04/22/2004 11:00PM

'Madcap' plenty fast, but can she last?

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nobody, not even trainer Frank Brothers, can say for sure whether Madcap Escapade will remain unbeaten through Friday, when she goes 1 1/8 miles against North America's best 3-year-old fillies in the 130th Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.

But after Madcap Escapade drilled five furlongs in 58.20 seconds over a sloppy Churchill early Friday morning, Brothers was sure of at least one thing.

"She's a runner," he said. "That doesn't make her win the Oaks, I know. But she sure is one nice filly. That was an excellent work."

In her last start, the April 3 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, Madcap Escapade, a speedy Hennessy filly owned by local businessman Bruce Lunsford, led all the way to win her fourth race.

Brothers said the 1 1/16-mile Ashland might have been a fair indicator of Madcap Escapade's grit, but the Oaks represents "the same old deal here at Churchill - they've still got a quarter-mile to run when they turn for home. Sure, the distance is a concern, but this could be like every race, where pace makes or breaks you. You go too fast early, and it sets it up for one of the others."

Later Friday, one of the Oaks longshots, Island Sand, breezed five furlongs in 1:01 with Justin Shepherd aboard.

Trainer Larry Jones, whose 32-horse stable is split between Prairie Meadows and Ellis Park, said Island Sand will be a longshot in the Oaks, "but I never run in races like this unless I feel I'm bringing a horse at their absolute best. And this filly has never been better."

Island Sand ran second, beaten 1 3/4 lengths by heavily favored House of Fortune, in the April 9 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Jones said he hopes House of Fortune "is one of the better ones in the Oaks, because if she is, then we're not that far behind."

Halfbridled right back on track

In other Oaks developments Friday, Halfbridled went right back to training the morning after working six furlongs. Normally, horses are given the day off after a serious work, but Halfbridled has a history of cramping, or "tying up." Halfbridled was scratched from the Ashland after tying up the previous day, but recovered in time make the April 8 Beaumont Stakes, in which she finished second.

"She doesn't get a day off," said Mandella.

Also, two other Oaks prospects worked amid more favorable climate in southern California. Silent Sighs, winner of the March 13 Santa Anita Oaks in her last start, went 1:00.80 at Santa Anita, and House of Fortune went six furlongs in 1:12.60 at Hollywood Park. Both fillies are expected to arrive here Monday.

With jockeys, this is the probable lineup for the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaks: A.P. Adventure, Mike Smith; Ashado, John Velazquez; Class Above, Corey Nakatani; Halfbridled, Alex Solis; Hollywood Story, Victor Espinoza; House of Fortune, Shane Sellers; Island Sand, Terry Thompson; Last Song, Robby Albarado; Madcap Escapade, Jerry Bailey; Silent Sighs, David Flores; and Victory U. S. A., Pat Day.

Rich guaranteed pools on pick fours

Churchill has announced that it will offer large guaranteed pools on pick four wagers ending Friday with the Oaks and Saturday with the Kentucky Derby. Both pick fours are made entirely of stakes races, with $1 million guaranteed on Derby Day and $500,000 on Oaks Day.

Last year, the guarantees were $750,000 for the Derby and $250,000 for the Oaks.

Hernandez prepares for future

Apprentice rider Brian Hernandez Jr., a rising star in Louisiana, will be here Monday through Wednesday to gallop horses in an attempt to build business for later in the meet. Hernandez, 18, was the leading rider at the Delta Downs meet that recently ended and is the current leader at Evangeline Downs.

Agent Fred Aime, who already has journeyman Shane Sellers, will represent Hernandez.

"May 26 probably will be his first day here," said Aime. "He's graduating high school first."

Sightseek preps for Louisville

Sightseek, the four-time Grade 1 winning mare, worked six furlongs in 1:12.60 at Hollywood Park Friday morning in preparation for a likely start in next Friday's Grade 2, $300,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup.

Sightseek was scheduled to be flown from California to Churchill Downs on Saturday morning. Last year, Sightseek won the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs, the first of her four Grade 1 victories in 2003. This year, Frankel says he plans to keep Sightseek in route races. Frankel said skipping the Humana had nothing to do with not wanting to run against Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year who is expected to run in the Humana.

"I never had any intention of running in the seven-eighths," Frankel said.

Frankel said once Sightseek leaves Hollywood Park, "she'll never see California again.'' All of Sightseek's five losses on dirt have come at Santa Anita.

Sightseek is coming off a 7 1/2-length victory in the Rampart Handicap last month at Gulfstream. Following the Louisville Breeders' Cup, Sightseek will ship to Belmont Park, where she won the Ogden Phipps Handicap and the Beldame last year.

Weights for the Louisville were due out Saturday, and it will be interesting to see how the Churchill Downs racing secretary, Doug Bredar, weights Azeri and Sightseek, both of whom are nominated to the Louisville and Humana Distaff.

As of Friday, those pointing to the Louisville include La Reason, Lead Story, Pocus Hocus and Yell.

Azeff back at track as spectator

Yvonne Azeff, who survived a near-fatal training-hours accident at Gulfstream Park during the winter of 2002, has been among the many backside visitors here the past two mornings. Azeff was an assistant trainer for John Ward at the time of her accident and an integral part of the team that won the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos.

Azeff was left partially paralyzed as a result of injuries suffered in her accident. She returned to her post as Ward's assistant during the 2003 Gulfstream meeting, but retired from the track later that spring. She has been residing locally for the past year, but plans to relocate with her family to Ocala, Florida on a permanent basis in the near future.

"I'm just so happy to be back at the track," said Azeff, who has spent much of her time the last two days visiting longtime friend Amanda Roxborough, the regular exercise rider for Kentucky Derby contender Friends Lake. "You know when we're working on the track we all complain about the long hours and how we can't wait to get some time off. Now that I'm gone, all I want to do is be here."

Azeff says she does have the opportunity to spend time around the horses when she is in Ocala, Fla., as a visitor at Frank Stronach's Adena Springs Farm.

"I'm friends with Randy Bradshaw, who oversees the operation at Adena Springs, and he allows me to come by and help clock the horses when they work in the mornings," said Azeff. "I really love being around the babies, and it gives me something to do when I have insomnia and wake up at 3 in the morning."

- additional reporting by David Grening and Mike Welsch