Secret Oath and Call Me Jamal Work Toward Arkansas Derby

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Secret Oath Winning the Honeybee Stakes

Photo credit: Coady Photography

Secret Oath and Call Me Jamal Work Toward Arkansas Derby

Jockey Geovanni Franco had a chance to compare rides Thursday morning at Oaklawn, breezing Secret Oath for a scheduled start against males in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 2 and another potential starter in Call Me Jamal.

One ride went considerably faster than the other.

Secret Oath, the most dominant horse during the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, recorded a 5-furlong bullet (:59.40) just after the track opened at 7 a.m. (Central) for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and Briland Farm of breeder/owners Robert and Stacy Mitchell. The surface was rated fast.

Clockers caught Secret Oath covering her first eighth of a mile in :12, a quarter-mile in :23.80 and 3 furlongs in :36 before galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:12.40. It was the fastest of 34 works registered at 5 furlongs. It also marked the first time Franco had been aboard Secret Oath, who has won her three starts at the meeting, including two stakes, by a combined 23 lengths. She is scheduled to face males for the first time in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby.

“The filly, that’s a running machine, man,” Franco said moments after breezing Call Me Jamal. “She was nice. That’s a great experience for me. I was the work rider for Lukas and I’ll do it again if he needs me. She felt good. That’s a good feeling, man.”

Franco, who returned to Oaklawn this season after a four-year absence, is represented by agent Gary Stevens, the retired Hall of Fame rider and a close friend of Lukas. As a trainer and jockey, they teamed to win the 1985 Arkansas Derby with Tank’s Prospect and the 1988 Kentucky Derby with another filly, Winning Colors.

Lukas tapped Franco to breeze Secret Oath because her regular rider, Luis Contreras, was out of town.

“Luis went home for a couple of days to be with his family and I know he’ll be sick that I worked her without him,” Lukas said about 90 minutes after Secret Oath’s work. “But having said that, the day came up and I thought he was going to be back, but he doesn’t get in until 10 o’clock this morning. Geovanni did a beautiful job. He did a good job. He filled in nicely. I told Franco, I said: ‘Luis owes you one now.’”

The 5-furlong drill marked the second work for Secret Oath since her 7 ½-length victory in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies Feb. 26. From the first crop of deceased champion Arrogate, Secret Oath won a Dec. 31 allowance race by 8 ¼ lengths and the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Jan. 29 by 7 ¼ 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. Lukas won the 1984 Arkansas Derby with Althea, a week after she finished second in the Fantasy.

Lukas said Thursday’s breeze will be the most taxing for Secret Oath leading up to the Arkansas Derby. She worked a half-mile in :48.40 March 8 and is scheduled to have her final pre-race breeze March 25, Lukas said.

“A little sharper than the next one,” Lukas said. “We let her finish a little bit. I think she went the last quarter in :23 and change, so you know we saw her skip through there. But she did it the right way. It was a really solid work. These are ways of measuring where you’re at and it’s a measuring stick, these works. We’re not concerned at this point on conditioning. We’re trying to find out how sharp we’ve got her and everything showed up that way. So, now we just have to keep her happy.”

Roughly two hours after breezing Secret Oath, and immediately following the surface renovation break, Franco climbed aboard Call Me Jamal for a 5-furlong work. Like Secret Oath, Call Me Jamal breezed by himself and covered the distance in 1:01. Clockers caught Call Me Jamal, a gelded son of Malibu Moon, in :37.40 for his opening 3 furlongs and galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:14.

“I think he keeps improving and today I felt like he worked good,” said Franco, aboard for both of the gelding’s victories at the meeting. “Hopefully, he keeps improving and keeps on getting his heart bigger.”

Call Me Jamal’s two 1 1/16-mile victories at Oaklawn include a sharp entry-level allowance score Feb. 26. Trainer Mike Puhich said moments after the work that Call Me Jamal remains under consideration for the Arkansas Derby and the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 9 at Keeneland.

“I’m leaving the door open both ways, but I’m probably leaning more towards here,” Puhich said. “The Blue Grass is going to come up just as tough. I think Lukas’ filly is the best 3-year-old I’ve seen run all year, in my opinion, from a fan’s standpoint.”

Puhich said he was pleased with Call Me Jamal’s work, which marked his second since the allowance victory. Call Me Jamal broke his maiden Dec. 18. The third-place finisher from that race, the Lukas-trained Ethereal Road, returned to break his maiden in eye-catching fashion Jan. 29 and finish second, beaten a half-length, in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 26. The Rebel is the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby. Ethereal Road is pointing for the Blue Grass, Lukas said.

“He did everything we asked,” Puhich said. “He did great. I just told him (Franco) to let him work on his own the first part, then gallop on out. If he liked the way he felt, let him finish up a little bit. Everything was perfect. If we stay here, there’s always a chance we can beat Lukas. But I’m not going to be able to outdress him.”

Nominations to the Arkansas Derby close Friday, with post positions to be drawn March 27. The Arkansas Derby will offer 170 points (100-40-20-10, respectively) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility to the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 starters.

The Arkansas Derby field continues to take shape, with Secret Oath, Un Ojo for trainer Ricky Courville, Barber Road (John Ortiz), Chasing Time (Steve Asmussen), We the People (Rodolphe Brisset) and Cyberknife (Brad Cox) among the projected starters. Un Ojo, Barber Road and Chasing Time finished 1-3-5, respectively, in the Rebel, while We the People is unbeaten in two career starts the meeting. Cyberknife was a sharp allowance winner Feb. 19 at Fair Grounds in his last start. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert also is expected to be represented in the Arkansas Derby.

Oaklawn-based Barber Road is scheduled to work Saturday morning, trainer John Ortiz said.