03/15/2004 1:00AM

Madcap Escapade vs. Halfbridled?


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - If owner Bruce Lunsford gets his wish, the undefeated Madcap Escapade will make her next start in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on April 3. It could be a showdown between this year's sensation and Halfbridled, last year's 2-year-old filly champion, who suffered her first defeat in Saturday's Santa Anita Oaks.

Lunsford stopped by trainer Frank Brothers's Gulfstream Park barn Sunday morning, about 16 hours after Mad Escapade's authoritative 4 3/4-length score in the Grade 2 Stonerside Forward Gal Stakes.

Brothers said the Ashland was one of three possibilities for Madcap Escapade. He mentioned the seven-furlong Beaumont at Keeneland on April 8 or simply training her up to the April 30 Kentucky Oaks as other possibilities.

But, Lunsford definitely had Ashland on his mind.

"If the cards fall into place, I'd have to think that'd be the next logical spot," Lunsford said. "She's won a Grade 2 - it's probably time to find a Grade 1 for her.

"I'm very confident in my trainer," Lunsford said. "Frankie's been here before. We have a great relationship; he's done a masterful job with this filly. Maybe this filly will be the one that gets him into the Hall of Fame. He certainly deserves it."

If she runs in the 1 1/16-mile Ashland, it would be Madcap Escapade's first start around two turns. She has won a six-furlong maiden race, the six-furlong Old Hat Stakes, and the Forward Gal at seven furlongs. She won in hand on Saturday and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95.

"I don't think there's any question you want to see them go two turns," Lunsford said. "I think she looks like she'd do that. If she can run two turns, you've got a lot more options.

"I don't think any filly in the country can beat her one turn. We'll see what happens going two turns."

Brothers said he believes Madcap Escapade has all the ingredients to be successful around two turns.

"She's got the mind, the stride, and the physical build and the pedigree to do it," he said. "She's had three easy races, and they've been spaced out purposely. Trying her long, she's got nothing to lose and everything to gain."

In addition to facing Halfbridled, Madcap Escapade would also meet La Reina in the Ashland. La Reina, in her first start of the year, finished second to Madcap Escapade in the Forward Gal.

"I was pleased with it," Shug McGaughey, trainer of La Reina, said. "I'd rather have that than get beat a half-length and take a lot out of her. The track was speed-favoring and there was nothing to go with her. Distance, that'll help."

At 2, La Reina won the one-mile Tempted Stakes and was beaten a nose by Ashado in the 1 1/8-mile Demoiselle.

Sir Oscar suffers breathing problem

Sir Oscar had about a 15 percent paralysis in one side of his throat following his eighth-place finish in Saturday's Florida Derby, trainer Marty Wolfson said.

"He made a big run into the far turn, and then you could just see his head come up because he was having trouble getting enough air," said Wolfson. "It's not serious enough to require surgery, but I'll make a distance change and keep him at a mile or under from now on."

Wolfson said Sir Oscar could start next at Tampa Bay Downs.

"There's a race at Tampa next month on Florida Day going seven furlongs for a $75,000 purse that's restricted to statebreds," he said. "I'll probably point him for that if all goes well over the next couple of weeks."

Trainers unhappy about dry track

Todd Pletcher won four races here on Saturday and watched Value Plus finish a good second in the Florida Derby. But, that doesn't mean the meet's leading trainer was pleased with everything.

Pletcher was miffed with how loose and cuppy the main track was for the Florida Derby. The final time of 1:51.38 equaled the fifth slowest in the 53-year history of the race.

"I was delighted with everything with the exception of the fact I think the track should have been tightened up," Pletcher said. "I complained earlier in the day that when it's windy like this, you've got to put a little more water on the track. I hate to see horses like this go in 1:51; they shouldn't. It's just too cuppy.

"Everyone will look at 1:51 and say it's a slow time," Pletcher added. "People need to look at the track before they decide that. It was too dry."

John Kimmel, trainer of Florida Derby winner Friends Lake, concurred with Pletcher's assessment.

"The track was all dried out," Kimmel said. "It was not in pristine shape before the race."

There was a 74-minute break between dirt races on Saturday. A turf race was run prior to the Florida Derby. Dennis Testa, director of operations for Gulfstream, maintained that the track had sufficient moisture in it.

"It was dry on the top but had plenty of moisture on the bottom," Testa said. "The race before it, and the race after that, the times were good. That particular race had a slow pace."

Chapel Royal's loss 'a mystery'

About the only blemish on Pletcher's fantastic weekend was the performance of Chapel Royal, who tired badly in his 2004 debut after setting the early pace in Saturday's Grade 3 Swale Stakes.

"He seems to have come out of the race just fine, and I'm still at a little of a loss to explain why he ran so poorly, especially since I felt he entered the Swale going as well as I could have liked," Pletcher said. "It's still a bit of a mystery for now, but I'll pull some blood on Monday and see if we can't find something out. We won't pick out anything out for his next start until we know a little better about what might have happened Saturday."

Florida Derby Day handle a record

Total commingled handle for Saturday's 13-race card was $25,481,438, a Gulfstream Park record, according to Edward Mackie, director of mutuels.

Ontrack handle for Saturday's Florida Derby Day card was $4,448,463, an increase of 25 percent compared with last year, when Gulfstream carded 12 races. Total handle of $23,025,900 was an 18 percent gain over the 2003 total of $19,558,413.

The crowd of 25,505 was a slight increase over last year's 24,055.

"The outstanding quality of the horses racing today and the packing of multiple stakes proved to be a highly successful combination," said Scott Savin, Gulfstream's president and general manager. "The management thanks the horsemen for their great support to enable [racing secretary] Dave Bailey to arrange one of the best racing cards in Gulfstream's history."

Winning debut for jockey Lezcano

Apprentice jockey Jose Lezcano made his U.S. debut a memorable one Sunday, guiding Cloudy Gray to a 30-1 upset in Sunday's third race. Lezcano, 18, is native of Panama, where he won 54 races. He arrived in the United States on Friday and will ride for trainer Jose Mendez.

Lezcano will keep his five-pound apprentice status through September.

* Apprentice rider Rajiv Maragh began serving a seven-day suspension on Saturday "for causing interference and careless riding through the stretch" during the running of Wednesday's third race, the stewards ruled. Maragh's mount, Otis Township, who was beaten a nose, was disqualified from second and placed sixth.

* Sarah Cohen, an exercise rider for trainer David Bell, suffered a broken shoulder as a result of a spill at the end of training hours Saturday. Cohen was scheduled for surgery on Sunday to have pins put in her shoulder.

* Post time for Friday live racing programs for the remainder of the meeting will be 2:45 p.m. Eastern. Gates will open at 11:30 a.m. for simulcasting.