GRADED WINNERS TO CLASH IN CHARLES TOWN OAKS

Hopeful Growth
Hopeful Growth and Antonio Gallardo won the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks. Photo By Ryan Denver/EQUI-PHOTO.

A trio of graded stakes winners top a full field of sophomore fillies that will take aim at the top prize in a strong renewal of the $200,000 Charles Town Oaks (G3) this Friday evening at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.  The Charles Town Oaks stands as the most lucrative undercard race on a card that will see seven total stakes run for purses of $1.25 million.  Post time for the first race on Charles Town Classic night will be 5:00 P.M. EST.

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Slam Dunk Racing, Doug Branham and Legacy Ranch, Inc.’s Tonalist’s Shape looked to be one of the top fillies of this now three-year-old crop after starting her career off with five consecutive wins, including tallies in the Forward Gal (G3) and Davona Dale (G2) at Gulfstream Park. Stretching out beyond a mile in graded company hasn’t produced the same results for the daughter of 2015 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Tonalist with subpar efforts resulting from starts in both the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) and most recently as the favorite in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at Saratoga.

Tonalist’s Shape now shortens back up to the Charles Town Oaks’s seven-furlong distance and while the race itself was a good spot, not running into the likes of Gamine, Swiss Skydiver and Speech in the Kentucky Oaks made the decision that much easier.

“We thought the Charles Town Oaks would be a good spot for her,” said trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr. who will also saddle morning line favorite Math Wizard in the Charles Town Classic. “Obviously the Kentucky Oaks is coming up as a really tough race, and so we talked to the owners and we felt like this would be a good spot to get her back to her winning ways.”

Christian Hiraldo has the mount on Tonalist’s Shape who leaves from Post 3 and stands as the 3-to-1 morning line favorite.

Grade 1 winner Wicked Whisper figures to challenge Tonalist’s Shape for favoritism among bettors in the Charles Town Oaks’ as she looks to make amends for her fourth-place effort in the Beaumont (G3) last out in her seasonal debut.

A $500,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland’s 2018 September sale, the daughter of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Liam’s Map had a memorable start to her career romping to a 6 1/4 length score first out at Saratoga and followed that up with a front running score in the Frizette (G1) to earn herself a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).

After faltering while pressing the pace in the Breeders’ Cup and her return to the races at Keeneland in July, Wicked Whisper will inherit the services of jockey Antonio Lopez as she looks to once again find the winner’s circle.

While the Charles Town winner’s circle might currently be foreign to Wicked Whisper, it certainly isn’t to her connections as trainer Steve Asmussen saddled Four Gifts to a win in the first Charles Town Oaks in 2009, while owners Alex and JoAnn Lieblong were principal owners of Duke of Mischief, the winner of the first ever graded stakes run at Charles Town – the 2011 Charles Town Classic.

St. Elias Stable’s Hopeful Growth, an 11.80-to-1 upset winner of the Monmouth Park Oaks (G3) in her last start will look for a second graded stakes victory in a row in Friday night’s Charles Town Oaks.

After racing in blinkers the first two starts of her career, Hopeful Growth took them off for her next two outings – one of them a victory in a seven-furlong allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs – before putting them back on for her biggest win to date.  The equipment tinkering by trainer Anthony Margotta, Jr. has worked wonders for a filly that has shown ability but has taken some time to get to this level. 

“I took the blinkers off so she could learn a little bit. I just wanted her to get more of an education. And that’s what happened. She really grew up and figured things out. But after the Delaware Oaks, I wanted her to be a little more focused. And we knew she was going to move forward anyway off of that race, but they seemed to really do the trick in the Monmouth Oaks, and that will be the plan moving forward as well.”

Hopeful Growth will have Charles Town’s leading rider Arnaldo Bocachica in the saddle for the Charles Town Oaks.

The speedy Texas-bred Boerne ships in from her south Florida base and makes her first start in graded stakes company on Friday night.  A winner of the Azalea at Gulfstream Park in her last outing, the Juan Carlos Avila trainee arrived in West Virginia last week and has spent some time acclimating to her surrounds.

“She’s perfect,” said Avila. “It was a 17-hour trip up from Gulfstream, but she’s been eating well and doing really good. J.D. Acosta is going to be getting to know her in the mornings so she’s perfect. I am happy.”

Acosta will have the call on the daughter of Fed Biz on Friday.

Trainer Phil Schoenthal, who took the 2015 Charles Town Oaks with Miss Behaviour, sends out Gifted Heart, the only filly of those entered with experience over the Charles Town oval – a second place finish in the $100,000 Dickie Moore Stakes in her two-year-old season.

The Maryland-bred filly looked to be a winner turning for home in the Dickie Moore, but Schoenthal believes he knows what may have stopped her that night in September of 2019.

“When she ran in the Dickie Moore there last year, when she got to the top of the stretch, it looked like she was loaded and was going to win the race going away,” said Schoenthal. “And when she stopped and kind of hung, I was a little disappointed when I saw how slow they came home the final eighth of a mile. But when she came back to be unsaddled, [Arnaldo] Bocachica said, ‘Phil, I was loaded around the turn. I was going to win by as much as I wanted to, but she looked up and saw the lights and the grandstand turning for home and just dropped the bridle and stopped running.’ And he said the only thing that kept her running was the other horse inside of her.”

As a result of her reaction to the grandstand lights at Charles Town, Schoenthal decided to give the sophomore filly a little more practice, working her five furlongs in 1:02 3/5 under the lights, between races on August 20. 

“So that last year was why we wanted to work her under the lights. And when we worked her the other night, [rider] Luis [Batista] said he could have gone in :57 if he wanted to. So again, she’s just a much more professional filly now than she was as a two-year-old.”

The aforementioned Wicked Whisper isn’t the only filly exiting Keeneland’s Beaumont as Brereton C. Jones’ Turtle Trax comes off a third-place finish and looks to make the Charles Town Oaks her first score in stakes company.

Having run distances between six-furlongs and 1 1/16 miles in her last three starts alone, Turtle Trax’ conditioner Ian Wilkes feels as if Charles Town’s unique seven furlong, two-turn layout may suit what his filly is looking for.

“I think she wants to go a little further than the seven furlongs, but I feel like the two turns (in the Charles Town Oaks) might make it play a little bit more like a route race for her, and so I think it should suit her well.  She determines where she puts herself in the race. You never want to force anything when it comes to running style, so we’ll just see how she breaks and goes from there on Friday.”

Gerald Almodovar will have the mount on Turtle Trax in the Charles Town Oaks.

Lenzi’s Lucky Lady and a trio of fillies trained by Claudio Gonzalez – Princess Cadey, Ankle Monitor and Fly on Angel who was supplemented to the race – complete the main body of the Charles Town Oaks.  Call on Mischief stands on the also eligible list and would need a defection to run.  

Post time for the Charles Town Oaks is set for 9:43 PM EST and the race can be seen on TVG as well as heard on the Horse Racing Radio Network. The Oaks will be part of the 6-12 sequence – a Pick 6 with a low 12% takeout – that sports a mandatory of the carryover on Classic day with a total of $111,750 in the carryover going into the track’s Thursday night card.

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