When a dozen 3-year-old fillies head to the Gulfstream Park starting gate for Saturday’s $200,000 Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks, the stakes will be high and the competition fierce.
A “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” prep race offering 100 qualifying points to the winner, the 1 1/16-mile Gulfstream Park Oaks figures to be hotly contested from start to finish. With a short run to the first turn, and with an abbreviated run down the homestretch, the battle to secure clean trips will be intense.
Certainly the race figures to unfold at a quicker tempo than the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream last month, won in determined fashion by the undefeated #9 Tonalist’s Shape. A daughter of 2014 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, Tonalist’s Shape has gone 5-for-5 under the care of hot trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., accumulating three stakes victories with relative ease. Prior to the Davona Dale, Tonalist’s Shape claimed the Hut Hut Stakes and the Grade 3 Forward Gal Stakes (both at Gulfstream Park) by the combined margin of 12 3/4 lengths.
But in the Davona Dale, Tonalist’s Shape benefited from an ideal setup. In a race without much speed, Tonalist’s Shape found herself racing on the lead through comfortable early fractions. Coming off the turn, she kicked away under urging and held sway under pressure to keep her undefeated record intact.
Although the end result was a victory, Tonalist’s Shape didn’t look unstoppable in the Davona Dale. Runner-up #5 Spice Is Nice endured a wider trip than the winner and was resilient down the homestretch, cutting Tonalist’s Shape’s lead from 2 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole to 1 1/4 lengths at the finish line.
Conditioned by four-time Gulfstream Park Oaks-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, Spice Is Nice has always had the appearance of a promising prospect. Sold for $1.05 million as a yearling, Spice Is Nice was breathtaking in her debut running a mile at Gulfstream, settling a couple lengths off the pace before powering clear with authority in the homestretch to win by a dozen lengths. Her gritty follow-up effort in the Davona Dale confirms she has the talent to compete at a high level, and her connections have even nominated Spice Is Nice to the Triple Crown.
There are reasons to believe Spice Is Nice can turn the tables on Tonalist’s Shape in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. Whereas the Davona Dale was held around one turn, Saturday’s race will take place around two turns, a configuration that could potentially lend an advantage to the stoutly-bred Spice Is Nice. As a daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of the Grade 1-winning mare Dame Dorothy (in turn a daughter of Preakness winner Bernardini), Spice Is Nice is bred to improve with maturity and thrive over longer distances.
With just two starts under her belt, there’s plenty of room for Spice Is Nice to step up her game in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. She’s drawn well in post position five, which should allow her to save ground compared to Tonalist’s Shape, who has drawn post nine with several speedy rivals to her inside. Unless Tonalist’s Shape breaks like a rocket and sprints to the front, she’s likely to be hung wide around the first turn and possibly the second as well.
With these factors in mind, we’ll favor Spice Is Nice to win the Gulfstream Park Oaks, betting her to win and keying her on top in the exacta. We’ll naturally include Tonalist’s Shape on our ticket, but we’ll also use #8 Dream Marie, who rallied to finish third in the Davona Dale.
Sold for just $25,000 as a 2-year-old, Dream Marie has shown plenty of potential for hot trainer Matthew Williams, winning three straight races before her defeat in the Davona Dale. Although she was no match for Tonalist’s Shape and Spice Is Nice, Dream Marie did pull 7 1/2 lengths clear of the rest, and a faster pace in the Gulfstream Park Oaks could help her finish closer on Saturday.
Wagering Strategy on a $20 Budget
$10 to win on #5 Spice Is Nice
What to say at the betting window: Gulfstream Park, 11th race, $10 to win on #5
$5 exacta: 5 with 8,9 ($10)
What to say at the betting window: Gulfstream Park, 11th race, $5 exacta: 5 with 8,9
Good luck, and enjoy the race!
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