04/01/2004 12:00AM

Building a logical case for Ashado

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Don't get Mad, get Ashado. That is my belief in Saturday's Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, where Ashado looms a rewarding wager against the unbeaten Madcap Escapade and champion Halfbridled.

Consider the significant experience edge Ashado has over the lightly raced Madcap Escapade, who has never raced beyond seven furlongs. All three of her wins have come in lesser sprints, not against divisional leaders around two turns.

Yet established routers, not lightly raced sprinters, have traditionally won the Ashland. Of the last 10 winners, all were stakes winners at a route or graded placed at one mile or more. None of those 10 had raced less than four times before the Ashland.

In recent years, the path to success in this race has run through two-turn stakes at Santa Anita and Fair Grounds, not by way of sprints at Gulfstream.

Two of the last six Ashland winners previously raced in the Santa Anita Oaks. Three came by way of the Fair Grounds Oaks. And one, Fleet Renee in 2001, prepped by winning a minor stakes race at Laurel Park.

The success of Fair Grounds Oaks runners is directly related to economics. That race and the Santa Anita Oaks carried a $300,000 purse this year, more than Gulfstream offered for its major stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

So it is no surprise that horses like Take Charge Lady and Silverbulletday were shipped successfully to Fair Grounds in 2002 and 1999, respectively, using the Oaks there as a springboard to win the Ashland. Well Chosen also won the 1998 Ashland, at 9-1 odds, after running second in the Fair Grounds Oaks.

Guess which race Ashado won in her 3-year-old debut? The Fair Grounds Oaks.

A victory over Madcap Escapade and Halfbridled will not come easily for Ashado. Last year Ashado ran second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, a race Halfbridled won by 2 1/2 lengths despite breaking from post 14.

More than five months have now passed, which may have allowed Ashado an opportunity to bridge the gap.

She has raced twice since the Breeders' Cup, winning once late last year and once in 2004. Halfbridled has run once, finishing second in the Santa Anita Oaks in her first post-Breeders' Cup start. She ran competitively behind Silent Sighs, but at 1-2 odds, she failed to meet the public's expectations.

Halfbridled has a right to move forward in her second start of the year. So, too, does Ashado, who also is approaching the second race of her form cycle.

Working in Ashado's favor Saturday is that she and Halfbridled are meeting at Keeneland, on neutral ground. When Halfbridled beat her in the Breeders' Cup, Ashado had to ship from New York to California. Halfbridled merely had to be led out of her regular stall at Santa Anita.

What about Madcap Escapade? How does Ashado match up against her?

No one can touch the 108 Beyer Speed Figure that Madcap Escapade earned in winning the Old Hat in February, but in terms of other Beyers, they are on approximately the same level.

The argument could be made that Madcap Escapade was geared down in her victories, and could have run faster had she been asked for her best. I would buy that at 8-1 odds, but not at 7-5.

Many confidently ridden horses do not run any faster when urged in subsequent races. Remember how easily Officer was winning his races as a 2-year-old in 2001? Later that year he was put to the whip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and faded to fifth as the favorite. He then ran second in the Cal Cup, third in the Hollywood Futurity, and ended his career as a 3-year-old with a small stakes win in the Zany Tactics at Santa Anita.

Confident rides result in hype, not necessarily future victories and faster races.

Wagering strategy

With Madcap Escapade challenging Halfbridled for favoritism, Ashado may get overlooked. Provided I can get odds of 4-1 or more, I will play her on top and box her in an exacta with Halfbridled.

I'm taking a stand against the underlaid Madcap Escapade, even with her getting a five-pound weight break from her main challengers. As for the other starters, graded stakes winners La Reina and Last Song, they need at least a few lengths of improvement to upset.