With so many stakes for 3-year-olds bunched together in a small time period, it was inevitable that at least one of them would come up with the short end of the stick in terms of graded stakes talent. From the looks of it, Saturday’s $350,000, Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga is the one. When trainer Bob Baffert opted to keep the brilliant Gamine on the West Coast, it left the CCA Oaks with just six starters and only one with a graded stakes win to her credit. On the bright side, there are a few fillies who displayed some promise in their brief careers, including one trained by Baffert, and one of them might be able to handle a big class jump and make a name for herself at historic Saratoga while securing enough qualifying points to start in the Longines Kentucky Oaks.
COACHING CLUB AMERICAN OAKS
1. Tonalist’s Shape (9-5): Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. probably made a wise decision skipping the Central Bank Ashland Stakes in favor of running here. Her last race was a nice bounce-back effort and her recent works have been dazzling. She’s the lone graded stakes winner in the field and should be tough to beat from the rail if she continues on a forward trajectory.
2. Antoinette (6-1): Has some stakes experience and may perk up going turf to dirt. She’s never been worse than third in her last five starts and was third in the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks in her 3-year-old debut. She’s certainly a threat to wind up in the exotics if the added ground doesn’t catch up with her.
3. Altaf (5-1): Took a huge step forward when trainer Chad Brown switched her from turf to dirt and she won by more than five lengths at Churchill Downs. She’s definitely bred to handle the two turns, but will get tested for class while jumping up from a maiden race to a Grade 1 stakes.
4. Velvet Crush (12-1): She’s coming off a nice allowance win at Churchill Downs, but she’s likely to face a lot of pressure on the front end here and her speed figures are a cut below the rest. She has some talent but probably not enough to handle this field.
5. Crystal Ball (4-1): She certainly impressed Hall of Fame trainer Baffert in a 6 ¾-length maiden win, convincing him to deputize her for Gamine and ship her East. She woke up big-time in that second start after finishing third in her debut and if that inspired Baffert to send her to the other side of the country for her next race, that’s an impressive endorsement.
6. Paris Lights (2-1): She might be the best of Mott’s two starters. She won a maiden and an allowance race by wide margins in fast times. If those wins were signs of her development, as opposed to a fondness for Churchill Downs, she will be a force in this field.
THE PICK: Crystal Ball
LIVE LONGSHOT: Altaf