06/18/2003 11:00PM

Take Charge Lady says let it rain


ELMONT, N.Y. - In the distaff division, there's Azeri and then there's everybody else. On Saturday, while Azeri figures to toy with six rivals in the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park, the best of the rest will congregate at Belmont Park for the Grade 1, $300,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap.

Only five horses were entered in the Phipps, but the field includes Grade 1 winners Take Charge Lady, Sightseek, and Mandy's Gold and multiple Grade 2 winner Smok'n Frolic. Longshot Lady Liberty rounds out the field, though she was also entered in a Friday allowance race and in Saturday's Obeah Handicap at Delaware Park.

The Phipps is the first leg of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's second Summer Pick 3, which also encompasses the Ohio Derby from Thistledown and the Dallas Turf Cup from Lone Star Park. All three races will be shown live on CBS from 5-6 p.m. eastern.

Take Charge Lady came within a head of upsetting Azeri in the Apple Blossom in April. A bruised foot has forced her to miss a couple of other spots, but a bullet workout here Monday indicates she's ready for this 1 1/16-mile test.

With more wet weather predicted for the weekend, the Phipps is likely to be run over a wet track, a fact that doesn't bother Ken McPeek, the trainer of Take Charge Lady.

"I'd actually be thrilled with a muddy track," said McPeek, noting Take Charge Lady was a five-length winner of the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks last year in the slop.

Take Charge Lady is dangerous from either on or just off the pace. The Phipps doesn't have a confirmed front-runner, though Sightseek has shown speed.

"Her best races are when she runs freely," McPeek said. "There are very few fillies that are as fast as she is."

Take Charge Lady, the 119-pound highweight, will break from post 3 under Edgar Prado.

Sightseek, who drew post 2, is coming off a dominant victory from off the pace in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. She has not been worse than second in nine career starts, though she has never raced on an off track.

"Her brother [Special Rate] didn't like it, but she's not built like him," her trainer, Bobby Frankel, said. "I don't know what to expect."

Mandy's Gold, who won last year's Grade 1 Ruffian here, is coming off a game victory over Summer Colony in the Grade 3 Pimlico Distaff in the slop.

"Outside of Azeri these are the best fillies and mares going," trainer Michael Gorham said. "I feel my filly is doing as well as anybody and she definitely deserves a chance."