D. Wayne Lukas Readies Top 3-Year-Olds for Major Derby Preps

March 25, 2022

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—After working his top 3-year-old colt Wednesday morning, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas is scheduled to breeze his top 3-year-old filly, multiple stakes winner Secret Oath, Friday in preparation for the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 2 at Oaklawn.

Lukas said Secret Oath is scheduled to work immediately after the track opens at 7 a.m. (Central) under regular rider Luis Contreras. A homebred for Briland Farm (Robert and Stacy Mitchell), Secret Oath will be breezing for the second time since her dazzling 7 ½-length victory in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 26. Secret Oath posted a 5-furlong bullet work (:59.40) March 17 in advance of the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, which will mark her first start against males. 

“This is going to be an easy one, if she cooperates,” Lukas said Thursday morning. 

Secret Oath winning the Honeybee in February. (Coady Photography) 

Ethereal Road worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.20 over a good surface Wednesday morning in preparation for the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 9 at Keeneland. It was the fastest of five times published at the distance. 

Ethereal Road was breezing for the second time since a runner-up finish, beaten a half-length, in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 26. The Rebel was the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby. Ethereal Road was re-routed to the Blue Grass after Lukas opted to point Secret Oath to the Arkansas Derby following three runaway victories against 3-year-old fillies at the meeting.

“I don’t want to run them against each other,” Lukas said. “The owners will say, too, that it doesn’t matter – do what you want to do – but at the end of the day when one of them beats the other one, it’s always hell. The worst thing that can happen on that situation is, if they run 1-2, and the other one is second.”

The Arkansas Derby closed March 18 with 113 nominations. Secret Oath was among nine probables listed Thursday morning by the Oaklawn racing department. Post positions will be drawn Sunday afternoon. The draw will be open to the public, with the time and place to be announced. The Arkansas Derby will offer 170 points (100-40-20-10, respectively) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 starters.

Other horses pointing for the Arkansas Derby are Barber Road for trainer John Ortiz, Ben Diesel (Dallas Stewart), Call Me Jamal (Mike Puhich), Chasing Time (Steve Asmussen), Cyberknife (Brad Cox), Doppelganger (Bob Baffert), Un Ojo (Ricky Courville) and We the People (Rodolphe Brisset). 

Un Ojo, Chasing Time and Ben Diesel finished 1-5-8, respectively, in the Rebel, while We the People is unbeaten in two career starts at the meeting. Cyberknife was a sharp allowance winner Feb. 19 at Fair Grounds in his last start. 

Un Ojo (54 points) ranks third on the latest Kentucky Derby leaderboard released by Churchill Downs and is safely in the race. Barber Road (18) ranks 12th and would likely secure a spot with a top four finish. Ben Diesel (three) is the only other projected starter with qualifying points. 

After considering the Blue Grass, Puhich confirmed Thursday morning that Call Me Jamal would remain home for the Arkansas Derby. The Malibu Moon gelding has two 1 1/16-mile victories at the meeting, including an entry-level allowance score Feb. 26 in his last start.

“Staying home, same stall,” Puhich said. “It’s everybody’s coming out party, so why not have it here?”

Un Ojo arrived Wednesday afternoon after a 5 ½-hour van ride from his south Louisiana base, The Training Center At Copper Crowne. Un Ojo returned to the work tab March 19 at The Training Center At Copper Crowne, clocking 5 furlongs in 1:03, and will have his final breeze for the Arkansas Derby Saturday morning, said Clay Courville, who assists his father and regularly gets on the one-eyed Laoban gelding.

“Just kind of get some air in him,” Courville said after Un Ojo galloped a mile Thursday morning. “Maybe thinking a half right now. Go a half-mile and give him a good five-eighths mile gallop out.”

Secret Oath has won her three starts at the meeting by a combined 23 lengths. She won a Dec. 31 allowance race by 8 ¼ lengths and the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 29 by 7 ¼ lengths. Secret Oath, with 60 points for her Honeybee and Martha Washington victories, tops the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard. The daughter of Arrogate had been under consideration for the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles April 2 – Oaklawn’s final major Kentucky Oaks prep – before targeting the Arkansas Derby.

Lukas won the 1984 Arkansas Derby with Althea, a week after she finished second in the Fantasy. Lukas 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.

In addition to the Arkansas Derby and Fantasy, post positions also will be drawn Sunday for three other April 2 stakes races – $400,000 Oaklawn Mile for older horses, $200,000 Carousel for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs and the $150,000 Temperence Hill for older horses at 1 ½ miles. 

The $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1), the nation’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies, is May 6 at Churchill Downs. The $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1), the first leg of the Triple Crown, is May 7 at Churchill Downs.

Cabrera Moves to the Lead

David Cabrera ranked fifth in the jockey standings through December, fourth through January and third through February. 

Cabrera, toward the end of March, finally reached the top with a double last Saturday, capped by his biggest career victory to date aboard Rated R Superstar in the $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) for older horses. Cabrera added a victory last Sunday and began the new race week (Thursday-Sunday) with 45 victories, two more than runner-up Francisco Arrieta. Eight-time local riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. was third with 37 victories.

Cabrera is seeking his first Oaklawn riding title after finishing second to Santana in 2018 – his first year to ride in Hot Springs – and in 2021.

“The plan is to stay here the whole meet,” Cabrera, 29, said during training hours Sunday morning. “If it comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We’re just having fun, me and my agent (Joe Santos). I love his work ethic and I like to work. If it comes, it comes and if it doesn’t, it’s not going to bother us.”

Cabrera is normally the most active member of the Oaklawn riding colony. He had a meet-high 304 mounts through Sunday, Day 43 of the scheduled 66-day season that ends May 8, was tied for first in stakes victories (three) and ranked second in purse earnings ($2,495,843). Cabrera began surging to the top of the standings following a torrid stretch late last month when he won 10 races over three race days (Feb. 19-21). Cabrera rode four winners Feb. 19, a single-day Oaklawn personal best, and again Feb. 21.

The Essex marked Cabrera’s second career graded stakes victory. He won the $100,000 Remington Park Oaks (G3) for 3-year-old fillies in 2020 at Remington Park aboard Envoutante. Cabrera’s previous most lucrative victory, four stakes worth $175,000 each, had come at Remington Park. 

Cabrera raised right arm in jubilation after crossing the finish line aboard Rated R Superstar, the popular millionaire 9-year-old gelding owned by four-time Oaklawn champion Danny Caldwell.

“That was my biggest win,” Cabrera said. “It was a great day, man.”

Cabrera’s normal circuit following Oaklawn is Lone Star Park in suburban Dallas and Remington Park in Oklahoma City. 

Finish Lines

A double last Sunday pulled Robertino Diodoro into a 30-30 tie with perennial champion and Hall of Famer Steve Asmussenatop the trainer standings after Day 43 of the scheduled 66-day meeting. Diodoro won the third race with favored Loch Garman($3.60) and the seventh race with favored Lac Vieux Desert ($7.20). Diodoro was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2020. Asmussen and Hall of Famer Henry Forrest share the Oaklawn record for career training titles with 11. … Favored Descente ($5) represented jockey Luis Quinonez’s 627th career Oaklawn victory in last Sunday’s second race. Quinonez is the ninth-winningest jockey in Oaklawn history. … Through last Sunday, 464 claims at the meeting had totaled $9,964,750.

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
Photo of D. Wayne Lukas by Coady Photography

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