Secret Oath headlines busy day of Derby preps

While Saturday offers a trio of 100-point races on the road to the Kentucky Derby, the one with the potential to make the biggest splash is the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

That’s where the D. Wayne Lukas-trained filly Secret Oath will take on the boys. She is the 5-2 morning line favorite and will have Luis Contreras up.

The Arkansas Derby, like the Florida Derby and Jeff Ruby Steaks, both also contested Saturday, offers 100 points to the winner, with the next three finishers receiving 40-20-10. A horse finishing first or second will have sufficient points to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby May 7.

Lukas said on Off to the Races Radio March 12 that he preferred the Kentucky Oaks for his star filly, rather than the Derby, with the Preakness as a possible follow-up. But he has since said the owners, Robert and Stacy Mitchell, were giving the Derby further consideration.

Regardless, it’ll take a strong effort in the Arkansas Derby to put the daughter of Arrogate in the Kentucky Derby conversation. On that score, Lukas likes what he’s got.

“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 has won three straight during the Oaklawn meet. That includes a dominant score in the Grade 3 Honeybee last out.

Among others, Secret Oath will face Doppelganger (3-1), recently transferred from trainer Bob Baffert, who’s banned from participating in the Kentucky Derby this year, to Tim Yakteen; and Un Ojo, who recorded a 75-1 shocker in the Grade 2 Rebel last out.

Secret Oath
Secret Oath won the G3 Honeybee at Oaklawn Park. Photo Coady Photography.


The Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby feels a bit like an intramural scrimmage – albeit one with major national implications.

Fountain of Youth winner Simplification (5-2) and Holy Bull winner White Abarrio will square off for the second time in a major Florida prep. That duo ran one-two in the Holy Bull, with White Abarrio taking command early and drawing away to win by more than four lengths.

Simplification, second in the Holy Bull, bounced back to rally from mid-flight and score a decisive win in the Fountain of Youth, cruising home 3 ½ lengths clear. 

Those two are among four horses lined at 7-2 or less on the morning line. Every other horse in the field is 10-1 or higher.

White Abarrio had missed a couple of workouts prior to his overpowering victory over Simplification in the Holy Bull, prompting trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr. to point directly toward the Florida Derby to give the Kentucky-bred colt sufficient time to bounce back.

Unfortunately, the Joseph trainee spiked a fever early last week, forcing the trainer to readjust his training schedule, cancelling a scheduled workout Sunday in favor of a three-furlong blow-out Tuesday. Tyler Gaffalione is slated to ride.

“All his works had gotten better and better. But things never seem to go the way you want them to, and we got a curveball thrown at us,” said Joseph, who expressed satisfaction with the swift breeze in 34.96 seconds. “We’ll hope he shows up in the race. If he does, I think he’s as good as any of the horses.”

While White Abarrio has had his share of hiccups, Simplification hasn’t missed a dance, racing in local stakes in January, February, and March. He breezed five-eighths in 59 ⅘ seconds March 26. Jose Ortiz is named.

“I love this horse,” trainer Antonio Sano said. “He has so much heart.”

Also in the single-digits club are Classic Causeway (7-2), the Brian Lynch trainee who won the Tampa Bay Derby March 12; and recent maiden winner Charge It (7-2) for trainer Todd Pletcher.


From the “one of these things is not like the others” club comes the Jeff Ruby Steaks. While the Florida Derby and Arkansas Derby are Grade 1 events contested on dirt – and traditional last stops before the Run for the Roses – the Jeff Ruby is a Grade 3 for a smaller purse and run on synthetic.

But, hey, the 170 points on offer will spend the same.

The race has drawn a full field of 12, plus one on the also-eligible list. The morning line favorite is Tiz the Bomb (2-1), winner of the local prep for this contest, the Battaglia Memorial. The Kenny McPeek trainee broke his maiden on dirt but has done his best work to date on turf and synthetic, including a runner-up effort in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

Brian Hernandez will ride.

Battaglia runner-up Stolen Base (7-2) will try it again. The Mike Maker trainee has lost six straight since winning at first asking. Also of note is Blackadder, who won the El Camino Real Derby for trainer Bob Baffert but has since been transferred to Rodolphe Brisset. He’s 15-1 on the morning line.