The last name called during the post position draw for the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1), the richest Kentucky Derby prep, was Secret Oath. But regarding the race, could it another case of “ladies first” for her Hall of Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas?
After winning the 1984 Arkansas Derby with a filly, Althea, Lukas attempts to do it again with Secret Oath, who headlines a nine-horse field for the 1 1/8-mile event Saturday at Oaklawn. Probable post time for the Arkansas Derby, which goes as the 12th of 13 races, is 6:35 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at noon. The infield will be open and will feature live music, food trucks, Beer Garden and Kids Zone.
Saturday’s card also features the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, $400,000 Oaklawn Mile (G3) for older horses and the $200,000 Carousel Stakes for older fillies and mares at 6 furlongs.
There are three Derby points race tap on Saturday, the others are the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park and the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park.
No horse on Saturday’s card has generated more buzz during the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meet than Secret Oath, a homebred for Lukas’ longtime clients Robert and Stacy Mitchell (Briland Farm). From the first crop of deceased champion Arrogate, Secret Oath has won her three starts, displaying push-button acceleration in each, by a combined 23 lengths. Secret Oath won a Dec. 31 allowance race at 1 mile 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. The Martha Washington and Honeybee were 1 1/16 miles.
Race Offers 170 Derby Points
The Arkansas Derby will offer 170 points (100-40-20-10, respectively) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. A top two finish likely would give Secret Oath enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 starters.
Secret Oath, with 60 points for her Honeybee and Martha Washington victories, already has secured a spot in the Kentucky Oaks, the nation’s biggest prize for 3-year-old fillies. Secret Oath had been under consideration for Saturday’s $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 – Oaklawn’s final major Kentucky Oaks prep – before Lukas targeted the Arkansas Derby.
The Kentucky Oaks is May 6 at Churchill Downs, the day before the Kentucky Derby.
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“The Oaks is still very much right in the middle of our thinking, except the owners did mention the Derby two or three times since then,” Lukas said. “I don’t know where they’re headed, but the five weeks is terrific.”
Lukas won the Arkansas Derby with Althea, a week after she finished second in the Fantasy. Lukas also finished third in the 1986 Arkansas Derby with another filly, Family Style, a week after she finished fourth in the Fantasy. Althea and Family Style were both Eclipse Award winners at 2 and faced males at 2 in the Hollywood Futurity at Hollywood Park.
Secret Oath will be tackling males for the first time Saturday, but she’s the 5-2 program favorite against eight projected opponents.
“She’s got a running style and the efficiency of motion is good,” Lukas said. “She places herself in the race. I would say the thing that’s probably the biggest concern would be a traffic problem. She’s very rangy and tall. I don’t know about starting and stopping. In the Honeybee, they shut her down, then just ‘Boom!’ She amazed me that when she dove into the rail (turning for home), she just (took off).”
Secret Oath is scheduled to break from post 6 under regular rider Luis Contreras and carry 117 pounds, 2-5 pounds less than her male rivals.
“It’s a kiss of death to predict it, but I (wanted) 5, 6 or 7,” Lukas said. “I didn’t want the inside and I thought the outside’s probably not a good idea, either, so that’s OK. I don’t worry too much about that.”
Field for Arkansas Derby
The projected Arkansas Derby field from the rail out: Kavod, Mitchell Murrill to ride, 122 pounds, 15-1; Chasing Time, Jose Lezcano, 119, 12-1; Barber Road, Reylu Gutierrez, 119, 8-1; Doppelganger, John Velazquez, 119, 3-1; Un Ojo, Ramon Vazquez, 122, 6-1; Secret Oath; Ben Diesel, Jon Court, 119, 15-1; Cyberknife, Florent Geroux, 119, 8-1; and We the People, Flavien Prat, 119, 7-2.
Unbeaten We the People (2 for 2) will be making his stakes debut after two dazzling victories earlier in the meeting for trainer Rodolphe Brisset. Both races were around two turns. We the People, employing stalk-and-pounce tactics, broke his maiden by 5 ¾ lengths at 1 mile Feb. 12 and cleared his first allowance condition by five lengths at 1 1/16 miles March 12.
We the People had been under consideration for several other 170-point prep races around the country before Brisset decided to keep him at Oaklawn because of the attractiveness of a potential five-week turnaround to the Kentucky Derby.
“When you’re 2 for 2 at the beginning of April at 3 years old, of course, we think he could be the real deal,” Brisset said. “But we still have to show it. I think the talent is there. We definitely have to be very careful with his brain. We don’t want to overthink, but we do have to be ahead of this with him and this is the reason why we just felt like the three weeks, turning back at three weeks here (was best). He knows the place. He knows the racetrack. He’s 2 for 2 on it. For us, it makes us a little bit more comfortable to come back at three weeks at a place he knows and then you’ve got the five weeks where you can adapt, if he does run 1-2, where you can adapt and come up with a plan where you can try to bring him up the best to Churchill.”
Group From Rebel Back
The Arkansas Derby brings back Un Ojo, Barber Road, Kavod, Chasing Time and Ben Diesel, 1-3-4-5-8, respectively, in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) Feb. 26. The 1 1/16-mile Rebel was the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby and an 85-point Kentucky Derby race.
Barber Road is seeking his breakthrough stakes victory after also finishing second in Oaklawn’s first two Kentucky Derby points races, $250,000 Smarty Jones at 1 mile Jan. 1 and $750,000 Southwest (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 29, for trainer John Ortiz.
“That just proves right there that this is a horse for the course,” said Ortiz, who trains the gray son of multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Race Day for former Walmart executive William Simon. “He’s proven that he belongs with these type of horses. We’re not scared. This horse has given us the trip here. I haven’t done anything specific for this horse. He went from his maiden race to here all on his own.”
The speedy Kavod figures to set the pace from the rail for 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman. After winning the inaugural $150,000 Advent Stakes at 6 furlongs Dec. 3, Kavod finished fourth in the Smarty Jones, Southwest and Rebel.
Cyberknife was a sharp allowance winner Feb. 19 at Fair Grounds in his last start for two-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox. Cyberknife’s only stakes appearance was a sixth in the $200,000 Lecomte (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 22 at Fair Grounds.
“He’s doing well,” Cox said. “He’s breezed well. He’s gotten better. He appears to be improving. I thought his last race was a step forward. Got a really good figure the last race. I think it’s going to stack up and probably be one of the better ones in the Arkansas Derby and if he runs that race, I think he’s a player.”
The Southern California-based Doppelganger had been with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert – a four-time Arkansas Derby winner – before being recently transferred to Tim Yakteen, a former assistant. Doppelganger exits a runner-up finish in his two-turn debut, the $400,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2), March 5 at Santa Anita.
Because of a two-year ban by Churchill Downs and impending 90-day suspension, sanctions stemming from the disqualification of his 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit (medication violation), a handful of Baffert’s 2022 Kentucky Derby prospects were transferred to other trainers in late March. Doppelganger previously had been ineligible to collect Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
Kavod and Doppelganger both remove blinkers Saturday.
“I think they’re all the ones to beat,” Brisset said. “Everybody’s trying to peak now. Everybody wants to see if they’re good enough to go in there. I don’t do everything based on numbers (speed figures), but if you look right and left, from Beyer to Rag, everybody looks the same, pretty much. Everybody looks the same. Maybe Beyer gives three points more for the filly than the colts. But our horse on the Rag is pretty fast. Brad’s horse is fast on the Rag, too. I think the only way to find out is to bring them over there and let them run.”