10/03/2001 11:00PM

Take Charge Lady is McPeek's latest


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Ken McPeek is becoming known as a trainer who can get horses to win early, having done so in recent years with

2-year-old stakes winners such as Tejano Run, Grand Deed, and She's a Devil Due.

This fall, the 2-year-olds have been running especially well for McPeek. Not only does he have two prospects for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in Harlan's Holiday and Repent, but he has what he thinks could be a serious contender for the BC Juvenile Fillies in Take Charge Lady, who is unbeaten in two starts.

"She's special," said McPeek. "I really don't think we've even gotten close to getting to the bottom of her."

On Friday, when Keeneland opens its 17-day fall meet, Take Charge Lady will get a chance to earn a trip to Belmont Park for the Oct. 27 World Thoroughbred Championships when she takes on 10 other 2-year-old fillies in the $400,000 Walmac International Alcibiades Stakes.

The Alcibiades, a Grade 2 race at 1 1/16 miles, should be a fair gauge to determine whether Take Charge Lady - or any of the other starters, for that matter - deserves to proceed to New York. Take Charge Lady was an easy winner of both starts, but both have come against far weaker company at sprint distances.

Her main competition could come from Smok'n Frolic, runner-up in the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes in her last start, or Playing 'n Gold, an easy winner at the Kentucky Cup two weeks ago.

Jilbab, a recent maiden winner for trainer Eoin Harty, is one of several fillies taking a big jump in class.

"We're aiming so high we might need a pole vault," said a joking Harty. "We want to know if she can cut it. This could be a good place to find out."

This is the 50th running of the Alcibiades, which dates to 1952. Three of the last nine winners - Eliza (1992), Countess Diana (1997), and Silverbulletday (1998) - have gone on to win the BC Juvenile Fillies.

Home-track advantage

The initial inclination might be to dismiss Vivid Sunset as an outclassed longshot in the Overbrook Spinster Stakes, a Grade 1, $500,000 race on Sunday.

But then you see Vivid Sunset's lifetime record at Keeneland: 4 for 4.

And then you hear what her trainer, John T. Ward Jr., has to say.

"I've probably got more confidence in her than anything," said Ward, who chose to run Beautiful Pleasure in the Beldame at Belmont Saturday, saving Vivid Sunset for the Spinster. "I thought her last two races were super. She ran second in the Molly Pitcher after a ton of trouble, and then she just got beat by a real nice horse [Miss Linda] at Saratoga. Plus she's on her favorite surface."

About 10 fillies and mares will run in the 1 1/8-mile Spinster. Probable favorites are Lazy Slusan, Pompeii, Secret Status, and Unbridled Elaine. Others under consideration are Miss Linda, Precious Feather, Printemps, Royal Fair, and Starrer.

In other graded stakes here this weekend:

*The turf-course maximum of 10 appears likely for the Grade 2, $500,000 Keeneland Shadwell Turf Mile on Sunday. Hap figures to start as the favorite against Brahms, North East Bound, and Quiet Resolve.

*California invaders Kamsack and Siphonic should take plenty of action in the Grade 2, $400,000 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity on Saturday. At least 10 2-year-olds are expected for the 1 1/16-mile race.

*Bet On Sunshine and Snow Ridge are the major names in what will be a field of about seven sprinters in the Grade 2, $250,000 Phoenix BC Stakes on Saturday.

Changing the schedule

Keeneland normally opens on a Friday in the spring, but not the fall. And Keeneland meets normally run 15 or 16 days, not 17.

But when it became apparent that Keeneland needed an extra day on the front end of its meet to accommodate all of its Breeders' Cup preps, the wheels were set in motion. Opening day originally was scheduled to be the final day of the fall meet at Turfway Park, which Keeneland co-owns and manages.

Acquiring the Oct. 5 date "was more complicated than it sounds," said Nick Nicholson, the track's president.

"We had to ask the racing commission, Turfway, and the Red Mile," a local harness track, Nicholson said, "and thankfully they all let us make the change. Then we had to take into account all the corporate sponsors of our races."

Part of the allure of sponsoring a race is not having to share the spotlight with other sponsors. Nicholson and other Keeneland officials believed the extra day was critical to spread those races over three programs instead of two. Keeneland is hosting a big party Friday night for race sponsors.

There are historical precedents for a Keeneland meet longer than 16 days. The four most recent were spring 1993 (17 days), fall 1991 (19), fall 1976 (17), and fall 1968 (19).

Weekend stakes on the air

While the opening-day stakes will be televised only on TVG, one Saturday stakes and both Sunday stakes will be shown on major cable networks.

The Breeders' Futurity will be part of CNBC's Bessemer Trust series on Saturday. The one-hour show, which starts at 5 p.m. Eastern, will be anchored at Belmont, where the Champagne is the main focus of the telecast.

On Sunday, the Spinster and Shadwell Mile will be part of a two-hour delayed telecast originating from California, where the Goodwood is the centerpiece. The ESPN2 show airs at 10:30 p.m. Eastern.

Rain and chill in forecast

The Lexington area has been graced by spectacular autumn weather in recent days, which makes the forecast for opening weekend even more disappointing.

The Friday forecast calls for a 60 percent chance of showers and a high of only 58. Saturday and Sunday are supposed to be drier but not much warmer.

But even if there is a downpour, don't look for the WinStar Galaxy to come off the grass on Friday. Keeneland rarely transfers even its overnight turf races to the main track.