Paulassilverlining winning the 2016 Vagrancy Handicap (gr. III) – Photo by Joe Labozzetta/Coglianese Photos/NYRA
One of the highlights of the April 8th card at Keeneland is the $300,000 Madison Stakes (gr. I), a seven-furlong sprint for fillies and mares. The race has been won in recent years by Breeders’ Cup champions Judy the Beauty, Groupie Doll, Informed Decision, and Ventura, making it one of the most prestigious races in the filly and mare sprint division.
Nine horses have been entered in the 2017 renewal, with Paulassilverlining the slight favorite on the morning line at 3-1. The daughter of Ghostzapper compiled an excellent record during a busy season last year, winning five of her nine starts (including three graded stakes races) and finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I). She also posted four triple-digit BRIS speed figures, including a peak of 106.
Paulassilverlining is certainly the most accomplished horse in the Madison field and has the tactical speed to work out a great trip, but there are a couple of reasons to think she might be vulnerable. For one, her overall record suggests that she’s at her best going a little shorter than seven furlongs, as she tired after vying for the lead in both the Breeders’ Cup and the Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) last year. Secondly, she will be making her first start off a four-month layoff while making her debut for trainer Chad Brown, who took over her training this winter.
For these reasons, I’m tempted to take a shot with Kathballu. While she’s a bit slower than Paulassilverlining in terms of BRIS speed figures, she’s won her last four dirt sprint races by the combined margin of 14 1/2 lengths, including an allowance win at this track and distance last October, for which she earned a career-best 102 BRIS speed figure.
But more importantly, Kathballu possesses sharp early speed and is coming off a win in the Spring Fever Stakes sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs at Oaklawn Park. In a race that doesn’t have a ton of early speed on paper, Kathballu seems poised to work out a ground-saving trip setting or stalking the pace. The Keeneland main track seemed to be kind to speed on April 7th, which would also enhance Kathballu’s chances. She might not be the most likely winner, but at 12-1 I view her as an intriguing upset contender if she’s able to get the lead.
Constellation, winner of the seven-furlong La Brea Stakes (gr. I) in December at Santa Anita, ships in from California for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. A consistent filly that has never finished out of the superfecta while winning five of 10 starts, Constellation prefers to track the pace but has enough early speed to take the lead if asked, possibly making her the primary threat to Kathballu. However, she was no match for Pretty N Cool when second in the Las Flores Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita last month, and the cross-country trip is a question mark.
High Ridge Road deserves respect after winning two straight stakes races at Laurel Park, including the seven-furlong Barbara Fritchie Stakes (gr. II), but in the Barbara Fritchie she capitalized on a track bias that favored her late-running, circle-the-field running style, and it’s worth noting that she’s 4-for-4 at Laurel and 1-for-7 at all other tracks. A modest early pace could also compromise her chances.
Clothes Fall Off is another filly that seems to have a preference for a certain track; in her case, the inner dirt track at Aqueduct, where she has won the six-furlong Correction Stakes two years straight. She’s 3-for-4 (with one second-place finish) over that track and 2-for-11 elsewhere, including an eighth-place finish in the 2016 Madison Stakes. At 4-1 on the morning line, she’s another that might be worth playing against.
So to recap, I view the speedy trio of Paulassilverling, Kathballu, and Constellation to be the main contenders in the Madison Stakes, with preference for the first two. Kathballu in particular would be appealing at anywhere near her 12-1 morning line odds, and could spruce up the payoffs significantly even if finishing second behind Paulassilverlining.
Good luck, and enjoy the race!
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