Kentucky Oaks Winner Secret Oath Eying Azeri Stakes for 4-Year-Old Debut

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, or (501) 363-4305

Saturday, December 31, 2022


Photo Credit: Coady Photography

Kentucky Oaks Winner Secret Oath Eying Azeri Stakes for 4-Year-Old Debut

Secret Oath, among the country’s leading 3-year-old fillies of 2022, is targeting the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G1) March 11 at Oaklawn for her 2023 debut, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Thursday morning.

A homebred for Briland Farm (Robert and Stacy Mitchell), Secret Oath has been based at Oaklawn since early December. She blossomed at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, posting blowout victories in a New Year’s Eve allowance race, $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes and the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3). After finishing third against males in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1), Secret Oath won the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) last May at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Oaks is the country’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies.

Secret Oath concluded her busy nine-race 2022 campaign with a fifth-place finish in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) Nov. 5 at Keeneland. The 1 1/8-mile race was Secret Oath’s first against older horses.

“She’s having a great, great month,” Lukas said. “Just light training. She’s filling out to her frame, eating really well. Put on, probably, 35, 40 pounds the right way. Real pleased.”

The Azeri is the penultimate race in Oaklawn’s series of two-turn stakes races for older fillies and mares. It concludes with the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 15. The Azeri and Apple Blossom are both 1 1/16 miles.

“Exactly,” Lukas said, when asked if the Azeri would be Secret Oath’s prep for the Apple Blossom.

From the first crop of deceased champion Arrogate, Secret Oath has a 5-2-3 mark from 13 lifetime starts and earnings of $1,768,417.

Yuugiri Shines in Return

Yuugiri returned to what trainer Rodolphe Brisset said he believes she does best – sprinting – and scored a front-running 2 ¼-length victory in Friday’s fourth race, a $106,000 third-level allowance that marked her first start in almost eight months.

Yuugiri, under eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr., shook Hot and Sultry in the final furlong to remain unbeaten in two sprint starts (both 6 furlongs). Her time Friday over a muddy, sealed surface was 1:10.16. Yuugiri, racing on Lasix for the first time, paid $4.60 as the 6-5 favorite. She earned a career-high 100 Equibase speed rating.

“She’s never going to run two turns again,” Brisset said moments after the victory. “She’s a Grade 3 winner. If we can get a little bit more black type, obviously, but we’re going to take it race by race and make sure she’s safe. If anything happens, she’s retired to become a broodmare, for sure.”

Friday marked Yuugiri’s first sprint since a 7 ¼-length victory in her Sept. 17, 2021, career debut at Churchill Downs. She quickly moved to a series of 1 1/16-mile races on the Kentucky Oaks trail and finished second in the $400,000 Golden Rod Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs and third in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn before winning the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) last April at Oaklawn. She received a lengthy vacation following a 13th-place finish in the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) last May at Churchill Downs. Yuugiri set the pace in the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks before tiring in the final three-eighths of a mile.

Yuugiri, following a 60-day break, resumed training around Labor Day and had nine published workouts since Oct. 12, including six at Oaklawn, in advance of her comeback race.

“She was ready,” Brisset said. “She was 80, 90 percent ready. You can see she’s carrying good weight compared to last year when she got a little tucked up on us. The switch from 3 to 4, that’s what you want to see. After her break, that’s what you want to see. I thought she ran big today. First-time Lasix helped a lot. She can get a little hot, so I think the Lasix always kind of works on the mind and gets them to calm down a little bit. She was great in the paddock. We don’t want to run too quick back because that was the big one.”

Yuugiri was originally scheduled to make her comeback in a Dec. 18 allowance sprint at Oaklawn, but the race didn’t fill. It was brought back, as an extra, with less conditions Friday (non-winners of three races). Yuugiri was nominated to the $300,000 La Brea Stakes (G1) at 7 furlongs last Monday at Santa Anita.

Brisset reiterated Saturday morning that Yuugiri will target one-turn races in 2023, adding he’s undecided about her next start. She exited the race in good physical condition, Brisset said.

“Looked very good,” Brisset said. “Cleaned the feed tub last night. She walked around there this morning very good. We jogged on the road and she was very sound. All good.”

Oaklawn’s beefed-up stakes series for older female sprinters is highlighted by the inaugural $250,000 Matron March 31. The Matron is preceded by the $150,000 American Beauty Jan. 21 and the $150,000 Carousel Feb. 25. All three races are 6 furlongs.

“Race by race,” Brisset said. “We’re going to be looking everywhere, but definitely stay one turn.”

Yuugiri, a daughter of 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford, has compiled a 3-2-1 record from seven lifetime starts and earned $619,710. Brisset trains Yuugiri for her Japanese breeders, Tsunebumi & Sekie Yoshihara.

Brisset is wintering at Oaklawn for the second consecutive season. He has 20 stalls for the 2022-2023 meeting that began Dec. 9. Brisset compiled a sparkling 8-6-5 record from 31 starts last season at Oaklawn, with his horses earning $962,745 in purse money.

Brisset was joined in the winner’s circle Friday by his wife, Brooke Baker, and their 4-year-old son, Ryan. Brisset said it was his son’s first trip to Oaklawn.

Finish Lines

Leading trainer Robertino Diodoro recorded three more winners Friday at Oaklawn – Day 7 of the scheduled 68-day meeting – moving his career North American total to 2,994, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Diodoro won the second race with Slam Dunk Sermon ($21.80), third race with favored Adaline Julia ($3) and the fifth race with Thought ($12.60). The triple gave Diodoro 11 victories this season at Oaklawn and 290 for his career in Hot Springs. Isaac Castillo rode two of the winners, Slam Dunk Sermon and Thought. Adaline Julia was a $75,000 first-off-the claim winner for Diodoro and fellow meet leaders Cristian Torres (jockey) and Jerry Caroom of Hot Springs (owner). … Chel-c Bailey, Oaklawn’s champion apprentice during the 2021-2022 meeting, swept Friday’s late daily double. Bailey won the eighth race, a $106,000 allowance sprint for Arkansas-bred females, aboard Summer Shoes ($8.80) for trainer Tom Swearingen and the ninth race aboard favored K J’s Pistol Annie ($7.80) for trainer Tammy Hornsby. The promising Summer Shoes appears headed toward stakes company after remaining unbeaten at Oaklawn (3 for 3). She’s 3 for 4 overall. … Favored Flap Jack ($3.60) won Friday’s sixth race to become the meet’s first two-time winner. It was eighth victory of the meeting for newcomer Nik Juarez, who rode Flap Jack for 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman. … Saturday’s $150,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles closed Dec. 27 with 21 nominees, including 2022 winner Coach for Brad Cox and projected starter Ice Orchid for trainer John Ortiz.