07/10/2017 10:37AM

Kitten's Joy's success comes against the grain

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Barbara D. Livingston
Oscar Performance, by Kitten's Joy, wins the Grade 1 Belmont Invitational Derby.

Turf racing provides less than 35 percent of purse money in North American racing, which makes it very difficult for top turf horses to succeed as stallions. That is what makes Kitten’s Joy’s feat of leading the American sire list in 2013 all the more remarkable. Almost 74 percent of the more than $70 million that the progeny of Kitten’s Joy have earned to date has come from races over turf, a powerful bias that the 2004 champion turf male has overcome to rank in the top five on the American sire list each of the last five years.

That prowess as a turf sire was on display again last Saturday at Belmont Park, when Kitten’s Joy’s outstanding son Oscar Performance led all the way to win the Grade 1 Belmont Invitational Derby. It was the second Grade 1 victory for Oscar Performance, following his win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last year.

All 10 of the Grade 1 or Group 1 winners among Kitten’s Joy’s 86 stakes winners from 983 foals age 3 and up (8.7 percent) scored those top-level victories on grass. That number includes 2015 champion turf male Big Blue Kitten (out of Spent Gold, by Unaccounted For), English highweight Hawkbill (Trensa, by Giant’s Causeway), and 2015 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Stephanie’s Kitten (Unfold the Rose, by Catienus).

Bred and raced by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Kitten’s Joy, by El Prado out of Kitten’s First, by Lear Fan, won 9 of 14 starts from 2 to 4, earning $2,075,791. Although Kitten’s Joy ran an excellent second on dirt in his second start at 2, he won impressively in his first start on grass next time out and never raced on dirt again.

Winner of the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, he was decidedly unlucky when second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf to Better Talk Now, and Eclipse voters took that into account when awarding him champion turf male honors.

A medium-sized, handsome horse who is slightly offset in front, he managed to succeed at stud where other turf champions have failed through the dogged determination and support of his owner-breeder combined with his own sterling genetic qualities. The Ramseys bred almost all of the stakes winners in his first few crops before that success convinced other breeders to patronize him.

Oscar Performance was bred in Kentucky by Mrs. Jerry Amerman and races for Amerman Racing. He is the third foal and second stakes winner produced by Devine Actress, a daughter of Theatrical, another turf champion who overcame the prejudice against his kind largely through the support of his owner, in his case the late Allen Paulson. Devine Actress’s second foal, Oscar Performance’s full brother Oscar Nominated, has won the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes and two other listed races. Devine Actress has since produced the 2-year-old filly Emmy Performance, by Point of Entry, and a yearling colt by Ghostzapper.

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Winner of three of her six starts including the Santa Lucia Handicap at Santa Anita, Devine Actress is daughter of the Mr. Prospector mare Devine Beauty, a half-sister to Grade 3 winner Sorcerer’s Stone, by Gulch. Oscar Performance’s third dam, Magical Holiday, by Slew o’ Gold, was full sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Dramatic Gold from the great family of Lady Pitt, developed mostly by the Phipps family.

Bred in Kentucky by Richard Trontz’s Hopewell Farm and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lail, Devine Actress was acquired privately by Amerman after she won her second start in Trontz’s colors at 4.

Oscar Performance’s pedigree bears a resemblance to that of his sire in that both his sire and broodmare sire were top grass horses who sired mostly turf performers, but their female lines represent almost purely dirt form. His overall race record also is beginning to show strong similarities to that of Kitten’s Joy, and if he can defeat older horses in Grade 1 events this fall he will have an excellent chance of earning an Eclipse Award and a prominent place at stud.

His pedigree also is similar to Kitten’s Joy in that he is relatively inbred with a 2.55 percent  inbreeding coefficient through the first six generations compared to Kitten’s Joy’s 2.31 percent coefficient. Oscar Performance’s closest duplications are 4x4 to the ubiquitous Northern Dancer and 5x4 to Special through the three-quarter brothers Sadler’s Wells and Nureyev, but that is reinforced by multiples of Hail to Reason, Buckpasser, Rough Shod, Nashua, and Nantallah.