August 8, 2022

Oscar Performance, Beach Patrol could get Joe Hirsch showdown

Oscar Performance winning the Secretariat, at Arlington (Photo courtesy Four Footed Fotos)

For anyone wondering out loud – as I did – whether Saturday’s Secretariat (G1) hero Oscar Performance might have won the Arlington Million (G1), we may get the chance to see him tackle Million victor Beach Patrol next time. The September 30 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at Belmont Park is looming as a potential showdown, with each attempting 1 1/2 miles for the first time.

Oscar Performance’s trainer, Brian Lynch, sounded more definitive than Beach Patrol’s trainer, Chad Brown, who scored an Arlington double with Dacita in the Beverly D. (G1).

“They (Beach Patrol and Dacita) were supposed to fly back today, but there were mechanical problems with the plane so they were grounded in Chicago,” Brown told NYRA publicity.

“They each have come out of the race fine so far. When we get them back here and in their normal routine, we’ll evaluate as they get back on the track and go from there.

“I’m not sure of where we might go next,” Brown added. “I didn’t look beyond this weekend of races for any of these horses.

“He (Beach Patrol) got a really good ride from Joel (Rosario) and a good trip. That’s the trip we were looking for and he showed his heart and his fight in the lane like he always does.”

According to the Arlington notes, the Hirsch could well be on the agenda.

“I think he can get the mile and a half,” co-owner James Covello said of the Lemon Drop Kid colt. “He strides out at a mile and a quarter and galloped out well, and he stayed on well at 1 3/8 miles at Monmouth (when third despite arguing an unsustainable pace).

“He’ll go to the race as long as he’s healthy, but I think it’s going to depend if we can get a break like (in the Million) where we have a horse to sit off of. It’s obviously much easier to get the mile and a half if you can get a stalking trip instead of doing all the dirty work up front, but it can be done – like  Highland Reel last year.”

If Beach Patrol does ultimately go for the Hirsch, he’ll try to correct his 0-for-3 mark at Belmont, consisting of a second in the Hill Prince (G3) and a third in the Belmont Derby (G1) last season as well as a fourth in the June 10 Manhattan (G1). Although both of Beach Patrol’s stakes wins have come at Arlington, in the 2016 Secretariat and now the Million, he’s run consistently well at a high level everywhere.

“I was confident that he was going to run his race,” Covello said. “He’s been a little unlucky outside of Arlington whether it’s the trip, or where he finds himself between other horses.

“He’s a horse that likes to stalk other horses from the outside. He’s drawn outside both times at Arlington, and he likes that. He’s run the same race a lot this year and obviously it hasn’t always been good enough, but this time it was. I had a lot of confidence in him, but there were a lot of good horses in there and, boy, what a thrill it was.

“For a horse to consistently show up like that in Grade 1 races against top competition at different racetracks is just remarkable to me.”

Oscar Performance is a perfect three-for-three at Belmont, including this summer’s Belmont Derby en route to the Secretariat. Lynch told NYRA publicity that the son of Kitten’s Joy received just the kind of stalk-and-pounce trip he envisioned at Arlington.

“When the past performances came out and we visualized how the race would play out, it went to plan for a change,” Lynch quipped. “I figured Sonic Boom was going to be the pace and I was confident we could sit off him. I didn’t think the Euros, even if though they are forwardly placed over there, would be as close as our speed is over here.

“I’d say the Joe Hirsch is on the radar and I think if we were to speculate what race we would go in the Breeders’ Cup, it would be the mile and a half on the turf. He’s shown that he can go long now and he can quicken when he needs to, so I think the Turf (G1) will be where we end up.”

In that respect the Joe Hirsch makes perfect sense, not only as a stepping stone over the distance, but also as a “Win & You’re In” for the Turf at Del Mar. Since Beach Patrol already pocketed his free pass from the Arlington Million, that isn’t part of his calculations.

Oscar Performance would bring a unique treble into the Joe Hirsch. The first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner to take the Belmont Derby, he also became the first winner of that revamped prize to add the Secretariat.

“He’s a resilient little guy and he likes his job,” Lynch summed up.

Also mulling the Joe Hirsch is Mekhtaal, France’s Million hope who flopped in 10th after an awkward start from post 12 and a forgettable trip from there. Instead of returning to trainer Jean-Claude Rouget, the Al Shaqab colorbearer boarded a van for Graham Motion’s base at Fair Hill in Matyland.

“I didn’t quite realize how awkward the outside position was at the start of the race,” said Motion, whose Ascend finished a creditable fifth in the Million from post 11.

“It affected my horse some, but I think Frankie (Dettori on Mekhtaal) got the worst of it.”