Things certainly can change fast in the sport of horse racing. One month ago, Oscar Performance was pulled up as the favorite prior to finishing the Arlington Million (gr. I), but on Saturday, he shrugged off that disappointing run to score a terrific victory in the $800,000 Ricoh Woodbine Mile (gr. I) at Woodbine in Canada.
Yes, you can argue that Oscar Performance received a dream setup in the Woodbine Mile. As the lone front-runner in a race full of closers, Oscar Performance had no difficulty securing the lead through slow fractions of :24.60 and :48.78, which was hardly faster than a morning stroll for the three-time Grade 1-winning son of Kitten’s Joy.
But it was during the final half-mile of the Woodbine Mile that Oscar Performance demonstrated his tremendous talent and speed. Just as his rivals were trying to get involved—just as the pace-tracking Mr Havercamp edged closer and the pace-stalking duo of Delta Prince and Stormy Antarctic attempted to advance—Oscar Performance turned up the heat and unleashed a turn-of-foot that no one could match. He ran the third quarter-mile in :22.71 seconds, substantially faster than the first two, and as if that wasn’t quick enough, he somehow found another gear in the final quarter-mile, blazing the distance in an astonishing :21.63 seconds to out-sprint everyone to the finish line and prevail by 1 ½ lengths.
Of course, with an opening half-mile in :48.78 and a closing half-mile in an almost unheard of :44.34 seconds, the race was something of a merry-go-round from start to finish. Mr Havercamp remained in second from start to finish, while Stormy Antarctic managed to rally from fourth to finish third over fellow pace-tracker Delta Prince. The four horses at the back of the pack early on—Divisidero, Lord Glitters, Good Samaritan, and Vanish—were unable to make an impact on the leaders despite finishing very fast themselves. Lord Glitters, in fact, ran the final half-mile in less than :44 seconds but could only get up to finish sixth, beaten four lengths by Oscar Performance.
That’s not meant to detract from Oscar Performance, who’s pure talent and speed is what enabled him to secure such a favorable setup. But at the same time, the late runners had no real chance at victory given how the race unfolded, so I’m inclined to forgive their disappointing runs and view them in a positive light next time, when a different pace setup could result in a very different outcome.
But in the meantime, Oscar Performance has picked up the fourth Grade 1 win of his career while bringing his lifetime record at a mile to a perfect 3-for-3. With the retirement of the European superstar filly Alpha Centauri, Oscar Performance has emerged as a clear favorite for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, and since the Woodbine Mile offered a fees-paid “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, his place in the starting gate is already secure. One thing is certain—seemingly no turf miler in North America can match his turn-of-foot, and that’s half the battle.