Race Previews

Secretariat Stakes Preview: Oscar Performance Looks for 3 in a Row

Joe Labozzetta/NYRA

The Grade 1, $400,000 Secretariat Stakes, one of the premier Grade 1 turf stakes for 3-year-olds throughout the world, has drawn an exceptional sextet of sophomores in 2017. Named for one of history’s greatest thoroughbreds, the international event has been contested at 1 1/4 miles over Arlington International Racecourse’s world-renowned turf course since 1985. This year’s winner will attempt to live up to such standouts as six-time, three-continent Grade/Group 1-winning Breeders’ Cup victor Highland Reel (2015), champion Kitten’s Joy (2004), and subsequent world-record setter Hawkster (1989).

The Americans and Europeans will once again face off with heavy hitters on each side, topped by Amerman Racing’s dual Grade 1-winning Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Oscar Performance and Godolphin’s Group 1-placed, dual Group 2 victor Permian.

An impressive 5-for-8 lifetime with nearly $1.5-million in earnings, the Brian Lynch-trained Oscar Performance will likely play catch-me-if-you-can on the front end under Jose Ortiz from post four. Last out, the son of Kitten’s Joy was brilliant in victory, scoring a tour de force in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational at this distance. The homebred will try to improve upon his full brother Oscar Nominated’s fifth-place finish in last year’s Secretariat, though said sibling was only beaten 1 1/2 lengths and entered the event with considerably fewer accomplishments.

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Permian enters for top Newmarket-based trainer Mark Johnston and was last seen leading throughout until the very last bob in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris around Saint-Cloud’s left-handed course. Cutting back from 12 to 10 furlongs on Saturday, the son of Teofilo won the 12-furlong Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot in June and the Group 2 Dante Stakes at York over its left-handed course at 10 furlongs. Well-raced and battle-tested, the often forwardly-placed Darley-bred likes a fight and will be reunited with jockey William Buick from post three.

The French will be represented by the lightly-raced Afandem, who will be piloted by Frankie Dettori from the rail. He’s owned by the powerful Al Shaqab Racing and trained by top French conditioner Jean-Claude Rouget, whose Gold and Steel shipped into Chicago and won the 1995 American Derby. The son of top young stud Zoffany has improved noticeably in his last two starts, including a 1/2-length loss in the Group 2 Prix Eugene Adam at Maisons-Laffitte — a race won by Bayrir en route to 2012 Secretariat success.

Top Choice

#4 Oscar Performance – If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! I pick against this horse every time, but not here. Last time out, he dominated the Belmont Derby in wire-to-wire fashion, winning by 2 lengths, and two races back, he did the exact same thing in a Grade 3 at Belmont Park. A win here could catapult Oscar Performance near the top of the 3-year-old division and will put him in the mix for an Eclipse award; multiple Grade 1 victories would be extremely valuable when comparing him to the dirt horses in this crop. The major key here will be the pace. If he’s left alone on the lead, they won’t catch him, but you have to think that someone’s horse will press him this time. However, on paper he looks like a speed standout.

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Horses to Use in Multi Race Wagers

#3 Permian – Expect this European shipper to put the pressure on Oscar Performance and make it difficult on the front end. Permian is a classy horse: two races back, he won the Kind Edward VII at Royal Ascot, then was a nose away from picking up a big win in the Prix de Paris. Now, he comes to the United States just three weeks later, and there’s no doubt that’s somewhat of a quick turnaround. He’s in with every chance, but will he be a bit tired?

#1 Afandem – This lightly-raced French bred gets Frankie Dettori to come in and ride him after losing on him last time out in a Group 2 race. However, he was very competitive in that race, and it was his first loss in four starts. I love that Dettori has agreed to come over for this contest, and I also think that the pace setup could be in Afandem’s favor. Permian and Oscar Performance could both go out front and set decent fractions, and Afandem will have a chance to sit in a nice stalking position. The rail draw was not ideal, though, so once again, it stresses the importance of Dettori. This horse has improved with every start and could be ready to run his best race yet in a big spot.

Exotic Plays

#2 Sonic Boom – He’s a winner of two in a row, including a win at Arlington in the Grade 3 American Derby, but that field was much weaker than this one, so this is going to be a huge jump up in class. I like that he does have the win over the track, so that makes him attractive to play underneath, and he should be a decent price, but I’m just not sure that he can match up with the top couple in here.

Party Crashers

#6 Taj Mahal – He hasn’t won in a while and hasn’t looked good in a lot of his 2017 starts. However, he has been running against tough company overseas, and I can see him taking to the American styling of racing very well. He also has trainer Aidan O’Brien on his side, who knows a thing or two about winning races on the turf. This one is likely to get ignored in the wagering, but I don’t think that O’Brien brought him over just for the hell of it. He’s worth a look if the price floats up.

Throw Outs

#5 Gorgeous Kitten – A nice horse that just looks to be outclassed against what appears to be a top-heavy field. He finished second last time out in a much easier spot than this one.

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