11/25/2003 1:00AM

Take Charge Lady's finale?


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Two years ago, it was Belterra. Last year, it was Allamerican Bertie. This year, in what figures to be her third and final appearance at Churchill Downs on Thanksgiving weekend, Take Charge Lady might finally be able to turn back all challengers and secure a well-earned spot at the head of the proverbial table.

Thursday's $300,000 Falls City Handicap, a Grade 2 race that helps kick off a three-day, 35-race weekend that ends the Churchill fall meet, might well be the career finale for Take Charge Lady, a 4-year-old filly who has been a mainstay of the Kentucky circuit since emerging as a standout for trainer Ken McPeek more than two years ago.

"It could be her last race, but a lot of that depends on how she does Thursday," said McPeek.

After running second to Belterra in the 2001 Golden Rod Stakes and to Allamerican Bertie in the 2002 Falls City, Take Charge Lady seemed destined for another runner-up finish on Thanksgiving weekend. But when trainer Bobby Frankel decided not to run Sightseek, the multiple Grade 1 winner who would have been heavily favored as the 125-pound highweight in the 88th Falls City, the spotlight suddenly shifted to Take Charge Lady.

"Obviously that was to our benefit," said McPeek.

Take Charge Lady, a winner of 11 of 21 races and more than $2.47 million, will spot her nine rivals seven to 11 pounds when she carries high weight of 123 pounds, including Tony D'Amico, in the 1 1/8-mile Falls City. A Dehere filly owned by the Select Stable of Jerry and Feye Bach, she exits yet another disappointing effort in the Breeders' Cup, having finished sixth of seven starters in the $2 million Distaff on Oct. 25. She also fared poorly in her two previous Breeders' Cup starts before returning to the races at Churchill.

The top threats to Take Charge Lady appear to be Lead Story and Awesome Humor, the one-two finishers in the recent Churchill Distaff.

The Falls City is carded as the 10th of 11 Thursday races. One race earlier, Sir Cherokee, upset winner of the Arkansas Derby, will makes his first start since recovering from a leg fracture diagnosed two days before he was scheduled to run in the May 3 Kentucky Derby.

Twelve races will be carded Friday and Saturday. First post for each of the last three days is 11:30 a.m. Eastern.