By Joe Bianca
Slam Dunk Racing, Legacy Ranch and Doug Branham's undefeated Tonalist's Shape (Tonalist), a dominant winner of the local Hut Hut S. on opening day of Gulfstream's Championship Meet, returns Saturday as a likely prohibitive favorite in her graded stakes debut, the seven-furlong GIII Forward Gal S.
Rallying from well off the pace to score a 19-1 upset on debut here Sept. 28 for Sabana Racing Stable and trainer Juan Avila, the chestnut was privately purchased and transferred to the red-hot Saffie Joseph, Jr. barn, for which she notched another impressive rallying victory in a Gulfstream West allowance Oct. 20. Stretched out to a mile in the Hut Hut Nov. 30, she showed a bit more early interest and stalked the pace before running away to a dominant nine-length score.
“The last race was very impressive,” Joseph told the Gulfstream notes team. “We knew that when she went longer it would get better, but it was more impressive than we were expecting. She's an average work horse but on race day, she's different. The last race, she made a believer out of us.”
Lothenbach Stables and trainer Ian Wilkes will send out the probable clear second choice in Street of Dreams (Street Sense). Bought for $150,000 at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic, the bay took a lot of money for a Wilkes firster at 7-2 Oct. 5 at Keeneland and finished well to be a clear third despite racing greenly throughout. Much more involved early going a mile in the Churchill slop Nov. 30, she dueled on a sharp pace and edged away to a 1 1/2-length graduation.
“It was a good race. They ran fast, so she had to keep going,” Wilkes said. “She won and then we came down here and I watched her train. We want to see if she's good enough to take us to the [GI Kentucky] Oaks. I've been very pleased with her.”
Not often are there first-time starters in graded stakes, but Nikki and Papa (Mineshaft) opens her account here for a large ownership group that includes the ever-ambitious Ron Paolucci. Despite a modest pedigree, the Ohio-bred unleashed a bidding war at Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream after breezing a furlong in :10 flat, with the hammer eventually dropping at an even $500,000. Trained by Bob Hess, Jr., the rail-drawn filly shows a steady series of local breezes going back to Dec. 1, and capped off preparations with a five-furlong move in 1:01 4/5 (19/39) Jan. 26.