by Teresa Genaro
He’s Kentucky-bred, his owners are from California, and his trainer is Australian, but Oscar Performance proved once again that he loves New York with a two-length win in the Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) at Belmont Park on Saturday.
Breaking from post four in a field of 11, Oscar Performance and Jose Ortiz took a narrow lead heading into the first turn, stretching it to a length running up the backstretch of the 10-furlong Belmont Derby. After a first quarter in :23.96, Ortiz slowed his mount to run the half in :49.48 and six furlongs in 1:14.37, all unchallenged, increasing his lead heading into the stretch and cruising to victory as he pleased.
“He broke slow and I had to chase him the first quarter of a mile, but then in the backside he relaxed real well,” Ortiz said. “I backed the pace down a little and he was full of run when I asked him to go.”
The win was Oscar Performance’s second Grade 1, the first coming last year at Santa Anita in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He captured his two previous races at Belmont, the Pilgrim (G3) and Pennine Ridge (G3), and he’s now undefeated over that track’s inner turf course.
“He’s won three in a row here,” owner John Amerman said. “Belmont’s a friend of ours.”
Despite torrential rains recently in New York, the inner turf course was rated firm. Though the bay ridgling ran poorly on off turf in Lexington, Kentucky, when fifth in the Transylvania (G3) at Keeneland, he won the Pilgrim on a yielding course here last fall.
“(The inner turf) has some give to it,” trainer Brian Lynch said, “but no more than the Pilgrim last year. I took a bit of a walk on it today and it has a bit of a kick to it. I couldn’t have been happier with it.”
Following his Breeders’ Cup win, Oscar Performance had the winter off and finished fifth in his 2017 debut, a loss Amerman attributed to a “horrible wet track” at Keeneland. He finished 10th in the American Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard while running for the first time on Lasix.
“He didn’t like it at all,” Amerman said, emphasizing the last two words.
A full brother to Grade 3 winner Oscar Nominated and unraced two-year-old Emmy Nominated, Oscar Performance is by Kitten’s Joy and out of the Theatrical mare Devine Actress. With his win in the Belmont Derby, he’s earned just shy of $1.5 million.
“Oscar Nominated was just drop-dead gorgeous as a yearling,” said Jerry Amerman, the breeder of record and John’s wife. “It broke my heart when he was claimed away from us. Thank God we still have his brother.”
Despite the success with Devine Actress-Kitten’s Joy offspring, Jerry Amerman elected not to “go to that well again,” and the mare is in foal to Dansili.
Ortiz has been aboard for seven of Oscar Performance’s eight races, all except his first start at Saratoga last year.
“This horse gave me my first Breeders’ Cup,” Ortiz said. “He’s in the top three of my favorites.”