09/04/2002 11:00PM

Take Charge Lady returns

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Take Charge Lady and Bella Bellucci, two fillies who have been out of sight for most of the summer, will try to work their way back into the minds of Eclipse Award voters when they meet in Saturday's Grade 1 Gazelle Handicap at Belmont Park.

The $250,000 Gazelle also drew 2001 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Imperial Gesture, and Mother Goose winner Nonsuch Bay. Lost at Sea, Jaramar Rain, and Spring Meadow complete the field.

Victories in the Grade 1 Ashland and Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks made Take Charge Lady the early-season leader of this division. After finishing a good second to Farda Amiga in the Kentucky Oaks, Take Charge Lady won the Grade 3 Dogwood on May 25.

Trainer Ken McPeek said Take Charge Lady was "a touch dehydrated" following the Dogwood and needed a break to be ready for the fall. While McPeek was lauded for bringing Repent back off a 140-day layoff to be second in the Travers, he said getting Take Charge Lady to run as well off a 105-day layoff may be more difficult.

"Her running style is a little different," said McPeek, noting that Take Charge Lady gets into her races much earlier than the late-running Repent. "If she's tested, if any of those are good enough to really test her, she's beatable. But we're pretty confident going into it that she'll run her race."

McPeek is also confident that Take Charge Lady can rate, and is thrilled to have Edgar Prado riding her for the first time. Take Charge Lady drew post 6, and all of the speed is inside of her.

Bella Bellucci has not raced since registering an 11 3/4-length victory in a classified allowance race here on July 19. She was set to run in the Alabama Aug. 17, but trainer Neil Drysdale scratched her when the track came up wet.

"It's just part of racing," said Drysdale, who was also forced to scratch Bella Bellucci out of the Kentucky Oaks when she had a low blood count. "One thing, we'll never run out of races. Hopefully, she's got a serious fall campaign coming up and she's got all of next year, too."

Because of weather and track maintenance, Bella Bellucci had her last two workouts at Aqueduct, but she is 3 for 5 at Belmont. Though she drew the rail, Bella Bellucci is tractable and does not need to be on the lead.

Imperial Gesture, who finished ahead of both Take Charge Lady and Bella Bellucci in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, is coming off a monster allowance race win at Saratoga. If she does not regress, Imperial Gesture has a serious chance to knock off the top two.

"That race didn't look like it took that much out of her," said Tom Albertrani, the New York-based assistant for Godolphin Racing, owner of Imperial Gesture. "I'm not too worried about bringing her back in two weeks."