The highlight of Keeneland’s Friday opener is a terrific edition of the $150,000 Transylvania (G3), marking the return of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) hero Oscar Performance, and his rematch with the fast-finishing fourth, Ticonderoga.
The two were at different points of development last November at Santa Anita. Oscar Performance had shown above-average ability in a pair of front-running demolition jobs in a Saratoga maiden and in the Pilgrim (G3) at Belmont Park. The Brian Lynch trainee therefore brought the right running style into the Breeders’ Cup.
Ticonderoga, on the other hand, was clearly talented but still in the process of figuring out the game. A green-as-grass near-misser to Good Samaritan on debut before a big Spa maiden win, the Tapit colt was a slow-starting but fast-finishing second in the Bourbon (G3) over this course and distance. That suggested he may leave himself too much to do at Santa Anita, where trainer Chad Brown fitted him with a different bit in hopes of improvement.
Both promising youngsters ran up to their profiles in the Breeders’ Cup. Oscar Performance used his early foot to overcome post 13, prompted a swift pace, and kicked away. Ticonderoga flew from last to grab fourth, turning heads with his gallop-out, and again demonstrating there was an engine, if only he could stoke it up sooner.
While Oscar Performance has been idle in the interim, Ticonderoga suggested that he’s getting his act together with a good-looking success in the March 4 Palm Beach (G3). New rider Joel Rosario got him into position, and the improving sophomore dispatched his opponents in style. Rosario renews the partnership with the $850,000 Keeneland September yearling, the first foal from millionaire turf mare Keertana, on Friday.
Yet Oscar Performance is entitled to keep progressing himself, as a son of Kitten’s Joy and the stakes-winning Theatrical mare Devine Actress. The Amerman Racing homebred is a full brother to Oscar Nominated, who developed into a notable three-year-old of 2016 with wins in the Spiral (G3) and Dueling Grounds Derby, and has placed in three graded stakes already this year.
Oscar Performance’s tactical speed also ensures that he’ll get first run on Ticonderoga, and he’s well drawn in post 4 with regular pilot Jose Ortiz. We’ll see whether the Breeders’ Cup form holds.
Not to be overlooked is yet another Juvenile Turf alumnus, Big Score, who was fifth when last seen in the Breeders’ Cup. Trained by Tim Yakteen for George Krikorian, the son of Dynaformer stallion Mr. Big had previously romped in the Zuma Beach at his Santa Anita home base. Big Score ranks second to Oscar Performance in BRIS Prime Power (155.4 compared to 160.6), and he notably picks up Javier Castellano.
The 1 1/16-mile Transylvania has also attracted the respective top three from the March 11 Columbia at Tampa Bay Downs. Ian Wilkes’ Sonic Boom, Stuart Janney III blueblood Profiteer, and Holiday Stone from the George Weaver barn all renew rivalry after their blanket finish. Sonic Boom, second a while back to Big Score in the Zuma Beach, gives a tenuous form tie-in to the Breeders’ Cup trio. Profiteer did his best work in the final yards of the one-mile Columbia, and having broken his maiden at 1 1/16 miles, stands to benefit from the added ground. Holiday Stone was beaten two necks at Tampa after covering 20 extra feet, according to Trakus, and he drew the far outside post 9 here as well.
The Brad Cox-trained Cowboy Culture captured his first three, all on turf, and handed eventual Louisiana Derby (G2) and Risen Star (G2) winner Girvin his lone loss in the Keith Gee Memorial. Although only seventh behind Ticonderoga in the Palm Beach, he’s better than that. Makarios needed 1 3/16 miles to break his maiden in his fourth try for Nick Zito, while synthetic performer Dahog, well beaten since his Presque Isle maiden win last summer, tries turf in his seasonal reappearance.