Updated on 09/17/2011 2:30PM

Madcap Escapade's streak on line


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Bruce Lunsford wanted to be governor of Kentucky so badly that he spent $8 million of his own money before pulling out of the Democratic primary last May. He may not ever be governor, but Lunsford could be king for a day if his star filly, Madcap Escapade, can remain unbeaten Friday in a spectacular 130th running of the at Churchill Downs.

"To live in this city and win a race as big as the Oaks, I could probably say I've enjoyed everything life can give," said Lunsford, a Louisville entrepreneur and businessman. "It wouldn't get any better than that."

An Oaks victory for a Louisville resident would be fitting on what has become known as "Louisville's day at the races," although 11 other 3-year-old fillies stand in the way of Madcap Escapade scoring her fifth straight victory.

Foremost among the top challengers in the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaks are Halfbridled, the reigning divisional champion; Ashado, a winner of four graded stakes; Silent Sighs, winner of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks; Victory U. S. A., impressive winner of the Grade 2 Beaumont Stakes; House of Fortune, easy winner of the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes; and A.P. Adventure, winner of the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes.

The balance of what many observers are calling the deepest Oaks field in many years is Hollywood Story, Island Sand, Last Song, Class Above, and Stellar Jayne.

Halfbridled, to be ridden by Alex Solis, will be trying to recoup the luster she lost by finishing second in both her starts this year. Last year, Halfbridled was a budding superstar when she handily won all four of her races. So trainer Richard Mandella is looking at the Oaks as a prime opportunity for her to jump back atop the division.

"She's coming up to the race in good order," said Mandella. "She's hit a few bumps in the road this year, but the Oaks has been our goal all along. I think she'll run her race."

Ashado, with John Velazquez to ride, drew the advantageous rail spot in the 1 1/8-mile Oaks and figures to vie for favoritism with Madcap Escapade and Halfbridled. "Hopefully, Johnny will be able to save ground and get a good trip from right behind the first tier," said trainer Todd Pletcher.

Silent Sighs, unraced in nearly seven weeks, shipped in from California early this week after running several sharp works at Santa Anita for trainer Julio Canani.

Victory U. S. A., with Pat Day to ride, has trained smartly at Churchill for trainer Bob Baffert since her surprisingly easy win over Halfbridled in the Beaumont at Keeneland. Day is looking for his third Oaks win, having won with Goodbye Halo in 1988 and Secret Status in 2000.

As accomplished as those runners are, they all will have to run down Madcap Escapade, one of the flashiest and most exciting fillies to come around in quite some time. After winning her first three career races, all at Gulfstream Park, by a combined 26 1/2 lengths, Madcap Escapade led throughout to capture the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland in her latest start, her first around two turns.

"Going 1 1/8 miles against the best standing, we'll find out what she's made of," said trainer Frank Brothers. "She's a runner, no question about that. Whether or not she can handle the distance, we'll see. She's always shown us that she'll go on, but you never know until they do it."

Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey will be aboard Madcap Escapade.

The Oaks, first run in 1875, is the opening half of Churchill's popular two-day wager, the Oaks-Derby double. Last year, when Bird Town and Funny Cide combined to return $421.80 for $2, the handle exceeded $1.23 million.

The Oaks will be televised live on ESPN on a one-hour show that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern. Post time for the Oaks, the 10th of 11 races, is 5:45. First post is 11 a.m. Five other stakes that showcase such established stars as Perfect Drift and Sightseek will precede the Oaks on a blockbuster card.

A chance of rain and a high temperature of 75 have been forecast for Oaks Day.