Slam Dunk Racing, Legacy Ranch Inc. and Doug Branham’s Tonalist‘s Shape, never having previously flashed speed, found herself in front out of the gate and kept favored Spice Is Nice at bay the length of the stretch to remain undefeated with a 1 ¾-length victory in Saturday’s $200,000 Davona Dale (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
The 33rd running of the one-mile Davona Dale (G2) for 3-year-old fillies was the sixth of 10 stakes, nine graded, worth $1.95 million on a blockbuster 14-race program anchored by the $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (G2).
It was the fifth consecutive win in as many starts for Saffie Joseph Jr.-trained Tonalist’s Shape ($6.20), third straight in stakes company and second graded-stakes in a row following the Forward Gal (G3) Feb. 1 at Gulfstream. The winning time was 1:36.77 over a fast main track.
Breaking from far outside Post 9 under Tyler Gaffalione for the first time, Tonalist’s Shape cruised to the lead rather than her typical stalking position and went a quarter-mile in 23.84 seconds and the half in 46.93 pressed by 23-1 long shot Chart along the rail and 3-5 top choice Spice Is Nice to her outside.
Second choice in the wagering at 2-1, Tonalist’s Shape began to gain separation around the turn with only Spice Is Nice following her move, and the two leaders hooked up as they straightened for home. Under Gaffalione’s urging, Tonalist’s Shape edged clear through the stretch from Spice Is Nice, a 12-length maiden winner Jan. 12 at Gulfstream in her only previous race.
“I didn’t really expect to be in front but she broke so sharp and nobody really wanted the lead so I went ahead and took it. She was cruising along nicely,” Gaffalione said. “I know she wants to run all day so I wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger a little early, and she’s just a really nice filly. She’s got a lot of class to her and I’m so happy for Saffie and his team. They’re unbelievable people and they’ve been supportive of me throughout my career so I’m just ecstatic for them.”
Spice Is Nice was a clear second, 2 ¾ lengths ahead of 25-1 long shot Dream Marie in third. It was another 7 ½ lengths back to Reluctant Bride, followed by Addilyn, Emily’s Oasis, Bayerness, Nikki and Papa and Chart.
“In my dearest dreams I didn’t expect her to be on the lead. I told Tyler, ‘Break her out of there and use her to get position.’ I thought she’d be fourth or fifth,” Joseph said. “I didn’t expect her to be on the lead. When she got to the lead, I’m happy because I know she stays. She had to make a premature move because the Chart was coming up, but she kicked away.”
The final margin of victory matched her maiden triumph last September for previous trainer Juan Carlos Avila as the closest for Tonalist’s Shape, who debuted for Joseph with a 2 ¾-length optional claiming triumph in October at Gulfstream Park West. She won the one-mile Hut Hut and seven-furlong Forward Gal by 12 ¾ lengths combined.
“She knows how to win, that’s the important thing. She’s not flashy in the morning, but when it comes race day, she’s so calm. In the barn she can be almost over the top, but on race day she’s calm,” Joseph said. “The main thing is we’ve secured our spot for the Kentucky Oaks (G1). We’ll talk it over, but the Gulfstream Oaks makes sense.”
The $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) at 1 1/16 miles will be run March 28 on the undercard of the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1). The 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks is May 1 at Churchill Downs.
“It’s everything we’ve dreamed of,” Joseph said. “It’s a long way to go, but to secure a spot is what dreams are made of. Dreams come true.”
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