For Immediate Release

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, Director of Racing or 501-363-4305

Secret Oath and Jockey Tyler Gaffalione

Photo credit: Coady Photography


HOT SPRINGS, AR (Friday, April 14, 2023) – There’s a reason the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) drew only four entrants. Two reasons, actually – Secret Oath and Clairiere, the millionaire Grade 1 winners who meet for the third time in the Apple Blossom, the 1 1/16-mile prize for older fillies and mares, Saturday at Oaklawn.

Probable post time for the Apple Blossom, which goes as the 11th of 12 races, is 6:12 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at 12:35 p.m. The card includes the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses at 6 furlongs.

If the field remains intact, it will equal the smallest in Apple Blossom history. Gorgeous beat three rivals, including heavily favored Bayakoa, the defending champion and future National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame inductee, in 1990.

“Kind of been watching it all winter long,” said Norm Casse, trainer of 2023 Apple Blossom entrant Hot and Sultry. “Kind of had a feeling. You’ve got two really nice fillies in there that scared everybody away.”

The Apple Blossom field from the rail out: Secret Oath, Tyler Gaffalione to ride, 123 pounds, 4-5 on the morning line; Hot and Sultry, David Cabrera, 117, 5-1; I Feel the Need, Chel-c Bailey, 114, 20-1; and Clairiere, Joel Rosario, 122, 6-5.

Secret Oath, the Apple Blossom program favorite, and Clairiere split their first two meetings. Clairiere finished third, beaten two noses, in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at 1 1/8 miles Nov. 5 at Keeneland. The razor-thin loss cost Clairiere, a homebred for Stonestreet Stables (Barbara Banke), an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion older dirt female of 2022. Secret Oath, facing older horses for the first time, finished fifth, beaten 5 ½ lengths.

Both horses, racing for the first time since the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, met again in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles March 11 at Oaklawn. Secret Oath, ridden for the first time by Gaffalione, beat Clairiere by 2 ¾ lengths in the final major local Apple Blossom prep. Each horse carried 119 pounds under allowance conditions. Secret Oath and Clairiere were high weights among the 12 Apple Blossom nominees.

Secret Oath has logged three five-furlong workouts at Oaklawn since the Azeri, the last a bullet (1:00) April 7 under her regular breeze rider, French jockey Mickaelle Michel.

“We’ve done everything we’ve liked to do with her,” said D. Wayne Lukas, Secret Oath’s Hall of Fame trainer. “She’s absolutely, as always, thrived down here. We could have run this week, last week, week after. She’s, I think, on her game. We’ve just got to get her over there happy.”

Secret Oath, who races for her breeder, Briland Farm (Robert and Stacy Mitchell), was a finalist for an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2022 after winning Oaklawn’s $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes and $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) and the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs. The Azeri marked the 4-year-old debut for Secret Oath, who has a 6-2-3 record from 14 lifetime starts and earnings of $1,982,267.

Tactically, Secret Oath has an advantage over late-running Clairiere and figures to be tracking Hot and Sultry, the Apple Blossom’s likely controlling speed after finishing fourth in the Azeri.

“The thing with Secret Oath, though, is that she can dictate the race as much as she wants to,” Lukas said. “She can stay close. She can relax back. She’s pretty versatile. The thing that she does is she changes the game right when she wants to. She has that move that she makes that is really, really tough for a horse to handle that’s running against her. Just depends if he (Gaffalione) wants to sneak up behind them and then make his move or whatever he wants to do. And Tyler knows her now. That’s the other thing. Tyler’s going to be more seasoned on her, too.”

Clairiere finished second in last year’s Apple Blossom before winning the $500,000 Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park in her next start for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. A 5-year-old daughter of Curlin, Clairiere has a 6-5-3 record from 17 lifetime starts and earnings of $2,181,392. The 2022 Apple Blossom drew only five entrants, but possessed much more speed with the likes of Eclipse Award winners Letruska and Ce Ce.

“Don’t love the race setup, the race shape for a filly that comes from as far back as Clairiere,” Asmussen said. “But I’m obviously very happy with how she’s training. Kind of feel like she’s up against it a little bit with somebody as good as Secret Oath. No pace in the race at all.”

Hot and Sultry made her two-turn debut in the Azeri and was beaten 3 ¼ lengths after pressing the pace. She captured the $150,000 American Beauty Stakes for older female sprinters Jan. 21 at Oaklawn and was a front-running winner of a 1-mile entry-level allowance race last July at Churchill Downs for Asmussen.

“I think there’s one way that we can win the race and, thankfully, it’s our greatest attribute,” said Casse, who trains Hot and Sultry for prominent Arkansas owners Alex and JoAnn Lieblong. “We’re excited to see her run. I think we would have felt like we would have had a really big chance regardless, but now we feel like we have a really good hand.”

I Feel the Need, at odds of 40-1, finished fourth in the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles last April at Oaklawn. She had been claimed out of her previous start for $50,000 by trainer Burl McBride. I Feed the Need exits a third-place finish in a 1 1/16-mile starter allowance March 30 at Oaklawn.

“I am surprised,” Lukas said, when asked about the Apple Blossom’s miniscule field size. “Burl McBride’s filly, I don’t blame him. That’s what, $50,000 to the fourth-place horse? But everybody conceding him the fourth-place horse, strange things happen. I don’t blame him for dropping in there.”

Lukas is seeking his record fourth Apple Blossom victory after winning the race in 1983 (Miss Huntington), 1987 (North Sider) and 2004 (Azeri). Asmussen won the Apple Blossom in 2015 (Untapable) and 2019 (Midnight Bisou).

Asmussen has an Oaklawn record 99 career stakes victories. Lukas ranks third with 52.