Secret Oath Works Towards Honeybee Stakes

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

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

Friday, February 18, 2022

Photo credit: Coady Photography

Secret Oath

Secret Oath Works Towards Honeybee Stakes

Secret Oath completed major preparations for the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) with a half-mile workout in :48 over a fast track Friday morning for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

While the Honeybee is for 3-year-old fillies, Secret Oath has been so dominant in two starts at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting that Lukas said Tuesday morning he plans to nominate her to the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 2.

The 1 1/16-mile Honeybee is Oaklawn’s second of three Kentucky Oaks points races. Secret Oath won an allowance race by 8 ¼ lengths Dec. 31 and the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes – Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Oaks points race – by 7 ¼ lengths Jan. 29.

Post positions for the Honeybee and $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds will be drawn Monday. Both races are Feb. 26. The 1 1/16-mile Rebel is the final local prep for the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby. Both the Honeybee and Rebel will offer 85 points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby, respectively.

The Arkansas Derby is run the same day as the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3), which is Oaklawn’s third Kentucky Oaks points race.

Lukas, of course, has been down this road before. He won the 1984 Arkansas Derby with 2-year-old filly champion Althea, a week after she finished second in the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy. Lukas won the 1988 Kentucky Derby with Winning Colors after she demolished males in the Santa Anita Derby. Secret Oath has never faced males in her five-race career.

“At this time of the year, everybody’s evaluating their horses, especially the 3-year-olds,” Lukas said. “You’re constantly evaluating them every day when they train and when they work. And when you get them in a race, you like to see, if yours is one of them, a little bit more dominance. A horse that moves off and clearly is in cruise control, maybe the last eighth of a mile or sixteenth, you like to see that.”

A homebred daughter of deceased champion Arrogate for Briland Farm (Robert and Stacy Mitchell), Secret Oath earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 93, among the highest in the country for a 2-year-old in 2021, for her allowance victory. The 1-mile race also marked the most lopsided victory in Oaklawn’s brief history of running routes for 2-year-olds.

The 1 1/16-mile Martha Washington was essentially a replay of the allowance race, with Secret Oath, in hand under Luis Contreras, gliding to the leaders on the second turn and galloping away from the field turning for home.

Heavily favored in the Martha Washington, Secret Oath’s time of 1:46.21 over a fast track was just off the 1:45.83 unbeaten Newgrange needed to win the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds later on the card. Newgrange received a Beyer Speed Figure of 89 – a point higher than Secret Oath – for his 1 ½-length victory in the Southwest, Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Derby points race. The top three finishers were separated by 2 ¾ lengths.

“The way the filly won is what you like to see, if it was a colt,” Lukas said. “We’re going to leave all our options on the table. You don’t have to nominate until March 18. She’s not in it now. But if I think she was dominant, and we’ll see what the Rebel produces – I’ve done it before and I’m not beyond doing it again. I did it with Althea. I did it with Winning Colors in California with great success. But if you’re looking at the Derby picture with a filly, there’s a couple of things. No. 1, I think they have to be dominant, no matter what their sex. You have to feel comfortable. No. 2, I think you need to check the depth of the pool before you get into the deep end.”

Winning Colors won the Santa Anita Derby by 7 ½ front-running lengths. Althea also went to the front in the Arkansas Derby and scored by seven lengths in equaling the track record for 1 1/8 miles (1:46.80).

“The Arkansas Derby winner is always competitive in Kentucky,” Lukas said. “Whoever wins this race is always competitive, so it’s not beyond us to check it. The other side of the coin is that we’re probably going to be heavily favored in the Fantasy.”

Secret Oath was among six fillies made Triple Crown eligible during the early nominating period that closed Jan. 29. Secret Oath collected 10 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points for her Martha Washington victory and ranks seventh on the leaderboard, according to Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Oaks is limited to 14 starters. Starting preference is given to horses with the highest point totals if more than 14 enter.

Nominations to the Arkansas Derby close March 18.

Happy Soul Arrives

Happy Soul, the 9-5 program favorite for Saturday’s $150,000 Dixie Belle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 6 furlongs, arrived Thursday after previously being based in Southern California for trainer Wesley Ward.

Ward said Happy Soul was flown via FedEx to Memphis and vanned approximately 190 miles to Hot Springs in advance of the Dixie Belle, which will mark her first start since a front-running 11 ½-length victory in the $150,000 Astoria Stakes at 5 ½ furlongs June 3 at Belmont Park.

Ward said Thursday afternoon that Happy Soul was targeting 2-year-old filly stakes races last summer at Saratoga when she contracted pneumonia, which led to the lengthy layoff.

“She ended up staying the whole meet there at Saratoga because we couldn’t move her,” said Ward, who is based at Keeneland. “The whole meet, she never went to the track and we were finally able to ship out after the meet ended back to Kentucky, just to turn her out. So, she was pretty sick there for a while. We kicked her out for a few months in Kentucky, let her get over it and just brought her down to Florida, got her ready and here we are.”

Ward said Happy Soul, a daughter of sprint champion Runhappy, resumed training in November. She had a long string of workouts on the turf at Palm Meadows Training Center in south Florida, including a 5-furlong bullet drill (:57.70) Jan. 25, before shipping to Santa Anita, where she had published moves Feb. 6 and Feb. 13. Ward said Happy Soul had been under consideration for last Saturday’s $100,000 Sweet Life Stakes (G3), an about 6 ½-furlong race over Santa Anita’s hillside turf course, before she was re-routed to Oaklawn for the Dixie Belle.

“This was the flight she was going to come home on, to go back to Keeneland,” Ward said. “She was going to fly to Memphis and then van home from there. So, we kind of got to looking at both races and centered in on (the Dixie Belle). Bigger purse and, hopefully, she runs as well as she’s been training.”

Happy Soul began her career last April at Keeneland, finishing second against males at 4 ½ furlongs. She then broke her maiden by 11 ¾ front-running lengths at 5 furlongs May 13 at Belmont Park before toying with four rivals in the Astoria.

“She’s fast,” Ward said. “She’s very fast.”

Ward trains Happy Soul for owner Gayla Rankin, who purchased the filly for $50,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Happy Soul has already bankrolled $148,500 in her three-race career. Southern California-based Hall of Famer John Velazquez, aboard for all three starts, is named to ride Saturday.

Ward said the Dixie Belle is Happy Soul’s bridge for a return to Keeneland, where she will be considered for the $600,000 Ashland Stakes (G1) April 8 and the $400,000 Beaumont Stakes (G3) April 10. The Ashland, a major Kentucky Oaks prep, is 1 1/16 miles. The Beaumont is about 7 furlongs on the main track.

“This race will tell the tale,” Ward said, referring to the Dixie Belle. “We’ll kind of evaluate it as we’re getting closer to which one of the two. But one of those two is where she’ll be in.”

Ward is seeking an Oaklawn stakes victory for the third consecutive year after Kimari captured the $100,000 Purple Martin for 3-year-old filly sprinters in 2020 and the $200,000 Spring Fever for older female sprinters last February.

Physically, Ward said Happy Soul is smaller than Kimari but possesses a “big, long stride.”

“For being a small filly, she’s got a big, long reach to her,” Ward said. “So, that’s why I’m thinking that she possibly could route. Kimari’s always had physical ailments that we’ve had to deal with since she was 2 years old, coming out of her first race, where this filly has never had any physical issues.”

Unraced since a seventh-place finish behind stablemate Golden Pal in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) Nov. 6 at Del Mar, Kimari is training in south Florida, with her major spring objective the $500,000 Madison Stakes (G1) for older fillies and mares at 7 furlongs April 9 at Keeneland, Ward said. After winning the Spring Fever, Kimari captured last year’s Madison in her next start.

Finish Lines

Millionaire multiple Grade 3 winner Warrior’s Charge is the 9-5 program favorite for Saturday’s eighth race, a 1 1/8-mile allowance for older horses. Warrior’s Charge is targeting the $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) for older horses at 1 1/16 miles March 19, trainer Brad Cox said. … Millionaire Bankit is the 5-2 program favorite for Saturday’s 10th race, a 1-mile allowance for older horses, for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Also entered is Harvard, a 4-year-old full brother to champion and 2017 Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire for trainer Rodolphe Brisset. Harvard, unraced since a fourth-place finish in the $120,000 Curlin Stakes for 3-year-olds July 30 at Saratoga, could be a candidate for stakes races later in the meeting, Brisset said. … Weather permitting, the infield will be open every Saturday, beginning Feb. 26 (Rebel Day). … Sun Path was retired following her fourth-place finish in an allowance race last Sunday and will be bred to super sire Into Mischief, Juddmonte USA General Manager Garrett O’Rourke said in an email Thursday afternoon. Sun Path, a 4-year-old daughter of Munnings bred and owned by Juddmonte, won 2 of 8 career starts and earned $149,372. She also finished third in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies last March at Oaklawn and fifth in a Dec. 31 allowance race in Hot Springs for Cox.