Tonalist’s Shape opts to swerve Kentucky Oaks

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Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Connections of Tonalist’s Shape are happy to take the route that offers the “best chance of winning”, having opted for the Grade 3 Charles Town Oaks ahead of the Classic Kentucky Oaks.

Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. admitted it was somewhat of a curveball to throw having previously intended on heading to Churchill Downs.

The Tonalist filly had been firmly in the picture for the Kentucky Oaks on September 4th but will instead be racing this Friday at Charles Town.

She is owned by Slam Dunk Racing, Doug Branham and Legacy Ranch Inc. and, according to the trainer, they’ve opted to take the path of least resistance in search of a winning run.

“They [owners] wanted to go the route that we thought we had our best chance of winning,” Joseph said. “Obviously, the Kentucky Oaks is coming up ultra-tough, and they said, ‘let’s go to the Charles Town Oaks and see if we can get the job done there.'”

Joseph was in all probability referring to the impending match-up between Swiss Skydiver and Gamine in the Kentucky Oaks.

Bob Baffert’s Gamine displayed a dominant effort against her contemporaries earlier this month in the seven-furlong Grade 1 Longines Test with an eye-catching success.

A week later and the Kenny McPeek-trained Swiss Skydiver matched that impressive success when she earned her fourth graded stakes triumph in the 140th running of the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga.

After that run, McPeek admitted the prospect of a showdown with Gamine is what racing fans want to see.

“It’s exciting. It’s going to get a lot of attention,” McPeek said. “We don’t have any fear of her. My filly might even have an advantage because Churchill is our base and she’s went two turns repeatedly and hasn’t had any trouble doing that.”

A further consideration for Joseph and connections of Tonalist’s Shape is the distance factor. The Kentucky Oaks is over one-mile-and-a-furlong at Churchill Downs, whereas Friday’s Charles Town Oaks is a seven-furlong sprint.

The only two defeats in the eight-race career of Tonalist’s Shape to this point have come when she raced at a mile and beyond; in the Gulfstream Park Oaks back in March (1m½f) and in last month’s Coaching Club American Oaks over the same distance as the Kentucky Oaks.

She will therefore have her optimum trip in Friday’s Grade 3 contest and won’t be getting herself embroiled in the Churchill Downs showdown between big guns Gamine and Swiss Skydiver.

Connections will be hoping their ‘curveball’ yields dividends and trainer Joseph will be eager to add another big-race win to his CV following the upset success of Math Wizard in the $1million Pennsylvania Derby last September.