Three-time Grade 1 winner Oscar Performance has shown an affinity for Belmont Park’s turf, recording a trio of graded stakes wins from four attempts, and will open his 4-year-old season at his favorite locale in Sunday’s $300,000 Poker (G3). The Brian Lynch-trainee will square off against a solid cast of seven rivals and regular rider Jose Ortiz has the call in the one-mile turf affair.
After concluding his 2016 campaign with victories in the Pilgrim (G3) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), Oscar Performance dropped his first two attempts last year before reeling off three consecutive graded stakes tallies, including the Belmont Derby (G1) and Secretariat (G1). The bay son of Kitten’s Joy recorded a respectable third making his first start against elders in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) and was last seen finishing ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Del Mar.
A three-time winner over Belmont’s inner turf, Oscar Performance will look to return a winner on the Widener course.
Force the Pass is also a Grade 1 victor, taking the 2015 Belmont Derby, and the 6-year-old came back from more than a 16-month layoff to post a commendable score in the May 5 Cliff Hanger at Monmouth Park, rallying to get up by a nose. He’s eligible to improve off the comebacker for Alan Goldberg and Jose Lezcano guides the four-time stakes winner.
Ballagh Rocks will make a title defense, recording his first stakes triumph in last year’s Poker, and the 5-year-old has placed three times while making his last four attempts versus Grade 1 company, including a runner-up finish in the Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) at Keeneland most recently. Luis Saez sticks with the Bill Mott-trained 5-year-old.
Fire Away enters on the upswing for Shug McGaughey, posting wins in the grassy Dangers Hour at Aqueduct and off-the-turf Dixie (G3) at Pimlico, and the 6-year-old will try to make an impact from off the pace with Manny Franco.
Vulcan’s Forge was last seen finishing a nose second in the May 5 Westchester (G3) at Belmont. Made You Look and Voodoo Song exit allowance wins on the Widener course. New York-bred stakes hero Black Tide faces a difficult assignment as the possible pacesetter.