April 10, 2021

Tonalist’s Shape, Spice Is Nice rematch in Gulfstream Oaks; Zulu Alpha also stars on stakes-laden card

Tonalist's Shape wins the 2020 Forward Gal (Lauren King/Coglianese Photography)

With racing opportunities likely to be in short supply in the near future, a dozen 3-year-old fillies will line up in Saturday’s $200,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2). The 1 1/16-miles race offers qualifying points of 100-40-20-10 to the top four finishers for the Kentucky Oaks (G1), now rescheduled for September.

Tonalist’s Shape has been the dominant filly in Florida with back-to-back wins in the Forward Gal (G3) and Davona Dale (G2), but her two-turn abilities will be tested for the first time against a strong group of rivals.

“She seems to be getting better with each race and she keeps winning, which is the important thing,” said trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. “She does it all different ways. Last time was the first time she was on the lead the whole way. She just shows that she has different dimensions. She can do it from behind, she can do it from in front, and that’s a good attribute to have.”

Undefeated in five starts, Tonalist’s Shape will again face Spice Is Nice, a solid second as the favorite in the Davona Dale in what was only her second lifetime start. The daughter of Curlin was a 12-length winner on debut and is bred to be even better going longer.

“I thought she ran well last time. She was still a little green and it was a lot to ask for her to jump from one start to a graded-stakes,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “She was giving up a little seasoning but I think she learned a little something and I think two turns is really what she’s wanting.”

Other notables in the lineup include Demoiselle (G2) winner Lake Avenue, who seeks to rebound from a disappointing fourth in the Busher Invitational at Aqueduct; Lucrezia, five-length heroine of the Suncoast S. at Tampa Bay Downs; Dream Marie, third in the Davona Dale; and Swiss Skydiver, most recently third behind Finite in the Rachel Alexandra (G2) at Fair Grounds.

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Zulu Alpha justified even-money favoritism in the Mac Diarmida (Ryan Thompson/Coglianese Photos)

The stakes-laden Florida Derby undercard is highlighted by Zulu Alpha‘s third appearance of the Gulfstream meet in the 1 1/2-mile, $200,000 Pan American (G2). The veteran 7-year-old has quickly secured the top spot among older turf males during this young season, with back-to-back victories in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Mac Diarmida (G2).

“He continues to do excellent,” trainer Mike Maker said. “I called an audible since the (Old Forester Turf Classic [G1] at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day) had been canceled, so we elected for the Pan American. “He’s had a great winter.”

Newspaperofrecord, brilliant at two but winless in three starts last season, will attempt to kick-start her racing career again in the $100,000 Sand Springs S., a one-mile grass test for fillies and mares.

A dominant winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) in 2018, the Chad Brown trainee was second at odds-on in her firs two starts last year, and disappointed again when ninth in the Belmont Oaks (G1).

Another returning from an extended layoff is last year’s Blue Grass (G2) winner Vekoma, who makes his first start since May in the $75,000 Sir Shackleton over 7 furlongs. The George Weaver-trained colt was last seen in the Kentucky Derby (G1), in which he was elevated from 13th to 12th.

An early highlight of the day’s racing is the $100,000 Cutler Bay, a one-mile grass test for 3-year-olds. Recent Palm Beach (G3) victor Vitalogy will take on his Summer (G1) conqueror Decorated Invader, a rough-trip fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) when last seen in November.