05/05/2005 12:00AM

Madcap Escapade formidable

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Madcap Escapade is generally considered the fastest filly in the country and figures to be the odds-on favorite to win Saturday's $250,000 Humana Distaff Handicap at Churchill Downs.

has captured 6 of her 7 career starts, including the Grade 1 Ashland. She returned from a 10-month layoff following her only career setback in the 2004 Kentucky Oaks to post a pair of easy victories to open her 2005 campaign, and comes into the seven-furlong Humana as the undisputed leader of her division.

Despite Madcap Escapade's accomplishments, her trainer, Frank Brothers, is approaching the Grade 1 Humana Distaff with cautious optimism.

"She's doing well and I'm happy with the way she's coming into the race," said Brothers, who trains Madcap Escapade for owner Bruce Lunsford. "But she has a chance to be vulnerable in here with the longer stretch. She's run two dynamite races since coming back, but it can be extremely difficult to keep any horse at such a high level - especially sprinters, who don't always show a lot of consistency."

That being said, it's hard to make a strong case against Madcap Escapade, who breaks from the outside post in a field of nine and figures to have little trouble clearing early. Madcap Escapade didn't even need the lead to win her last start, Keeneland's Grade 3 Madison Stakes. She chased a 21.40-second opening quarter-mile before taking control on the turn and drawing off to a 4 3/4-length victory.

Jerry Bailey will again be aboard Madcap Escapade, who totes high weight of 123 pounds.

If Madcap Escapade does falter late, the California invader may have the best chance of springing the upset. Like Madcap Escapade, Heavenly Humor returned from an extended vacation earlier this winter to post a pair of stakes victories, and she appears to be coming into the Humana at the top of her game.

, who brought a streak of four stakes victories into the Madison but was beaten five lengths by Madcap Escapade, should relish a return to Churchill Downs, where she has been off the board just once in eight previous tries.

Santa Candida is the field's dark horse. She making her first start since winning a Group 1 stakes at 1 1/4 miles in her native Argentina last October.