Oscar Performance winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (Photo by Zoe Metz/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders Cup)
In the sport of horse racing, the surest sign that spring has arrived is when the entries for opening day at Keeneland have been released! An excellent set of ten races will start the meet rolling on April 7th, with the $150,000 Transylvania Stakes (gr. III) for three-year-olds being the highlight.
The 8.5-furlong turf race has attracted nine starters, including two of the most exciting young grass horses in the country—Oscar Performance and Ticonderoga. Both are graded stakes winners and figure to dominate the wagering, so identifying which is the more likely winner could be the key to making a profit playing the race.
There’s certainly a lot to like about Ticonderoga. Trained by Chad Brown, who has had astonishing success training turf horses, Ticonderoga finished fourth with a wide trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I) last November, then returned from a four-month layoff to win the March 4th Palm Beach Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park by a length, surging fast from off the pace to defeat the talented Kitten’s Cat in a very strong performance. According to data from Trakus, Ticonderoga ran the final five-sixteenths of a mile in a rapid :28.34 seconds, earning a BRIS Late Pace figure of 98.
Still, in a race filled with closers, the speedy Oscar Performance may have a tactical advantage. The son of Kitten’s Joy won three straight races last year in impressive fashion, including a decisive triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, in which he defeated Ticonderoga by 4 ¾ lengths after tracking a fast early pace. In his last two starts, Oscar Performance has earned BRIS speed figures of 93 and 98, significantly higher than Ticonderoga, who posted an 85 in the Palm Beach and a 92 (his career-best) when fourth in the Breeders’ Cup.
Oscar Performance hasn’t run since the Breeders’ Cup, but has posted a lengthy series of workouts in preparation for his return, including five furlongs in a bullet :59 flat on March 25th over the Palm Meadows turf course. In addition, trainer Brian Lynch wins at a solid rate (16%) and a positive ROI with horses returning from layoffs of 90 days or more. Even the possibility of a wet turf course on opening day shouldn’t be an issue for Oscar Performance, since he cruised to a six-length win over a yielding turf course in the Pilgrim Stakes (gr. III) last October.
With all of this in mind, I view Oscar Performance as the horse to beat in the Transylvania Stakes, which should mark the start of a very big season for this talented young star. For the exacta and trifecta, Ticonderoga is the obvious choice to include, but I would also consider the chances of Sonic Boom. Trained by Ian Wilkes, the son of More Than Ready has run four excellent races on grass dating back to last September, including a runner-up effort in the Zuma Beach Stakes at Santa Anita and a narrow win in the Columbia Stakes on March 11th at Tampa Bay Downs. Although his margin of victory was just a neck, Sonic Boom did run 29 feet farther than runner-up Profiteer and did so while tracking quick early fractions of :22.62 and :46.96. With Julien Leparoux in the saddle, Sonic Boom should be able to work out a great trip stalking Oscar Performance during the early stages of the race, and from there, he should be positioned to finish strongly and hold on to a top-three finish.
For Keeneland handicapping data and statistics, check out “Keeneland At a Glance” on the Brisnet website. Who do you like in the Transylvania Stakes?
J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.