Bruce Lunsord's undefeated Madcap Escapade was able to dictate the pace and hold off a determined Ashado in the stretch for her fourth straight victory in the $485,000 Ashland Stakes (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland Saturday.
In a field reduced to four by the scratch of Halfbridled, Madcap Escapade won the 1 1/16-mile Ashland, a leading steppingstone to the April 30 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), by a half-length in 1:44 2/5 on a fast track.
It was Madcap Escapade's first win around two turns and the first major test for the late-developing filly.
"It couldn't have gone any better," winning rider Rene Douglas said. "We had a very easy opening quarter and she just cruised right along. She was looking at the starting gate on the turn for home and kind of hesitated a bit. I was concerned when I saw Ashado coming but we had enough left to win."
The bay daughter of Hennessy–Sassy Pants (by Saratoga Six
) ducked in at the start but straightened out to lead into the first turn. She clicked off fractions of :24, :47 2/5 and 1:11 2/5, clearing off to a three-length lead coming out of the final turn.
Ashado, stalking the pace at the rail for Cornelio Velasquez, angled out for the stretch run and cut into the lead coming down the lane.
"There is not a question that she is a special filly," winning trainer Frank Brothers said. "She's been that way from day one. She is by far the best filly I've trained. She had to run today. She had to fight a little bit. This is the first time she's gone two turns and she showed today that she is special."
Valesquez noted, "Those fractions were too slow. For us to have to go get her, it was too much."
Trainer Todd Pletcher was pleased with Ashado's effort and said the Kentucky Oaks is the next likely step.
Last Song came on to get third, 4 1/2 lengths behind the winner, as La Reina faded after prompting the early pace.
Madcap Escapade won her first three races by a combined 26 1/2 lengths. She was coming off a 4 3/4-length triumph in the Forward Gal (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park March 13.
Her first grade I victory was worth $310,000, pushing her career bankroll to $479,200.
Off at odds of 7-10, Madcap Escapade paid $3.40 and $2.20. Ashado returned $2.60. There was no show wagering. The $2 exacta was $5.40.