04/10/2002 12:00AM

Victory Ride comes back just as she left - a winner


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Victory Ride, making her first start since winning the Grade 1 Test Stakes last July and then undergoing surgery several weeks later, made a triumphant comeback Wednesday, winning the inaugural running of the $111,300 Madison Stakes at Keeneland.

With Edgar Prado riding for owner Watts Humphrey and trainer Rusty Arnold, the 3-2 favorite Victory Ride defeated Celtic Melody, the 4-1 third choice, by a length.

Away finished third, while Nasty Storm, the 5-2 second choice, faded to fifth in a field of seven fillies and mares.

"She's a lot more mature than she was last summer," said Prado, who rode Victory Ride in the Test. "She ran super."

Victory Ride, a 4-year-old Seeking the Gold filly, suffered a condylar fracture several weeks after her sensational victory in the Test. If the Madison is a gauge, she came back as good as new, running the seven furlongs in 1:23.70 over a fast track.

"She staggered the last eighth of a mile, which she had a right to," said Arnold. "I didn't really crank on her for this. She needed it. Hopefully, we can use this to move forward."

Arnold said the Humana Distaff on the May 4 Kentucky Derby undercard is the probable next race for Victory Ride, a Kentucky-bred who now has won four of five career starts.

Nasty Storm faded in the final furlong after pressing the pace under Pat Day. The Madison was her first start since she reeled off three straight victories last fall.

"First race back - long year," said trainer Dallas Stewart.

On a sunny, cool afternoon, and before a crowd of 8,265, three fillies vied for early command, with Victory Ride poised to strike from just behind them.

Into the stretch, Prado kept her several paths from the rail, and the filly responded under steady urging.

The biggest disappointment of the race was Trip, who was the 4-1 fourth choice while bringing the largest bankroll ($692,818) into the race. She was never a factor, finishing last.

Victory Ride paid $5 to win. The 4-2 exacta paid $17 and the 4-2-6 trifecta paid $257.60.