04/26/2004 11:00PM

Oaks field loaded with contenders


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Pretty much everyone is present and accounted for. In a year in which virtually every top 3-year-old filly in North America has remained free of illness or injury, a remarkable assembly of that talent will be on display here Friday in the 130th running of the Kentucky Oaks.

Twelve fillies were entered Tuesday in the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaks, led by Halfbridled, the 2-year-old filly champion, and Madcap Escapade, the Ashland Stakes winner who is unbeaten in four starts. They drew post positions 4 and 6, respectively, in the 1 1/8-mile race.

Other serious challengers include Ashado (post 1), winner of four graded stakes; House of Fortune (post 5), easy winner of the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes; Silent Sighs (post 7), winner of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks; Victory U. S. A. (post 8), dominating winner of the Grade 2 Beaumont Stakes; and A.P. Adventure (post 9), winner of the Grade 1 Las Virgenes.

While Halfbridled is expected to be a slight favorite despite finishing second in each of her starts this year, the tote board for the Oaks figures to reflect a diversity in opinion among horseplayers, including an ontrack crowd that is expected to number about 100,000. Among the handful of fillies who will take solid play is Ashado, who has 5 wins, 2 seconds, and 1 third from 8 career starts.

"We're optimistic," said Todd Pletcher, trainer of Ashado, most recently second in the April 3 Ashland at Keeneland. "The filly has been training very well here and seems to like the surface. She's been remarkably consistent. It could set up for us better than the Ashland, when Madcap Escapade was able to rate kindly. There should be someone to entertain her up front a little bit this time, and we'll be in the second tier ready to strike at the right time."

Meanwhile, trainer Wally Dollase said Tuesday that he has reversed his decision to run A.P. Adventure with blinkers. After A.P. Adventure lost her last start, the Santa Anita Oaks, Dollase said A.P. Adventure was not sufficiently focused and would wear blinkers in the Oaks. But with the abundance of early speed in the Oaks, he said he feared A.P. Adventure might be too keen with blinkers and get caught up in a speed duel.

The rest of the Oaks field is Hollywood Story (post 2), Island Sand (post 3), Last Song (post 10), Class Above (post 11), and Stellar Jayne (post 12). Of those, perhaps Last Song, winner of the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss Stakes, rates the best upset chance.

Post time for the Oaks, the 10th of 11 Friday races, is 5:45 p.m. First post is 11 a.m. The race will be televised live on ESPN on a one-hour show that begins at 5.

The weather forecast for Friday calls for an outside threat of showers and a high temperature of 73.

Kentucky Oaks 130 Entrants

Post Position Horse Trainer
1 Ashado Todd Pletcher
2 Hollywood Story John Shirreffs
3 Island Sand Larry Jones
4 Halfbridled Richard Mandella
5 House Of Fortune Ronald McAnally
6 Madcap Escapade Frank Brothers
7 Silent Sighs Julio Canani
8 Victory U.S.A. Bob Baffert
9 A.P. Adventure Wally Dollase
10 Last Song Carl Nafzger
11 Class Above Bob Baffert
12 Stellar Jayne D. Wayne Lukas