Champion Halfbridled, tops select field for Ashland Stakes.

Champion Halfbridled, tops select field for Ashland Stakes.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Small Field for Ashland Loaded With Talent

A small but select field of 3-year-old fillies, including champion Halfbridled, undefeated Madcap Escapade, Eclipse Award finalist Ashado, and grade III winner La Reina, has been entered for Saturday's $500,000 Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland.

Wertheimer Farm's Halfbridled, undisputed queen of the 2-year-old filly division last year, ended her undefeated juvenile campaign with an impressive victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

Rested until the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I), the daughter of Unbridled seemed a tad rusty in her comeback effort, finishing second to Silent Sighs. Halfbridled has trained brilliantly since then and should be the Ashland favorite. With Julie Krone on the disabled list, Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella has chosen his go-to guy, Alex Solis, to ride Halfbridled on Saturday.

Like Halfbridled, Emory Hamilton's La Reina seemed in need of her initial 2004 start. The Shug McGaughey trainee was never worse than second in four starts last year, winning the Tempted Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct. Returned to the races in the Forward Gal Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park in March, the daughter of A.P. Indy ran second to fellow Ashland entrant Madcap Escapade. With that prep under her belt, La Reina should be a force to be reckoned with in the Ashland. Her regular rider John Velazquez will be in the boot.

Bruce Lunsford's Madcap Escapade has never tasted defeat. A 10-length winner of her debut at Gulfstream Park in January, the daughter of Hennessy followed that victory with an 11-length score in the Old Hat Stakes. Winning the Forward Gal Stakes over La Reina in her latest trip to the post, the Frankie Brothers-trainee will be trying two turns for the first time in the Ashland.

Rene Douglas will be aboard to ration her brilliant speed.

While Halfbridled and La Reina were resting on their laurels, Starlight Stable, Saylor and Martin's Ashado was winning the Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct and the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) in New Orleans. The daughter of Saint Ballado has won five races in seven starts, while never finishing out of the money. Trainer Todd Pletcher will give a leg-up to Cornelio Velasquez, who was aboard Ashado for her Fair Grounds Oaks victory.

Trainer Carl Nafzger is very high on Buckram Oak Farm's Last Song. Slow-developing as 2-year-old, the daughter of Unbridled's Song has come into her own this year. An eight-length allowance winner in her 2004 debut, Last Song annexed the Bonnie Miss Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park in her latest effort. A proven commodity at the Ashland distance of 1 1/16 miles, she will be ridden by last spring's leading rider Robby Albarado.

The field for the Ashland in post position order:
1. Halfbridled, A. Solis, 123
2. Ashado, C. Velazquez, 123
3. Madcap Escapade, R. Douglas, 118
4. La Reina, J. Velasquez, 120
5. Last Song, R. Albarado, 120