03/14/2005 1:00AM

Will rivalry resume in Apple Blossom?

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Ryan McAlinden/EQUI-PHOTO
Madcap Escapade may face Ashado in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park or she may make her next start in the Beaumont at Keeneland.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Ashado and Madcap Escapade are on the same training schedule, with both fillies turning in sharp workouts in south Florida on Sunday morning. The question remains whether they will also be in the same starting gate for an eagerly awaited rubber match in Oaklawn Park's Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap on April 9.

Ashado has been pointing for the 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom since arriving at the Palm Meadows training center shortly after her victory in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Distaff. Madcap Escapade, who kicked off her 4-year-old campaign with an impressive victory in Gulfstream's Grade 2 Shirley Jones on Feb. 19, will either make her next start in the Apple Blossom or five days later in the seven-furlong, Grade 2 Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland.

Ashado, working in company with stablemate Flower Alley, drilled six furlongs in 1:11.80 at Palm Meadows on Sunday. The work was her eighth dating back to Jan. 23.

"We were shooting for 1:13 and she wound up going a little faster, but she's just doing so well right now - she did it in hand and she did it the right way," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "This was her second six-furlong work, and we've actually gotten to the point where we're way ahead of schedule, but better to be ahead than behind. This way we've got a little comfort zone now."

Madcap Escapade worked five-eighths in 1:00.40 on Sunday at Gulfstream Park. Afterward, trainer Frank Brothers remained undecided about her next start.

"She worked fine," said Brothers. "She'll have one more work here, then fly to Kentucky on the 23rd. Her next start will either be in the Apple Blossom or the Beaumont.

"There are a lot of pluses to running in both races. I guess I'm leaning a little more to the seven-furlong race at the moment, but a lot of water will flow under the bridge between now and then," he said. "The two races are only five days apart, so I won't have to alter my training schedule much, and there's a flight coming through Kentucky and heading to Oaklawn, so getting her to Arkansas won't be a problem if that's the way we decide to go."

Madcap Escapade and Ashado split their two decisions in 2004. Madcap Escapade took round one, leading throughout to capture the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland. Ashado won the rematch, rallying to victory in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks with Madcap Escapade finishing a tiring third.

"I have all the greatest respect for Ashado," said Brothers. "She's a terrific filly. As good as it gets. If I knew for some reason she wouldn't be in the Apple Blossom it might make my decision easier, but I'm assuming that's the direction she's heading.

"Perhaps if she were to be vulnerable it might be in her first start back. We've all run off the bench, and sometimes they are there and sometimes they are not," he said. "And it looks like with Oaklawn's short stretch and at a mile and one-sixteenth the conditions might be good for my filly. Certainly it would be more in our favor to face her there than going a mile and one-eighth with the long stretch at Churchill Downs."

Turfway the target for Proud Accolade

Pletcher said Proud Accolade, who was forced to pass Saturday's Louisiana Derby after contracting a fever a week before the race, was back in regular training and scheduled to work at Palm Meadows on Tuesday.

"Right now I'm thinking about taking him to Turfway if all goes well," said Pletcher. "Either for the Rushaway or the Lane's End."

Both races will be run on March 26.

Value Plus, scratched out of last Saturday's Richter Scale Handicap, worked Sunday at Palm Meadows, going five furlongs in 59.60 seconds.

"Basically I scratched him Saturday because he drew post 1," said Pletcher. "If he had a better post we probably would have run, but he's not a good gate horse to begin with, and the rail going seven-eighths is a tough assignment."

Pletcher said Value Plus would likely make his next start here on April 2 in the 7 1/2-furlong Artax Handicap.

Zito could have two for Florida Derby

Noble Causeway, one of five Kentucky Derby hopefuls in trainer Nick Zito's barn, worked five furlongs in 1:01.20 at Palm Meadows on Monday. Noble Causeway will likely make his next start in the $1 million Florida Derby on April 2.

"Right now the Florida Derby is our most probable option for him," Zito said. "He might have one more work between now and the race, or perhaps two. This isn't an exact science. I go by feel and instinct. We'll just see how he's doing."

Zito also confirmed that High Fly, winner of the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, is definitely being pointed to the Florida Derby.

Sponsorships available for Boulanger benefit

Jockey agent Cory Moran said anybody wishing to make contributions to aid injured jockey Gary Boulanger and his family can send checks to the Gary Boulanger Fund Inc., care of Rosemary Homeister, P.O. Box 327595, Pembroke Pines, FL 33332.

Regular tee times for the Boulanger Benefit Golf Tournament, scheduled for March 29 at the Raintree Golf Resort, are sold out. But jockey and celebrity sponsorships are still available for those wishing to play with Angel Cordero Jr., Mike Luzzi, Chris DeCarlo, Sebastian Madrid, Hank Goldberg, Bob Griese, or David Cassidy. Sponsorships cost $1,500 and include greens fees for three players.

Moran reports that Boulanger, severely injured in a spill during the Mac Diarmida Handicap on Jan. 29, is at home and in fair condition following additional surgery last week.