12/30/2004 12:00AM

Madcap Escapade readies for return

Madcap Escapade, idle since sustaining a hip injury in the Kentucky Oaks, is in serious training for her comeback. Trainer Frank Brothers would like to find a suitable allowance for her.

MIAMI - If they gave an award for the most electrifying performer of the 2003 Gulfstream Park meeting, Madcap Escapade would have gotten the honor hands down.

Unraced coming into the meet, the 3-year-old Madcap Escapade won her maiden by 10 lengths on Jan. 4, the Old Hat Stakes by 11 3/4 lengths on Feb. 14, and the Grade 2 Forward Gal Stakes by nearly five lengths on March 13.

Those performances earned Madcap Escapade a starting berth in Keeneland's Grade 1 Ashland Stakes, which she captured by a half-length over probable division champion Ashado. Unfortunately, both her perfect record and 3-year-old campaign ended following a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.

"She suffered a non-displaced hairline fracture of the hip," said Frank Brothers, who trains Madcap Escapade for owner Bruce Lunsford. "The injury sounds a lot worse than it actually was. She never required surgery. She just needed time off."

Madcap Escapade is now back at Gulfstream, and in training to launch her much-anticipated comeback, which Brothers said should come during the meet that begins on Monday.

Madcap Escapade returned to serious training earlier this fall and on Wednesday worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 over the new Gulfstream strip.

"She's had a few breezes now and is doing well and seems to be very happy," said Brothers. "The most important thing is that she's moving very well and seems like her old self. That's all you can ask for at this point. She's not ready to run just yet and likely won't run during the first part of the meet, but with no bumps in the road I expect her to start down here this winter.

"She's still eligible for her four-other-than allowance conditions, and I would like to start her there if I could rather than jump in with the wolves in a stakes race right off the bat."

Frankel's presence will be felt

Todd Pletcher was sensational last year in winning his first Gulfstream training title. This year, Pletcher again figures to be the leading trainer, although there is one very notable new name on the Gulfstream radar screen: Bobby Frankel, who has 50 stalls at the Palm Meadows training center.

Although he will not contend for a training title, Frankel is expected to be very much in action. For Frankel, who normally has regrouped everything in California at this time of year, this is the first time he has cast such a major presence at Gulfstream, although he has had some of his best horses in New York in the summer and fall in recent years.

Brian Lynch, a former California trainer whose horses earned more than $2.8 million during his career, is overseeing the Frankel contingent at Palm Meadows.

Byrne gets J Town

J Town, one of the more promising 3-year-olds to surface at Churchill Downs last spring, has been turned over to trainer Pat Byrne, who recently got the 4-year-old colt into his barn at Gulfstream.

J Town, previously trained by Ken McPeek, incurred a shin injury that required minor surgery when finishing fourth as the odds-on favorite in the July 2 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows.

Sand Springs works for Mott

Sand Springs, the speedy 5-year-old turf mare who will make her next start for new connections, posted a couple of bullet workouts recently at Payson Park and is being pointed to Gulf's series of filly and mare turf races that starts in earnest with the Grade 3 Suwannee River on Feb. 12.

Sand Springs, a winner of six races and more than $650,000, is now being trained by Bill Mott after being sold by Willmott Stables at the Keeneland breeding stock sale in November. The new owner is BBA Ireland, which paid $625,000 for the daughter of Dynaformer.

Blanc expects to do better

Jockey Brice Blanc went 6 for 92 in his first Gulfstream meet last year, but he and agent Steve Bass are optimistic they can do considerably better this season.

"I would like to think we've made inroads with some of the bigger outfits," said Bass. "We would like to get 25 wins if we can."

Blanc had a terrific 2004 when based primarily in Kentucky. He was among the leading stakes riders at Churchill Downs and Keeneland, and, overall, his mounts earned nearly $4 million.

First stakes next Saturday

The Monday opener at Gulfstream will not have a stakes race, but three stakes are set for the first Saturday card of the meet, Jan. 8.

Those races are the $125,000 Aventura, a one-mile race for 3-year-olds; the $100,000 Hal's Hope, a 1 1/8-mile handicap for older horses; and the $100,000 Mr. Prospector for older sprinters.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee