ELMONT, NY – Amerman Racing’s homebred turf star Oscar Performance made his long-awaited 2018 debut in spectacular fashion, romping in the stretch while topping a 20-year-old track record in Sunday’s Grade 3, $300,000 Poker Stakes at Belmont Park.
Breaking well from post 3 under Jose Ortiz, Oscar Performance relaxed in mid-pack down the backside while Black Tide posted uncontested early splits of :22.11 and :44.73. Ranging up three-wide in the far turn, Oscar Performance overtook new leader Voodoo Song at the top of the stretch, then was kept to task through to the wire. The Brian Lynch trainee crossed with a 1 1/2-length advantage in a final time of 1:31.23 for the mile-long event over the Widener turf course, besting Elusive Quality’s mark of 1:31.63 set on July 4, 1998.
“All the credit to Brian,” Ortiz said. “I was working him, but he had him ready. Today, he said go a little faster, and his last work, he told me to do a nice, steady job. He was on point and ready to roll today. I’m so happy that he’s back. He’s one of my favorite horses. I won my first Breeders’ Cup on him. I’m very emotional right now.”
Made You Look was a willing contender in the stretch, taking second by a length over Voodoo Song, with Fire Away behind them in fourth. The 2-1 favorite Ballagh Rocks lacked any kick in the stretch after stalking the early pace and faded late, beating Force the Pass for fifth by just a head. Black Tide faded to seventh, while Vulcan’s Forge never fired and finished eighth.
Oscar Performance’s win was his first since last August’s Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington and improved his record to 12-7-0-1 with career earnings of $1,967,632. The 4-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy had been off since running a disappointing ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last November at Del Mar.
“Great performance,” Lynch said. “Absolutely thrilled with his comeback effort. He did it with authority and came back with a very fast time. That’s a longstanding track record to break, so to have him do that off the layoff makes you look forward to the rest of the year. I thought they were cooking early and he was in a good location. Jose got him to the outside, and as they rounded the turn, it looked like he was moving, and he’s such a talented horse.”
Oscar Performance returned $8.10 to win, $4.40 to place, and $4 to show. Made You Look brought back $4.90 to place and $4.20 to show, while Voodoo Song paid $5.70 to show.