ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. -- Oscar Performance, the likely Secretariat Stakes favorite over an expected six rivals, has not won two Grade 1 races and is just shy of $1.5 million because he is an especially limited horse. But Oscar Performance is a front-running type who definitely benefited from making easy leads last out in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby and two starts ago in the Pennine Ridge Stakes.
Such a trip seems unlikely in the Secretariat since Sonic Boom also is running. Brian Lynch, an Australian immigrant, trains Oscar Performance, while Ian Wilkes, another Aussie, trains Sonic Boom. Lynch maintains that Oscar Performance doesn't need the front for his best, but Wilkes makes no bones about his colt's preferred running style.
Sonic Boom was turned loose to run free on the lead two back in an allowance race and last out in the American Derby and responded with two wins.
"That's what he wants to do," Wilkes said. "I can't get in his way. I got him beat trying to take him back."
Sonic Boom worked a half-mile in 49.40 on Monday in Kentucky. At Saratoga, Oscar Performance went a half over the Oklahoma turf course in 50.59, galloping out a sharp 1:02.94 for five furlongs, according to Daily Racing Form's David Grening.
"I'm not convinced that Oscar really needs the lead, especially if he's got something to track," Lynch said. "In the Breeders' Cup, he was quite happy to sit off [another horse]. I think if Ian's horse wants to make the running, he's going to be comfortable to sit in there and track him."
Oscar Performance is the one to beat in the Secretariat, but the England-based colt Permian looks like a formidable rival.
Valdivia having memorable meet
Jose Valdivia Jr. moved his tack to Arlington in 2015 and immediately became the leading rider here, winning 80 races two summers ago and 100 last year. Valdivia always was the odds-on favorite to win his third local riding title, but what he is doing this summer still is remarkable.
Valdivia rode five winners Sunday on a seven-race card. That gave him 90 for the Arlington season, with seven weeks still left at this meet. Chris Emigh is the second-leading rider with 38 wins, a whopping 52 fewer than Valdivia, whose strike rate after 286 mounts is 31.5 percent.
"My agent, Steve Leving, has put me on a lot of live horses," Valdivia said. "Every day, it's, 'Let's see how many I can win today. Let's see if I can win them all.' It's almost unreal. The confidence just builds and builds, and I don't even look at odds anymore."
Valdivia as of Monday was without a mount in the Million, and despite all the good he's done here in the last year, he still wonders what might have been in the 2016 Million. Valdivia was booked to ride Decorated Knight, who somehow got out of his stall the night before the race, cut himself, and had to be scratched. Decorated Knight has turned out to be a really good horse and in May won the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup.
"That one's going to haunt me forever," Valdivia said.
-- additional reporting by David Grening