Tonalist’s Shape and Spice Is Nice Hope for Rematch in Gulfstream Oaks

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Prior to Saturday’s main event at Gulfstream Park, a full field of 12 fillies will grace the track for the 2020 Gulfstream Oaks. This is a premier prep race for the Kentucky Oaks, which typically takes place the day before the Kentucky Derby in May, but has also been pushed back to September due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Twelve horses and two alternates have been cleared for the race, which is slated for a 4:49 p.m. ET post time in Race 11. The Florida Derby will be at 6:36 p.m. ET and you can read about that one in our preview of the 14th and final race of Saturday.

Like the Road to the Kentucky Derby, the Road to the Kentucky Oaks has been interrupted by COVID-19. The Sunland Park Oaks was cancelled as the last race of the first leg of the series. Next week’s Ashland Stakes and Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland have already been cancelled and so has the Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct. We’ll see if the Santa Anita Oaks stays on the calendar for April 4.

It is great to see a full-field event here after only six horses participated in Champagne Anyone’s win last year.

Here are the post positions, horses, trainers, jockeys, and morning line odds for the 2020 Gulfstream Park Oaks:

Post Horse Trainer Jockey Odds
1 Inveterate D. Magner M. Franco 20/1
2 Bajan Girl R. Crichton M. Vasquez 20/1
3 Spartanka M. Maker D. Davis 20/1
4 Lake Avenue W. Mott J. Rosario 9/2
5 Spice Is Nice T. Pletcher TBD 3/1
6 Swiss Skydiver K. McPeek P. Lopez 10/1
7 Lucrezia A. Delacour J. Leparoux 8/1
8 Dream Marie M. Williams R. Mitchell 15/1
9 Tonalist’s Shape S. Joseph Jr. T. Gaffalione 5/2
10 Mrs. S T. Pletcher J. Velazquez 15/1
11 Addilyn A. Sano E. Zayas 30/1
12 Sunset Promise M. Maker F. Geroux 20/1
13(AE) Four Grands D. Romans L. Saez 10/1
14(AE) Marialuisa J. Rodriguez S. Gonzalez 30/1

Second favorite Spice Is Nice, who had a duel to the finish with Tonalist’s Shape in the Davona Dale Stakes last month, will have a new rider in the mount. Originally, Javier Castellano was supposed to ride her, but he is under quarantine after testing positive for coronavirus.

Interestingly, it was John Velazquez in the mount on Spice Is Nice for that race. Will Pletcher pull a switcheroo and put Velazquez back on Spice Is Nice now and find a new rider for 15/1 shot Mrs. S? That sure seems like a possibility.

Let’s roll through the 12 contenders and two alternates and put together a card for Saturday’s 11th race:

1. Inveterate (20/1) – The daughter of Palace Malice is running in her first stakes race. She was a winner in her last maiden special weight at Aqueduct with a one-mile time of 1:41.93 on the dirt. It was a return to dirt after a stop on the turf at Belmont for a one-mile trip. She, like so many other fillies, is just outgunned in this field.

2. Bajan Girl (20/1) – Another stakes debutant here with Bajan Girl, the daughter of Speightstown. The Kentucky-bred bay filly is coming off of her maiden win, but it came on the turf at Gulfstream. This looks like another horse outgunned in the field.

3. Spartanka (20/1) – This filly was heavily raced as a two-year-old, but really didn’t have much to show for it. Now the Godolphin-bred filly and daughter of Street Sense has a win and a second at Gulfstream Park thus far in 2020. All of the sudden, Spartanka is showing some decent speed for Dylan Davis and Michael Maker. She is stepping up in class and distance to run at 1 1/16 miles here, but she may be something of a popular filly for exotics on Saturday.

4. Lake Avenue (9/2) – The daughter of Tapit certainly has the connections and the bloodline to be a threat with legendary trainer Bill Mott and Hall of Fame rider Joel Rosario. This Godolphin-owned filly had a horrible run in the Busher Invitational at Aqueduct back on March 7. She’s coming back quickly here, which is kind of interesting given the difficulty she seemed to have over the second half of that race. But, maybe it was the long layoff of over five months that hurt her in the Busher.

Lake Avenue has actually run at 1 1/8 miles and it was in the Demoiselle Stakes, a Grade 2 race in December. She pulled away in the final 1/8 mile in that race. So what happened in the Busher? She just stopped running and stopped responding to Junior Alvarado. Can Joel Rosario get the most out of her here?

5. Spice Is Nice (3/1) – Spice Is Nice adds a little bit of distance here to what was a fairly disappointing ending to the Davona Dale Stakes. She didn’t have nearly enough to compete with Tonalist’s Shape, but John Velazquez seemed to know that and didn’t attempt to go to the well for more out of her in her first big step up in class. Now she is in her second career stakes race and is looking for revenge.

Perhaps the daughter of Curlin needs some more distance and a second turn. We’ll see if Velazquez draws the mount now that Javier Castellano is out of commission for the Gulfstream Oaks.

Author update: With no scratches, Four Grands is not in the race and Luis Saez now has the mount with Spice Is Nice.

6. Swiss Skydiver (10/1) – Swiss Skydiver narrowly held off Tempers Rising for third place in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds last month, but it was a game effort for the Kenneth McPeek filly. Swiss Skydiver got stuck behind the sliding leader His Glory and had to move to path 2 and even path 3 in order to get out into some open racing just to narrowly hold on and finish third in that 1 1/16 mile race.

It was actually a pretty good run, all things considered for Brian Hernandez Jr. Paco Lopez now draws the mount in a venue he is very comfortable with. It is tough to know whether or not Swiss Skydiver has the speed to get up to the front, as Finite and British Idiom were clearly better in the Rachel Alexandra, but she is a persistent horse that didn’t mind the increase in distance. She’s a clear candidate for exotics and could spoil the party to hit the board.

7. Lucrezia (8/1) – This wasn’t the target race for Lucrezia, as Arnaud Delacour seemed to want to take a shot in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, but the daughter of Into Mischief now winds up in the Gulfstream Oaks. This will be a distance test for her and Julien Leparoux, who is a great rider that got a firsthand look when he finished second on Turtle Trax to Lucrezia in the Suncoast Stakes.

Lucrezia had a pretty easy trip staying on the rail out of the gate until the half mile when Daniel Centeno took her out wide and she used her speed to get to the front and stay there. There was no traffic. She didn’t have to navigate a pack or go anywhere until Centeno decided he had the best speed in the race. It won’t be that easy of a trip this time in a stronger field, but she didn’t mind going from six furlongs to one mile and 40. Maybe she won’t mind another jump in distance.

8. Dream Marie (15/1) – Dream Marie finished a solid third to Tonalist’s Shape and Spice Is Nice in the Davona Dale last month right here at Gulfstream. Richard Mitchell gets to stay on the mount here for the 15/1 shot. It was a good run at 28/1 and a race that got her on the map, but she really feels like a long shot to be a factor here. With extra distance and stronger speed horses out there, she just doesn’t look to have enough. Her Davona Dale performance looks like an outlier, though there is a small chance she can sustain it.

She has had great workouts lately, which is why so many are enamored with her chances.

9. Tonalist’s Shape (5/2) – The favorite for the Gulfstream Oaks is the filly that bested Spice Is Nice in the Davona Dale and that is Tonalist’s Shape. The daughter of, you guessed it, Tonalist, is undefeated in her career for Saffie Joseph and she’ll have Tyler Gaffalione up in the mount once again. This is the best horse in the field, even though some do believe that Spice Is Nice will get revenge. This will be a bump in distance for Tonalist’s Shape, who has an excellent bloodline with Tapit and Tonalist in the pedigree. Tonalist was the 2014 Belmont Stakes winner.

Ultimately, this probably ends up a two-horse race, much like the Davona Dale. Tonalist’s Shape had a stronger trip over the last few furlongs for Gaffalione than Spice Is Nice had for Velazquez with a wide final turn. Tonalist’s Shape also has to come from the outside and that could cost her some important early energy.

10. Mrs. S (15/1) – Again, we’ll be watching for a jockey change here in the event that Pletcher opts to go with John Velazquez on Spice Is Nice and somebody else on the longer shot Mrs. S. The Pletcher/Velazquez team is a formidable one and especially in this race. But, as good as the driver is, you have to have the car. To her credit, Mrs. S has gone distances in maiden special weight races, including a 1 1/8-mile win here at Gulfstream last month.

This is just a major step up in class, as we know. Her return to dirt went well last time out. While many are looking at Dream Marie as the long shot sleeper, Mrs. S is on my radar.

11. Addilyn (30/1) – Addilyn ran fifth in the Davona Dale and hasn’t won in her last six races. She ran second to Dream Marie in an allowance race back in January over one mile. She went 1 1/16 in the Pocahontas back in September at Churchill Downs and finished a disappointing eighth. She looks to be a non-factor here.

12. Sunset Promise (20/1) – Sunset Promise returns to dirt for the first time since May. Trainer Michael Maker seems to just want to get her some work in a stakes race and hope something crazy happens and she can hit the board. She hasn’t hit the board in 2020 after finishing second to Cheermeister in the Wait a While Stakes back in November. She looks like a non-factor here as well, though the distance shouldn’t be an issue for her, having run some length on turf previously.

13AE. Four Grands (10/1) – This is a horse that could hit the board if given the chance. Dale Romans and Luis Saez team up here for the daughter of Honor Code. She won her maiden by over six lengths as an 8/5 favorite earlier this month at six furlongs. The distance would be a big difference for her here, but she has a strong pedigree and profiles well with distance.

If Four Grands gets a chance because of a scratch, don’t be surprised if she gets some love on the betting board. She’ll have to come from the far outside post, but she has a bright future after being unraced as a two-year-old. If she can’t get in this one, maybe Romans takes a shot with a summer prep in hopes of getting into some part of the Triple Tiara.

14AE. Marialuisa (30/1) – The other also-eligible, Marialuisa, has no shot if she gets in the field. Another daughter of Tonalist, Marialuisa was eighth in her maiden all the way back in November.

 

Picks

You know a horse has a lot of promise when Godolphin holds onto it and that is why Lake Avenue is very much on my radar here. Does she have enough to run with Tonalist’s Shape and Spice Is Nice? I think so. Whether or not she has enough to win is another story, but I’d put her up there with those two in exactas or trifectas, as I will here.

Exacta Box: 4/5/9

Of the horses guaranteed to be in the field, Swiss Skydiver intrigues me more than Dream Marie in the 10/1 range. If you like exotics, I’m considering a trifecta that includes Swiss Skydiver along with the aforementioned three horses.

The issue here is that she doesn’t have the top-end speed, but Paco Lopez is a Gulfstream Park fixture, so he knows the lines and knows every step of the track. It would take a perfect trip, but Lopez could have that in him and Swiss Skydiver is a consistent competitor. She’s had some good speed figures in her last two races.

Trifecta Box: 4/5/6/9

If Four Grands makes her way into the field, I really think there’s a chance that she could make some noise. It would require a big ride from Saez and enough of a stalking pace to give it a go on the second turn, but she’s got a fine bloodline and good barn with Romans at the helm. I may put something on her if she gets in.

Post time is 4:49 p.m. ET on Saturday March 28.

For my thoughts on the Florida Derby, the main event of the evening, take a look through my race preview.

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