November 25, 2020

Stakes newcomers pose threat in CCA Oaks; Clement loaded for Hall of Fame

Paris Lights
Paris Lights wins an allowance at Churchill (Coady Photography)

Several late-developing 3-year-old fillies will look to belatedly join the Kentucky Oaks (G1) trail Saturday in the $350,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at Saratoga, a 1 1/8-mile Road to the Kentucky Oaks prep that will award qualifying points of 100-40-20-10 to the top four finishers.

Among these stakes newcomers is WinStar homebred Paris Lights, a Curlin filly who impressively beat maiden and allowance foes at the brief Churchill Downs spring meet for trainer Bill Mott. Crystal Ball, a recent 6 1/4-length maiden winner at Santa Anita for Bob Baffert, and Altaf, who romped to her Churchill graduation by more than five lengths for Chad Brown, are also taking the jump up in class.

Tonalist’s Shape is the most accomplished filly in the field with four stakes wins to her credit, all but one around turn. The Davona Dale (G2) heroine was a sub-par seventh in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) two back when stretching out to two turns for the first time, but rebounded in the May 15 Hollywood Wildcat S. at Gulfstream going 1 1/16 miles. Tonalist’s Shape will sport blinkers for the first time Saturday.

“She’s a filly that wasn’t very flashy in the morning, but recently she has started to improve. She trains much more forwardly in the blinkers,” said trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. “You never really know until they run in them how it will go, but all indications are that she will run well in them.”

Besides Paris Lights, Mott also sends out the stakes-winning Antoinette, who’s placed in graded stakes on both dirt and turf this season. The short field of six is rounded out by recent allowance scorer Velvet Crush.

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Trainer Christophe Clement has the horses to fear in the $150,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (G2), namely Grade 1 veteran Decorated Invader and Gufo, a course record-setting winner of the Kent (G3) at Delaware Park two weeks ago. The 1 1/8-mile turf event is on the radar for Gufo on short rest because of the weather forecast.

“The original idea was to target the Saratoga Derby (on Aug. 15), but there’s possible rain in the forecast on Friday and he came out of his last race in good order,” Clement said of Gofu. “It just keeps our options open, so we’ll have a look at the race.”

Whether Gofu enters the starting gate or not, Decorated Invader is the likely favorite. Winner of the Summer (G1) last fall and a hard luck fourth at the Breeders’ Cup, the son of Declaration of War has rebounded with back-to-back stakes wins to start his sophomore campaign, including a 4 3/4-length romp in the Pennine Ridge (G2).

“A mile and an eighth should be a good distance for him,” said Clement of Decorated Invader, who hasn’t run beyond a mile since his maiden victory at Saratoga last August.

Domestic Spending, a gelded son of Kingman, represents the powerful Chad Brown stable off two overnight wins in as many starts. In the case of a surface switch, Money Moves brings a 2-for-2 mark into the race for Todd Pletcher.