08/10/2017 10:06AM

Oscar Performance likely to have early company in Secretariat Stakes

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Barbara D. Livingston
Oscar Performance goes wire to wire in the Belmont Derby. He'll have to outrun Sonic Boom and maybe a couple Europeans to get the lead in the Secretariat Stakes on Saturday.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Long races with short fields frequently favor a horse who can control the pace, but there’s some question as to whether Oscar Performance can pull that off Saturday in the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park.

Oscar Performance has dominated several graded stakes with his exceptional speed, but there are others with front-running tendencies among the five 3-year-olds opposing him in the $400,000 Secretariat – and thus the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Grade 1 turf race makes for a daunting task for all of them.

Permian, beaten an inch in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris last month in France, is one of three European invaders primed to challenge Oscar Performance and fellow American Sonic Boom at their own game in a fascinating renewal of the Secretariat.

By winning the Grade 1 Belmont Derby in his last start, Oscar Performance returned to the top of his division following an early-season slump. A final prerace breeze Monday over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga with regular rider Jose Ortiz aboard confirmed the colt’s readiness for trainer Brian Lynch.

“He came off the track like a fit horse, and he certainly showed us he’s in good shape going into the race,” said Lynch. “I think he’s matured a lot.”

Oscar Performance will break from post 4.

Permian (post 3, William Buick), carrying the blue silks of the Godolphin powerhouse, has shown marked improvement in recent months when racing on or near the lead. Permian already has 13 career starts, with two Group 2 victories to go with his near miss last month at Saint-Cloud.

“He’s been quite remarkable in how he’s taken his racing this year,” said Charlie Johnston, who accompanied Permian to Chicago as the son of and assistant to trainer Mark Johnston. “His recovery from each race has been very swift and very good – got better from each run to the next.”

Johnston said Buick will decide race tactics, suggesting the versatility of Permian will be critical in how the Secretariat unfolds.

“For us, it’s all about our horse and his rhythm,” he said. “If we find ourselves in front, we’re happy. If others want to take the lead … he can win from anywhere, and William knows him well.”

Sonic Boom (post 2, Julien Leparoux), trained by Ian Wilkes, went wire to wire in his last two races, including the July 8 American Derby over the local course.

“He’s progressed on nicely since the American Derby,” said Wilkes.

The two other Europeans add further intrigue.

Afandem (post 1, Frankie Dettori) has won three of four starts and most recently finished a sharp second in a Group 2 event at this 10-furlong distance last month in France. He is owned by Al Shaqab Racing and trained by Jean-Claude Rouget.

Taj Mahal (post 6, Ryan Moore) has won just once in 14 starts but does get first-time Lasix for the always-dangerous team of Coolmore and trainer Aidan O’Brien.

Gorgeous Kitten (post 5, Florent Geroux), the runner-up in the Arlington Classic and American Derby, is the outsider in the field.

This is the 41st running of the Secretariat, which was inaugurated the year after the legendary Big Red swept the 1973 Triple Crown. It is carded as the seventh race (post, 3:50 p.m. Central) and is the first of four graded stakes on the 12-race Arlington Million card.

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