Oscar Performance Outruns Invaders in Belmont Derby

Brian LynchOscar Performance was not the most fancied runner at 11/2 in the $1.2 million Belmont Derby Invitational but he proved that he could still act at the highest level by winning impressively from the front on July 8.

It was a long-awaited second top class victory that restored the faith of his trainer Brian Lynch and his owners and breeders, the Amermans. Ridden by Jose Ortiz, Oscar Performance’s two closest challengers were not among the top wagering choices, possibly because they were both trained in Europe.

The French trainee Called To The Bar (7/1), ridden close to the pace by Maxime Guyon for Pia Brandt, was beaten two lengths into second. He was picked out by some experts to do well in what looked to be a fairly open contest with many colts trying the distance of a mile and a quarter for the first time. Called To The Bar was not one of them. He had gone further too, winning a Group 3 at Saint-Cloud in France over a mile and a half in May, leading from flagfall.

Homesman (12/1), trained in Ireland by the country’s top handler Aidan O’Brien, who often wins big races away from home, finished almost a length further back in third under Irad Ortiz Jr. Homesman’s stamina was not in question either as he had won the Group 3 Gallinule Stakes in Ireland run over the Belmont distance on ground described as yielding.

‘Yielding’ in Ireland is not the same as ‘yielding’ elsewhere, it means stamina-testing mud so Homesman is probably good for another furlong on a faster surface. As a son of War Front, a confirmed quick ground performer who passes on his preference to his offspring, the firm surface predictably played to his strengths allowing him to outperform his starting price. Homesman did not have the raw speed of the first two but he loved the conditions and earned much more money than he would have gained on unsuitable ground closer to home.

Bill Mott’s Good Samaritan (56/10) was only a neck behind Homesman having been held up at the back of the pack by Joel Rosario. His stablemate, the 3/1 Japanese-bred Belmont favorite Yoshida was beaten four lengths into fifth. He seemed to run short of gas after a mile prompting some action from his jockey, John Velazquez, but his efforts failed to deliver the desired response and the gauge hit empty 100 yards from the wire.

The outsider of the field, Nicholas Zito’s Makarios (84/1), was only a head behind Yoshida gaining unexpected prize money for sixth. O’Brien’s second string, the USA-bred Whitecliffsofdover (31/1) was seventh, a head in front of Tim Yakteen’s Big Score 21/1. The more popular Ticonderoga (6/1) trained by Chad Brown was a nose further back in ninth. He was always towards the back and never looked likely to make any impression.

Kenny McPeek’s Senior Investment, 36/1 with the best of the legal sportsbooks, was equally unexciting to watch and beat the more fancied Arklow (23/5) ridden by Mike Smith. Unlike Ticonderoga and Senior Investment, Arklow looked potentially competitive racing midpack but he dropped back before completing the mile and finished last of all, beaten 14 lengths.

Why did Yoshida disappoint?

Yoshida had looked extremely impressive in his two most recent runs over slightly shorter distances. He easily powered four lengths clear of his 11 rivals on his stakes debut in the James W. Murphy at Pimlico on May 20, pricking his ears after crossing the wire. The style of his win delighted Mott and his many owners in the China Horse Club.

As a son of Heart’s Cry who won at the highest level over a mile and a half, including the Dubai Sheema Classic, the Belmont Derby distance seemed unlikely to pose any issues. But perhaps Yoshida has inherited more of the speed of his dam, Hilda’s Passion who was a Grade 1 winning seven furlong specialist for Todd Pletcher, than the stamina of his sire. She liked to win from the front and Pletcher sensibly never tried her beyond that distance.

Oscar Performance Shows His Sire’s Staying Power

Oscar Performance was ridden forward to take the lead soon after the gates opened and had no trouble maintaining his advantage crossing the wire. His sire Kitten’s Joy won the Grade 1 Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont over a mile and a half on testing ground in 2004 and has a habit of passing on his stamina.

Oscar Performance did not break particularly well, hitting the gate as he left it and had to be bustled up by Ortiz through the first quarter mile. Expending energy early on to gain a position is a sure fire way to put stamina levels to the test.

Fortunately this colt has the temperament to recover from early adversity and was not unsettled by being rushed early on. Ortiz was pleased that he relaxed nicely in the backside and he deliberately took his foot off the accelerator and eased the pace a little, saving energy for when it was needed most. Ortiz was impressed with the response that he received when he asked Oscar Performance to up the pace later on.

Oscar Performance won the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf but had finished out of the money in his first two starts this year. The colt finished fifth in the Transylvania Stakes on April 7 and subsequently ran tenth in the American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 6.

Lynch was understandably concerned that the colt may not have trained on, like so many Juvenile Turf winners, but dejection turned into delight when Oscar Performance won the Pennine Ridge Stakes from the front on June 3 at Belmont Park. He beat Good Samaritan a length and a half with Ticonderoga close up in third. Run over a mile and an eighth, the style of his victory gave his connections confidence that he should get a mile and a quarter.

Lynch believes that Kentucky’s soft turf courses could have been the reason for his earlier no shows.  No immediate plans have been disclosed but Oscar Performance seems likely to deliver another one soon.