By Jon Lees
Oscar Performance has already collected one Breeders’ Cup statuette, but his trainer believes the colt is the US challenger the Europeans should fear in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Oscar Performance, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in 2016, is making his third and final appearance at the world championships on Saturday, to which his handler Brian Lynch says he brings “the most credentials this year”.
The four-year-old, who retires to stud after this weekend, could meet eight European opponents this weekend, headed by France’s Polydream and three contenders trained by Aidan O’Brien.
It is a familiar challenge for Oscar Performance who held off the O’Brien-trained Lancaster Bomber to win at Santa Anita two years ago.
Last season he accounted for three more O’Brien horses in capturing the Belmont Derby Invitational and Secretariat Stakes and last time out landed the Woodbine Mile from a field including Stormy Antarctic (Ed Walker) and Lord Glitters (David O’Meara).
He ran over 12 furlongs in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last year, finishing ninth, and he suffered disappointment in this year’s Arlington Million, being pulled up by Jose Ortiz after going off a hot favourite.
“Last year his season sort of tailed off towards the end of the year,” said Lynch.
“He had a couple of hard races from the Pennine Ridge to the Belmont Derby to the Secretariat Stakes, I think he was just starting to tail off plus a mile and a half might not have been his choice distance.
“So he had a bit of freshening up and we put him back to a mile. If you throw the Arlington Million out, I think we go there in good order.
“In the Million, for whatever reason, Jose felt he got in a bit tight at the quarter pole after getting banged around a little leaving the gates and down the back side. I think he might have got the wobbly boot on.
“Jose thought he felt something, so he eased him out of there. Luckily enough nothing reared its ugly head and we were able to train on.”
Lynch grew up on a ranch in his native Australia but was drawn to the USA by the opportunity to ride bulls for a living on the rodeo circuit.
“I was always going to be too big to be a jockey and I got hooked on riding bulls as a kid,” he said. “I ended up coming over here in my early 20s and was on the circuit here for a few years.
“If you could hang on to the bull for eight seconds, you got paid. It doesn’t sound long, but that’s a long time when you are sitting on top of 2,000lb of bull. I was no world champion, but I was able to support myself at it.”
Florida-based Lynch eventually turned to training, starting out with quarter horses and then thoroughbreds from 1992, a spell which included a role as an assistant to Bobby Frankel when he prepared the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Ghostzapper.
He has trained nearly 600 winners including four individual Grade One winners, of which Oscar Performance is the best.
“I have to say Oscar Performance has the most credentials this year,” Lynch said. “As good as he has trained since the Woodbine Mile, if we were fortunate enough to get a fast turf course, I would say we are going to be the horse to beat.
“He is tactical, he can lay up close, he likes the tight turns and the short stretch. He eliminates a lot of the hiccups you can come across when moving your way through a field on a tight course and he seems to be in very good order.”