ETOBICOKE, Ont. – It was a performance befitting of an Oscar.
After being pulled up in last month’s Arlington Million as the post-time favorite, Oscar Performance delivered a gate-to-wire victory in winning the 22nd Woodbine Mile.
The winner completed the mile trek in 1:33.12 on a turf course that was rated firm on warm and humid day at Woodbine Racetrack in suburban Toronto.
The result catapulted Oscar Performance to an automatic bid into the Breeders’ Cup Mile with the victory. His next act in the Breeders’ Cup Mile will be on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Oscar Performance returned $7.70 to his backers for the win, $4.30 to place and $3.70 for the show. Second-place finisher and local favorite, Mr Havercamp, returned $7.70 for the placing and $5.20 for the show. European Stormy Antarctic finished third and paid $7.50 to show. The morning line and post-time favorite, Delta Prince, finished off the board in fourth.
Two-time Eclipse winning jockey Jose Ortiz guided the son of Kitten’s Joy to the 1 1/2-length win from the start, setting opening fractions of 24.60 and 48.78. Those times spelled victory early on according to assistant trainer Erin Lynch, filling in on-site at Woodbine for her husband, Brian.
“When I saw the 24 and change quarter I knew we were home free,” said Lynch. “I knew that’s his pace and that he can kick off from that, even from a 48 and change pace.”
Jockey Ortiz confirmed that his horse had the extra gear left after the early fractions.
“At the quarter pole, I saw somebody getting close to me but when I asked him to go, he really accelerated,” said Ortiz. “He gave me a great turn of foot and he kept going.”
The win was emotional for Lynch, who was visibly choked up in the post-race press conference describing the fear that the Arlington Million put into the barn. Ortiz pulled the 4-year-old up when he thought he took a bad step in Chicago where he was vanned off for precautionary measures after the race.
After a checkup at Rood and Riddle where he was cleared to train, Oscar Performance returned to the work tab, pointing at Woodbine for his comeback race.
“That was definitely emotional at Arlington,” said Lynch. “To see that happen to your best horse, it is heartbreaking. But then to come back and do that, it means the world.”
Brian Lynch, reached by phone by the Woodbine Press Office, described the sigh of relief after the Million. “The good thing is that nothing ever came of it. He was fine after the race. We went in and had a full physical on him and Dr. Bramlage (of Rood and Riddle) gave him the OK and we put him back in training,” said Lynch.
The scratch early in the day of the filly La Sardane created a change in tactics, as the filly was expected to go right to the lead and Oscar Performance would likely sit off of her and make his move later.
“I watched the race from my barn in Saratoga,” said Lynch. “I figured with the scratching of the filly he’d be the speed of the race and he looked very comfortable throughout. I talked to Jose earlier in the day and said, ‘I’m not going to tell you how to ride the race, but the only thing I can tell you is it’s a hell of a long stretch there, so be patient.’”
Mr Havercamp, the only Woodbine-based horse entered in the race, ran a respectable second for up-and-coming trainer Catherine Day-Phillips.
After winning the Woodbine Oaks earlier in the year with Dixie Moon, she almost won another signature Woodbine race with the son of Court Vision, the 2010 Woodbine Mile victor. She was sporting a broad smile while standing on the E.P. Taylor turf course after the race.
“I was thrilled, he ran a super race,” said Day-Phillips of Havercamp.
“Eurico (Rosa da Silva) was in a position to press the 7 horse (Oscar Performance), it’s just too bad there wasn’t a different pace in there, but he ran a tremendous race. Oscar Performance is the best right now in the category,” said Day-Phillips.
Woodbine-based jockey Rosa da Silva gave props to his horse immediately after the race.
“My horse ran hard, I’m happy and thrilled with the race,” said da Silva. “He’s only going to get better and hope next year that we’ll try again. I saw he had a little more horse than I did, I’m very happy to finish second.”
Third-place finisher and European contender Stormy Antarctic finished 2 1/2-lengths behind the winner and was compromised somewhat from the start according to jockey Gerald Mosse.
“Not a good draw to be behind the first two,” said Mosse, whose horse could have used much softer ground to his advantage. “If the ground was a bit on the soft side, he’d have been a solid contender. He still gave me his best, but he needed a little bit more give in the ground.”
For trainer Lynch, the big prize is the next goal. “It’s nice to see him back and it’s a “Win and You’re In” and we’ve got six weeks to the Breeders’ Cup,” said the conditioner. “Now we can take a deep breath and do the best we can to have him right on that day.
Another big performance on a big stage looms for the Kitten’s Joy colt out of a Theatrical mare.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.