The Spinster is the eighth of nine races on a Sunday card that also includes the $500,000 WinStar Galaxy (race 6) and $75,000 Storm Cat Stakes (race 4). Television Games Network will provide live coverage of the entire card, including the Spinster. First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

After Sunday, Keeneland goes dark for two days before the first five-day week of the meet begins Wednesday. The highlight of next week is the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on Saturday.