Madison a Breeders' Cup quality race in all but name
Two mares that won on Breeders' Cup weekend at Keeneland in October, Distaff (G1) heroine Stopchargingmaria and TwinSpires.com Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) winner Wavell Avenue, make their season debut in the seven-furlong test. Also appearing under colors for the first time this year is Sheer Drama, one of last year's top older mares, and Grade 1 winner Cavorting, the beaten favorite in the Filly & Mare Sprint.
Amazingly, the 13-horse field goes even deeper. Birdatthewire was a three-time graded stakes winner in 2015, peaking the day after Christmas in the La Brea (G1) at Santa Anita. Fioretti scored an upset win in the Thoroughbred Club of America (G2) over this track in the fall, and Spelling Again enjoyed some late-season heroics capturing the Chilukki (G2) at Churchill Downs in November. Dancing House and Clothes Fall Off, if not quite as classy as the others, hold a fitness edge with recent victories in the Barbara Fritchie (G2) at Laurel and $122,000 Correction at Aqueduct, respectively.
Most of the attention, of course, will be on the big four. Stopchargingmaria, who drew post 12 here, finished a strong second in the 2015 Madison in what was clearly a tune-up for longer races. She won three of her final four starts of the campaign, none of which was shorter than 1 1/8 miles.
Sheer Drama, who scored back-to-back wins in the Delaware H. (G1) and Personal Ensign (G1) last summer, is another that should find longer races more up her wheelhouse. Stuck with post 13 in the Distaff, she raced wide much of the way and her fourth-place effort was admirable under the circumstances.
Cavorting was also hurt by a bad post, 14, in the Breeders' Cup. Fourth there, she'll be skimming the rail breaking from post 1 in the Madison, which might not be that ideal either. A filly that's blown hot and cold, all three of her graded wins have come at Saratoga.
That leaves Wavell Avenue as possibly the horse to beat. The Chad Brown trainee, unplaced in a pair of restricted stakes last summer, bloomed in the fall when narrowly missing to eventual champion La Verdad in the Gallant Bloom H. (G2) before posting a 10-1 upset in the Filly & Mare Sprint.
The $250,000 Commonwealth (G3), for males at seven furlongs, pales in comparison quality-wise but is a solid betting race. Leading candidates include Grade 3 winner Barbados, runner-up to Runhappy in last fall's Phoenix (G3) at Keeneland; Amsterdam (G2) winner Holy Boss, fourth in the Phoenix and Twinspires.com Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1); and multiple graded stakes winner Departing, who narrowly missed in the 2014 Fayette (G2) in his only prior trip over the surface.
The $200,000 Shakertown (G3), at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf, has attracted the 2015 race winner Something Extra, who soured in his final few outings last season. The Australian-bred Power Alert is the likely favorite after two straight wins at Gulfstream, but he never picked up over a rain-softened course in last year's Shakertown as the 5-2 choice.
A number of the other major contenders might find the distance a little too short. Undrafted achieved world fame last June taking the Diamond Jubilee (G1) at Royal Ascot, for which this serves as a useful tune-up toward that title defense. Also expected to be on the scene late are Bye Bye Bernie, Summation Time, and The Great War, who were separated by a head in the six-furlong Nearctic (G2) at Woodbine in October.
(Wavell Avenue photo: Keeneland/Coady Photography)