Lukas Confirms Star Filly Secret Oath for the Arkansas Derby

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Secret Oath and Jockey Luis Contreras

Photo credit: Coady Photography

Lukas Confirms Star Filly Secret Oath for the Arkansas Derby

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas gave Gary Stevens the mount on the 1985 Arkansas Derby winner. Saturday morning, Lukas gave Stevens the scoop on, perhaps, the 2022 Arkansas Derby winner.

After weeks of speculation, Lukas confirmed Sunday morning that his star 3-year-old filly, Secret Oath, would challenge males for the first time in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 2. Stevens, the retired Hall of Fame rider turned jockey agent at Oaklawn for Geovanni Franco and Tiago Pereira, broke the news Saturday afternoon in his on-site role as an analyst for Fox Sports’ “America’s Day at the Races.”

Lukas said he had given Stevens the green light over coffee earlier Saturday.

“I just said, ‘Here, I’ll give you something you can do today,’” Lukas said with a laugh. “He was thrilled that I was turning him loose. I thought that would be as good a place as any. We have coffee most mornings. He’s a close friend.”

The move to run Secret Oath in the Arkansas Derby, widely expected, means Lukas’ top 3-year-old male, Ethereal Road, will be re-routed from the Arkansas Derby to the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 9 at Keeneland. Ethereal Road finished second, beaten a half-length, in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) Feb. 26, which is the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby.

Secret Oath, who is from the first crop of deceased champion Arrogate, has been among the most dominant horses at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting after winning a Dec. 31 allowance race by 8 ¼ lengths, $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 29 by 7 ¼ lengths and the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) Feb. 26 by 7 ½ lengths. Secret Oath already has secured a spot in the Kentucky Oaks – the nation’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies – after collecting 60 points for victories in the Martha Washington and Honeybee. Both races were 1 1/16 miles.

Secret Oath had been a candidate for Oaklawn’s final Kentucky Oaks prep, the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles April 2, before Lukas opted for the Arkansas Derby, with the blessing of Robert and Stacy Mitchell, who bred and own the filly.

“Wayne and I talked about it before the Honeybee,” Robert Mitchell said Saturday afternoon. “We wanted to see what her performance looked like in the Honeybee and we wanted to see what the Rebel looked like and then we wanted to see kind of how she did in her first workout after the Honeybee. We feel like we ought to give her a chance to run against the boys and see how that goes. That’s kind of how we thought about it.”

Lukas won the 1984 Arkansas Derby with Althea, a week after she finished second in the Fantasy. Lukas and Stevens teamed to win the 1985 Arkansas Derby with Tank’s Prospect and the 1988 Kentucky Derby with another filly, Winning Colors. Lukas now bids for his third Arkansas Derby victory with yet another filly, Secret Oath.

“We don’t make these decisions, meaning the owners and myself, we don’t make these decisions easily,” Lukas said. “We consider all the things. First of all, you want to absolutely think that you are as good as any of the other 3-year-olds that might show up and you don’t really know who is going to show up. And then second, you consider that she’s here at home. If you’re going to step out of the box, that’s probably a good spot to do it. She’s been successful on this racetrack. The third thing is a million, two-hundred fifty thousand is probably the most attractive purse she’ll ever run for. I was thinking the other day that it will be hard to imagine she’s going to run for a bigger one, expect in the Breeders’ Cup. So, we factored that in.”

Another hook, Lukas said, was timing. The Arkansas Derby had been three weeks before the Kentucky Derby in 1996-2021. It’s five weeks this year, a change coinciding with Oaklawn’s expanded 66-day racing calendar (Dec. 3-May 8) in 2021-2022. The Kentucky Oaks, which is run May 6, the day before the Kentucky Derby, remains Secret Oath’s major spring target, Lukas said.

The Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass will offer 170 points (100-40-20-10) to their top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. A top two finish in the Arkansas Derby likely would secure Secret Oath a spot in the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 starters.

“I’ve got the Oaks, anyhow,” Lukas said. “That’s where I’m going. We have no plan to run in the Derby now. That’s not chiseled in stone, either, but that’s the way the Mitchells feel. They don’t want to run in a 20-horse field. They feel like the Oaks is every bit as prestigious.”

Secret Oath, in her first work since the Honeybee, breezed a half-mile in :48.40 Tuesday morning. Lukas said she’ll likely work at least twice more in advance of the Arkansas Derby. Ethereal Road will continue to train at Oaklawn before shipping to Keeneland April 5, Lukas said. Luis Contreras will retain the mount on both horses, Lukas said.

Ethereal Road ranks ninth on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 20 points after his runner-up finish in the Rebel, according to the official list released Saturday by Churchill Downs.

With Secret Oath headed to the Arkansas Derby, trainer Mike Puhich said Sunday morning that Call Me Jamal “probably” will make his next start in the Blue Grass. Call Me Jamal has two 1 1/16-mile victories at the meeting, including a sharp entry-level allowance score Feb. 26. Puhich said the following morning that Call Me Jamal’s next start – Arkansas Derby or Blue Grass – would be dictated by Secret Oath’s path. Puhich had a pretty good idea then which path Secret Oath would take.

“It’s either going to be the Arkansas Derby or the Blue Grass,” Puhich said, referring to Call Me Jamal. “I don’t know if I’m interested chasing Wayne’s filly around there or not. I guarantee you she’ll be in there. He got his Oaks points yesterday. Now, he’s got to get his Derby points.”

The People’s Choice

We the People (2 for 2) is headed to a major Kentucky Derby points race, but when and where haven’t been decided, trainer Rodolphe Brisset said Sunday morning.

We the People, utilizing stalk-and-pounce tactics, cruised to a five-length entry-level allowance victory in Saturday’s fourth race under Florent Geroux. We the People covered 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in 1:43.66 to earn a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 89. A son of Constitution, We the People received an 83 Beyer for his front-running 5 ¾-length victory at a mile Feb. 12.

“That was the whole plan, be able to gain some seasoning, some experience,” Brisset said. “He broke maybe a step slower than last time and then he didn’t make the lead. But Flo got him into the race pretty good and let him do his thing. He didn’t use the whip, got him to work through the wire and even an extra sixteenth. Now, we’re going to see how he came out of it this morning and the next couple of days we’ll have to make some plans, I guess.”

Brisset said the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 2 and $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (G1) April 9 at Keeneland “would be our first choice,” with the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1) April 9 at Santa Anita and the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) April 9 at Aqueduct also on the table. All four 1 1/8-mile races will offer 170 points (100-40-20-10) to their top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. We the People likely would need a top two finish to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 starters.

“We’re right in the middle,” Brisset said. “Oaklawn’s right in the middle, so we can go left or we can go right. But I think we’re going to let the horse tell us. Three weeks to the Arkansas Derby can be a little tricky, but after that we’ve got five weeks for the big one if he does run 1-2. The four weeks, four weeks is not a bad thing, either, for the Blue Grass. Now, we have to ship him back home. He knows the track there.”

Purchased for $230,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s March 2-year-olds in training sale, We the People races for WinStar Farm (Kenny Troutt), CMNWLTH (Brian Doxtator & Chase Chamberlin) and Siena Farm (Anthony Manganaro).

Brisset said Yuugiri, his top Kentucky Oaks prospect, worked well Friday (a half-mile in :48.20) and he’s “taking a strong look” at the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles April 2. Yuugiri, in her 2022 debut, finished third in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 26. The Honeybee and Fantasy are Oaklawn’s final two major preps for the Kentucky Oaks.

Yuugiri has 14 points to rank 16th on the official Kentucky Oaks leaderboard released Saturday by Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Oaks, the nation’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies, is limited to 14 starters.

The Fantasy will offer 170 points (100-40-20-10) to its top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the May 6 Kentucky Oaks.

Finish Lines

Champion Ce Ce walked the shedrow Sunday morning following her three-quarter length victory in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles Saturday. Trainer Michael McCarthy said the 2021 Eclipse Award winner (female sprinter) is scheduled to be flown back to her Southern California base “midweek,” but could return to Oaklawn for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) at 1 1/16 miles April 23. Ce Ce ($5.40) won the 2020 Apple Blossom. … Can Man Do ($22.60) gave trainer Steve Hobby of Hot Springs his 301st career Oaklawn victory in Saturday’s first race. … Pull My Chain ($10.80) represented the 987th career victory for jockey Alex Canchari in Saturday’s second race, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. … Beguine, who broke her maiden in her two-turn debut March 5, has been nominated to the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles April 2, trainer Dan Peitz said Sunday morning. Peitz trains Beguine, the second Oaklawn winner sired by 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner for breeder/owner Charles T. Matses, 95, a Massachusetts commercial real estate developer. … Caddo River, record-setting winner of the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds in 2021, is entered in a third-level allowance for older horses at 1 1/16 miles Friday for trainer Brad Cox and breeder/owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs. … Great Escape, runner-up in a Feb. 26 entry-level allowance race for 3-year-olds, “likely” will make his next start April 2 at Turfway Park, either in the $600,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at 1 1/8 miles or the $200,000 Rushaway Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, trainer Rodolphe Brisset said Sunday morning. … Oaklawn surpassed 400 claims at the meet Saturday, Day 38 of the scheduled 66-day meeting. Through Saturday, 411 claims had totaled $8,931,500. … Racing resumes Thursday at 1 p.m. (Central). It’s the first of four consecutive Thursday dates (March 17, March 24, March 31 and April 7) added to the racing calendar after four dates were lost earlier in the meeting to winter weather.