by RON FLATTER
Arcadia, California – The early path to success for 2-year-olds in this year’s Breeders’ Cup was through New York.
Both Oscar Performance and New Money Honey parlayed decisive Grade 3 wins last month at Belmont Park into victories Friday on the turf at Santa Anita.
Pushing the pace throughout, Oscar Performance took the lead in the far turn under a scrubbing from José Ortiz and ran to a 1 1/4-length win over Irish invader Lancaster Bomber and the favorite Good Samaritan in the $1 million Juvenile Turf.
About 1 1/2 hours later Javier Castellano bided his time on New Money Honey, caught up to a withering early pace and finished a half-length winner over Coasted in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf. Coasted, the third-place finisher in the Miss Grillo, took second Friday by a length from the French filly Cavale Dorée.
“It’s the third time we’ve won the race, and all of them were Miss Grillo winners,” said New Money Honey’s trainer Chad Brown, who now has nine Breeders’ Cup victories to his credit, eight of them on turf. “New York has a fantastic program. It’s been a key prep race for this particular Breeders’ Cup race.”
The sentiment could be echoed by connections for Oscar Performance, winner of last month’s Pilgrim at Belmont Park. As his trainer Brian Lynch pointed out, the Pilgrim and the Miss Grillo are each 1 1/16 miles; the two Breeders’ Cup turf races for 2-year-olds are a mile.
“A lot of it is timing,” Lynch said. “It makes the races great stepping stones for the Breeders’ Cup. When you race at Saratoga and break your maiden near the end of the meet and then go 1 1/16 miles in the Pilgrim, your horse is in tip-top condition. Then you shorten up to a mile in this time frame, and you get your horse completely on top of his game.”
It did not hurt that Oscar Performance was sired by Kitten’s Joy, also the producer of two-time Breeders’ Cup winner Stephanie’s Kitten and one-time winner Bobby’s Kitten. Like Oscar Performance on Friday, those other three victories came on the turf.
“He’s a Kitten’s Joy out of a Theatrical mare (Devine Actress), so his pedigree is definitely top and bottom grass,” Lynch said.
Normally a speed horse, Oscar Performance stayed just off the 22.30 and 45.88 pace set the first half of the race by Wellabled. By the time the field hit six furlongs in 1:09.44, Oscar Performance had the lead.
“I put myself right where I wanted to be, right behind the speed,” Ortiz said. “Approaching the half-mile pole I felt I had a lot of horse underneath me, so I just kind of waited until I crossed the quarter pole to unleash him.”
When Lancaster Bomber and Good Samaritan made late runs, Ortiz provided the urging that cemented the victory in 1:33.28 on the firm turf.
Good Samaritan would have been closer and might have been the winner, but he was cut off early when J.S. Choice, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, went wide into the first turn, forcing Good Samaritan off stride and even wider. That left him with eight lengths to make up and a lot of work to do.
“It looked like the horse in front of me clipped heels, so I had to take a hold of him and wait a little longer,” said Joel Rosario, Good Samaritan’s jockey. “After all of that, he responded very nicely.”
On the way to winning the Juvenile Fillies Turf, New Money Honey and the rest of the field watched Rosario and Lull set fractions of :22.35, :45.75 and 1:10.05, racing away to a 3 1/2-length lead. Sitting back in fourth with 5 1/2 lengths to make up, Javier Castellano took his eager filly three-wide around the turn, raced past Lull and then outdueled Mike Smith and Coasted, which had been dead last in the first turn. By Medaglia d’Oro, New Money Honey’s winning time was 1:34.01.
“I tried to secure my spot around the first turn, and then I tried to save all the ground the best I could,” Castellano said. “She gave me a very good run down the lane, and it was good enough to win the race.”
“It was a perfect set-up for us,” Brown said. “We were just off the rail, out of trouble, had a quick pace in front of us, and we had first run on the closers. It was a dream trip.”
Connections would not commit either 2-year-old winner to a next race, with Oscar Performance’s owner John Amerman even having to calm down talk of going to Royal Ascot.
“Somebody came up to me – forgive me, I didn’t catch his name – but a wonderful, nice man,” Amerman said. “He said, ‘Oh, are you going to come to Ascot in the summer?’ And I said, ‘Well, talk to me after the race.’ We’d love to, but that’s a long ways off, and we’ll have a few journeys before that. So I hope it works, but who knows?”
Brown did not have any Royal Ascot tires kicked publicly. In fact he suggested that New Money Honey could go to the dirt as a 3-year-old.
“I think the sky’s the limit for her,” Brown said. “I think a mile is about as short as she wants to run. She’s won on the turf, but it’s not even out of the question that we give her a spin on the dirt before a race like the Kentucky Oaks just to be sure. I think she’s that talented.”
Photos by Horsephotos
Oscar Performance credit Spencer Tulis; New Money Honey credit Cecilia Gustavsson