The 6/4 favorite Oscar Performance proved he is an act that others can only follow by winning the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes impressively at Arlington International Racecourse on August 12.
Owned and bred by John and Jerry Amerman and trained by Brian Lynch, this son of Kitten’s Joy out of Devine Actress completed the mile and a quarter in 2:01.79 under Jose Ortiz. He beat the late closing European shipper Taj Mahal (8/1) trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore just over two lengths.
The Secretariat Stakes was Oscar Performance’s third straight win showing he retains the level of talent he displayed when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after a slow start to the season. It was his sixth win after nine runs and increased his total earnings to more than $1.7 million. This was also his second straight Grade 1 victory and he achieved it facing opposition from across the globe.
The win also proved that Oscar Performance could deliver somewhere other than Belmont Park as a three-year-old. The track was the location of his two previous successes. Oscar Performance won the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational in July and the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge Stakes in June.
The competition he faced at Arlington looked very strong. He had to overcome a trio of European challengers with résumés suggesting that they had more feasible hopes than his other rivals, some of whom had won at the track.
Taj Mahal was the least popular of the three European runners with bettors. This son of Galileo out of a Storm Cat mare had only won once in his 15 starts. He was last seen acting as a pacesetter and finishing last in the Group 1 Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in July. Taking second place in a contest of this type was the best and most profitable result of his career to date.
For his trainer O’Brien it was déjà vu. He saddled the more fancied second placed Long Island Sound in the 2016 Secretariat, who was beaten a head by Chad Brown’s Beach Patrol. Oscar Performance’s full brother Oscar Nominated finished fifth in the same race for Michael Maker. The Amermans bred him too but he did not race in their silks.
It does not diminish the merit of Oscar Performance’s win that a colt previously used as a pacesetter finished most closely behind him. Ballydoyle have awe-inspiring strength and depth of talent at their disposal. Their 40/1 outsider Wings Of Eagles outperformed more popular rivals including some of his stablemates when he won the Epsom Derby.
A more fancied challenger from Europe, the lightly raced Afandem (3/1) was nearly four lengths further back in third for Al Shaqab Racing. He was saddled by the top French trainer Jean-Claude Rouget and partnered by Frankie Dettori. This son of Zoffany had won three of his four previous starts and was narrowly beaten into second in a Group 2 at Maisons-Laffitte in July.
Dettori commented after the race that Afandem had run very well after breaking more slowly than most of the pack. He admitted that the colt struggled with the turns at Arlington as they were tighter than any he had experienced on tracks in France. It was the colt’s first run in the US.
The local trainee Sonic Boom (113/10) took fourth for Ian Wilkes and Julien Leparoux and was followed home by Michael Maker’s Gorgeous Kitten (143/10), partnered by Florent Geroux.
An Outstanding Performance
Oscar Performance demonstrated his unquestionable superiority by carrying 7lb more than the four horses who finished most closely behind him. He also proved that he did not have to win from the front. Ortiz took the lead from flagfall in the Belmont Derby and maintained the position to win comfortably. It was a similar scenario in the Pennine Ridge.
Ortiz was pleased and probably a bit surprised by the way Oscar Performance settled behind the pacesetting American Derby victor, Sonic Boom. Ortiz urged him to change the placings as they approached the final turn and was delighted by the response he received.
Oscar Performance easily passed the leader and kept galloping all the way to the line with minimal further encouragement from his pilot. Ortiz was able to celebrate the victory 50 yards from the wire as he knew his horse had the field beat.
A Race Marred by Tragedy
The second favorite in the Secretariat Stakes betting at 2/1 with the US online betting firms was the European shipper Permian trained by Mark Johnston. This son of Teofilo was renowned for his competitive spirit and enthusiasm for racing but finished last. Permian appeared to stumble badly and break down a few strides after he crossed the wire unseating his jockey, William Buick.
This talented colt had sprung a surprise in May by winning the Group 2 Dante Stakes as a 10/1 shot. Permian was disappointing in the Epsom Derby but went on to win the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. In his most recent run Permian was beaten a nose in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris in July. European bettors believed that this could be his time to take his first contest at the highest level.
Sadly it immediately became clear that Permian had suffered a very serious injury to his left front leg. It was later reported that his cannon bone had shattered. Johnston’s son Charlie, a qualified veterinarian, took the decision to euthanize the colt on the track rather than move him into the horse ambulance. His action was a humane one, distressing for people who witnessed it but he did what was best for the colt.
Charlie Johnston and Gavin Hardisty, Permian’s groom, had managed to get to the horse within 30 seconds of the incident and sensibly acted before the numbing effect of endorphins and adrenaline subsided. Johnston senior praised his son’s decision confirming on his blog that it was the one he would have taken. There was a surge of sympathy on social media for Permian’s plight but a few people were critical. They blamed the trainer for running the colt eight times as a three-year-old. They were almost certainly not qualified veterinarians.
Frankie Dettori went to help Buick who was taken to hospital, fully conscious but suffering from severe back pain. Buick fractured vertebrae in his lower back and is not expected to be riding anytime soon.
The Secretariat Stakes demonstrated that Oscar Performance is a star who is tactically adaptable. He looks likely to continue his winning ways if he encounters his favored firm ground next time.