Oaklawn Barn Notes: Lukas Hoping Timing is Right with Secret Oath

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, jhoyt@oaklawn.com (501) 363-4305

Friday, April 01, 2022

Secret Oath

Photo credit: Coady Photography

Lukas Hoping Timing is Right with Secret Oath

D. Wayne Lukas decided four days before the race to run his star filly, Althea, against males in the 1984 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. Almost 40 years later, the Hall of Fame trainer is at it again, but the timeline involving Secret Oath is much different.

Lukas was seriously considering Secret Oath for Saturday’s $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) in mid-February, roughly two weeks after she crushed 3-year-old fillies in the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes.

“One morning I was sitting down there with him and we were discussing her,” Lukas’ close friend, retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, said Tuesday morning. “I mentioned it and he smiled at me and said: ‘It’s been running through my mind.’”

As an analyst for Fox Sports’ “America’s Day at the Races,” Stevens broke the news March 12 that Secret Oath, after winning her three starts at the meeting by a combined 23 lengths, would face males for the first time in the Arkansas Derby.

Asked 17 days later if Lukas made the right decision, Stevens said, “Absolutely.”

“Wayne’s always been game, you know,” Stevens said. “But he takes what I would call educated risks, where the odds are in his favor. He weighs all options. You can go back all the way to Althea when she won the Arkansas Derby and then he had great success with Lady’s Secret. She faced the boys. He’s never been afraid to run the girls against the boys and I think a lot of that comes from his Quarter-Horse days. They do it a lot more often. Like the All American Futurity, there’s been fillies that have won it.”

A week after finishing a troubled second in the Fantasy Stakes – Oaklawn’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies – Lukas wheeled back Althea in the Arkansas Derby. Ridden for the first time by Pat Valenzuela, Althea equaled the track record for 1 1/8 miles (1:46.80) in a front-running seventh-length victory.

Lukas also finished third in the 1986 Arkansas Derby with another filly, Family Style, a week after she finished fourth in the Fantasy. Both Althea and Family Style were Eclipse Award winners at 2 and faced males at 2.

“I don’t know if I would have the ba*** to do that again, to lead Althea over there,” Lukas, 86, said Tuesday morning. “But it worked. When I think back, ‘Christ.’ I think that we’re fine-tuning and taking a better horse, that’s set up for this race, whether it’s good enough or not. Family Style, that was a pretty ambitious move. Althea, I thought could win it, but I think back in (seven) days, come on. This is a better-planned chance for her to maybe do something.”

Secret Oath is the 5-2 program favorite for the Arkansas Derby, which will offer 170 points (100-40-20-10, respectively) to its top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. Secret Oath already has secured a spot in the Kentucky Oaks, the nation’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies and could be considered for the Kentucky Derby with a top two finish Saturday.

A homebred for Lukas’ longtime clients Robert and Stacy Mitchell (Briland Farm), Secret Oath has been a different horse since finishing fifth, beaten 11 ¼ lengths, in the $400,000 Golden Rod Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs. The Golden Rod was her stakes debut.

Secret Oath closed her 2-year-old campaign with an 8 ¼-length allowance victory at 1 mile Dec. 31 and dominated Oaklawn’s first two Kentucky Oaks points races. She captured the Martha Washington by 7 ¼ lengths Jan. 29 and the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) by 7 ½ lengths Feb. 26. Both races were 1 1/16 miles.

“The Golden Rod, if you can back and look at it, was a horrendous trip,” Lukas said. “But we were still trying to get her to rate off of it and then make that kick. We knew that she had that, but we never got a chance to show it. So, we just drew a line through that one. I wanted to go in the allowance race to make sure that she was back on course. And she did that, I was comfortable for these two.”

Secret Oath is the from the crop of the deceased Arrogate, who named the country’s champion 3-year-old male of 2016 after roaring to five consecutive victories, including the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita. Arrogate was trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, another close friend of Lukas.

“I’ve been talking to him a lot,” Baffert said Tuesday afternoon. “He is so excited. I told him, that horse, that filly, looks and runs like Arrogate. He’s done an unbelievable job. One thing about Wayne, he’s still sharp. He’s a great horseman, one of the greatest ever. He’s got the right horse. I’ve been very impressed with all the races.”

Althea is the only filly in Oaklawn’s modern era, which began in 1934, to win the Arkansas Derby. Secret Oath is the first filly scheduled to run in the Arkansas Derby since Family Style and Ann’s Bid in 1986. Ann’s Bid finished sixth for now-retired trainer Joe Cantey. The only other filly to win the Arkansas Derby, when run at Oaklawn, is Angleta in 1905.

Lukas and Stevens teamed to win the 1985 Arkansas Derby with Tank’s Prospect and the 1988 Santa Anita and Kentucky derbies with a filly, Winning Colors.

“It takes a certain type of filly,” said Stevens, now the agent for Oaklawn-based jockeys Geovanni Franco, Tiago Pereira and apprentice Jeremy Alicea. “Wayne weighs the good and the bad. I spoke to him at length to him about it. Right now, is the time to try it.”

Lukas is a four-time Kentucky Derby winner and a 1999 inductee into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Finish Lines

David Cabrera won four races Thursday, pushing his meet-high total to 55. Cabrera won the first race aboard favored Admirably ($4.60) for trainer Wayne Potts, second race aboard Top Brass ($8.40) for trainer Karl Broberg, fifth race aboard Mazie G ($14.40) for trainer Tommy Vance of Hot Springs and the sixth race aboard favored My Boss Lady ($3.60) for trainer Federico Villafranco. The four-bagger equaled a single-day personal best at Oaklawn for Cabrera, who also rode four winners Feb. 19 and Feb. 21. Cabrera ($3,016,259) became the first jockey to surpass $3 million in purse earnings at the meet Thursday. … Trainer Norm Casse recorded his first career Oaklawn double Thursday, winning the seventh race with favored Roaming Union ($3.20) and the eighth race with Sol Del Sur ($10.40). Casse, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse, has a string at Oaklawn for the first time in 2021-2022. … Norm Casse said next-race plans are pending for Pretty Birdie, who captured the $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters last Saturday. Pretty Birdie, who provided Casse with his first Oaklawn stakes victory, earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 95, a career high. … Two-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox said Thursday morning that he plans to nominate Warrant and Plainsman and “probably” Caddo River to the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles April 23. Warrant finished second in the $650,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) at 1 ¼ miles at Santa Anita in his last start. Plainsman and Caddo River are both Oaklawn stakes winners for owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs.