Amerman Racing's homebred Oscar Performance took command of the $1.2 million Belmont Derby Invitational (G1T) as the field entered the first turn after a handful broke well, and the initiative paid off.
Although he encountered trouble at the start, once in the clear the Kitten's Joy ridgling was never seriously threatened the rest of the way en route to a two-length, front-running victory in the 1 1/4-mile test.
French import Called To the Bar, who set the pace in his Prix du Lys (G3) victory last time out, stalked the pace in fourth and kicked home best of the rest to finish second. Homesman, an Irish grade 3 winner, came in third.
Oscar Performance—who won the Pennine Ridge Stakes (G3T) last time out to collect his first victory since the 2016 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T) in November—hit the side of the gate at the start, but rushed up under jockey Jose Ortiz on the inside to set fractions of :23.96, :49.48, and 1:14.37 through six furlongs, with Big Score and Yoshida just off the pace.
"He broke slow and I had to chase him the first quarter of a mile, but then in the backside he relaxed real well," Ortiz said. "I backed the pace down a little and he was full of run when I asked him to go."
The mile went in 1:37.35 and the Brian Lynch trainee finished off the distance in 2:00.25 under Ortiz, who piloted Keen Ice to the upset in the Suburban Stakes (G2) one race earlier.
"When he broke a tad slow and (Ortiz) urged him a little bit to run up there and I saw the :23 and change, I thought, 'I hope it doesn't turn into one of these sort of deals,'" Lynch said. "When the :49 and change came up, I started to grin a little bit, and when I saw the 1:14 and change come up, I broke into a big smile."
Bred in Kentucky out of the Theatrical mare Devine Actress, Oscar Performance now has five wins from eight starts and $1,497,632 in earnings.
"When he inched away from them in the lane, I could see they were all throwing leather behind him," Lynch said. "I thought, 'He's going to be tough to catch from here.' He proved he can get the mile and a quarter, and I think he beat a quality field of horses today."