03/11/2004 12:00AM

Few to face Madcap Escapade

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Todd Pletcher paid Madcap Escapade the highest compliment when he changed his original plan to run the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Ashado in Saturday's $150,000, Grade 3 Forward Gal Stakes, and instead shipped her to Louisiana where she easily captured the Fair Grounds Oaks.

That's the kind of respect the lightly raced but extremely talented has commanded. And it's the main reason Gulfstream Park racing secretary Dave Bailey had to hustle just to assemble five rivals, no more than four of whom are expected to start, to face Madcap Escapade in the seven-furlong Forward Gal.

"The respect is wonderful, but all that means is that you've done something very good to get to that point," said Frank Brothers, who trains Madcap Escapade for owner Bruce Lunsford. "It doesn't mean you have to win."

What Madcap Escapade has done to this point is win her first two starts by a combined 21 3/4 lengths and earn a 108 Beyer Speed Figure after running six furlongs in 1:08.85 to dominate the Old Hat Stakes on Feb. 14.

"I couldn't be happier with what she's done and the way she's going into this race, but the water gets deeper as you go along," said Brothers. "It's difficult to keep a horse who has run like she has at that level - especially sprinting and especially a filly."

The Forward Gal will be Madcap Escapade's first start at seven furlongs and seems to be a logical progression toward stretching her out around two turns during the spring. Brothers would not commit to any races beyond Saturday.

"I've gotten burned too many times over the years looking down the road," said Brothers. "Right now this race is the only one I'm thinking about. I just hopes she runs well and moves forward again."

Jerry Bailey will be aboard Madcap Escapade for the first time in the Forward Gal.

Madcap Escapade's opposition may be light in numbers but they are not short on talent, with graded stakes winners La Reina and Wacky Patty in the lineup.

La Reina has won two of four starts, including the Grade 3 Tempted Stakes, and closed out her juvenile campaign dropping a tough nose decision to Ashado in Aqueduct's Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes. She has prepared for her 3-year-old debut at Payson Park.

"Running her in the Forward Gal has been the plan all along, although seven furlongs isn't really what she wants," said her trainer, Shug McGaughey.

McGaughey has already stated that his principal goal this spring for La Reina is the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.

Wacky Patty was beaten a neck by the odds-on Silent Sighs in the Sunshine Millions Oaks, after which she was transferred from trainer Cole Norman to Steve Asmussen. A daughter of Formal Dinner, Wacky Patty already has won four stakes, including Hollywood Park's Grade 3 Landaluce at 2.