Clairiere having a breeze at Oaklawn. (Coady Photography)
2022 Kentucky Oaks and Black-Eyed Susan winners compete in Azari
Oaklawn Press Release
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.– It’s a prep that could pass for the main event.
Millionaire Grade 1 winners Clairiere and Secret Oath are among eight horses entered in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles Saturday at Oaklawn. The Azeri headlines a 10-race program that begins at 12:35 p.m. Probable post time for the Azeri, the ninth race, is 4:54 p.m. (Central). The Azeri is the final major local prep for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 15.
Clairiere and Secret Oath are both unraced since the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at 1 1/8 miles Nov. 5 at Keeneland. Clairiere finished third (beaten two noses), a result that denied the daughter of Curlin an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion older dirt female. Secret Oath finished fifth, beaten 5 ½ lengths by Malathaat. Like Clairiere, Secret Oath (3-year-old filly) was a finalist for an Eclipse Award in 2022. The 3-year-old filly title went to Nest, who finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Also entered in the Azeri are Grade 2 winner Interstatedaydream, Grade 3 winner Hidden Connection, 2022-2023 Oaklawn stakes winners Lovely Ride and Hot and Sultry, Moon Swag, another stakes winner, and Le Da Vida, a stakes winner in Chile.
“It’s falling in there pretty nice,” Lukas said, referring to the Azeri. “It’s the first major one that has the significance in a lot of ways. It’s got a good purse, which at this time of the year is attractive, and then it gives everybody a chance to see where they’re at against the very best. The only one that’s missing, probably, is Nest.”
After finishing second in last year’s Apple Blossom, Clairiere was poised for an Eclipse Award after beating Malathaat two consecutive times, including the $500,000 Ogden Phipps (G1) at 1 1/16 miles in June at Belmont Park. But Malathaat won their final two meetings, notably the Breeders’ Cup, to claim the champion older dirt female title. Clairiere, now 5, is back for another run at an Eclipse Award.
“Obviously, Clairiere’s a very special mare and very fortunate to have her in training,” said Asmussen, who trains the Azeri program favorite for her breeder, Stonestreet Stables (Barbara Banke). “Hopefully, we’ll get her year started off right.”
Secret Oath emerged as one of the country’s top 3-year-old fillies during the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, with her breakout performance coming in a 1-mile New Year’s Eve allowance. She romped home by 8 ¼ lengths, beating, among others, future Grade 1 winner Matareya. Secret Oath then scored blowout victories in Oaklawn’s first two Kentucky Oaks points races – $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes and $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) – before finishing third against males in its $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1). Secret Oath won the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) in May at Churchill Downs in her next start. The 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks is the country’s biggest prize for 3-year-old fillies.
Secret Oath lost her final five starts last year – all Grade 1 events – including a fourth against males in the Preakness and two seconds against Nest, who would be crowned the country’s champion 3-year-old filly. Secret Oath was beaten 5 ½ lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff after leading in midstretch.
Secret Oath, in her victories last year, displayed an eye-catching burst on the second turn. Lukas said he hopes Secret Oath can recapture that form in 2023.
“I don’t think she’s going to change much,” Lukas said. “I still think she’s got that explosive kick. She really had that. I would test it just a little bit in these works, a couple of times where we just ask her to jump into the bit and, boy, she responds. She’s stronger, so I would say that she can sustain a longer kick than she did at 3. And that just goes to 4-year-olds, obviously, but I don’t see her doing much different. I think she’ll be close enough not to get into trouble, hopefully, and when she kicks in, she kicks in.”
Interstatedaydream will be making her first start since finishing second in the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia Stakes at 1 mile and 70 yards Aug. 23 at Parx. Interstatedaydream opened her 3-year-old campaign with a powerful first-level allowance victory last March at Oaklawn and added victories in the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) at 1 1/8 miles in May at Pimlico and the $250,000 Indiana Oaks (G3) at 1 1/16 miles in July at Horseshoe Indianapolis. Interstatedaydream, who has been based this winter at Fair Grounds, will be facing older horses for the first time Saturday for trainer Brad Cox and owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs.
“She looks really good physically,” Cox said. “Her breezes have been good. She’s always been a very solid work horse. Looking forward to getting her started at 4.”
The speedy Lovely Ride is seeking her third stakes victory at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting after winning the $150,000 Mistletoe at 1 mile Dec. 10 and the $150,000 Pippin at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 7. Lovely Ride exits a runner-up finish, beaten a half-length, in the $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 4 at Oaklawn.
“It’s going to be a lot tougher,” trainer Robertino Diodoro said. “Right now, she’s telling us she’s ready for it. It amazes me how sometimes these horses can turn around. She’s just continuously training good.”
Hidden Connection exits a runner-up finish in the $300,000 Houston Ladies Classic (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 28 at Sam Houston Race Park. She won the $300,000 Pocahontas Stakes (G3) for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles in 2021 at Churchill Downs.
Moon Swag finished fourth in the Houston Ladies Classic. Hot and Sultry will be making her two-turn debut after winning the $150,000 American Beauty Stakes for older female sprinters Jan. 21 at Oaklawn in her last start.
Le Da Vida (CHI) exits a third-place finish in the Bayakoa.