Secret Oath under new rider Tyler Gaffalione shows she can still impress. (Coady Photography)
Secret Oath and Wayne Lukas take the Azeri at Oaklawn Park
Jennifer Hoyt, Oaklawn Racing
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.– Briland Farm’s 2022 Kentucky Oaks (G1) and multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Secret Oath marked herself a filly to watch in 2023 with her impressive victory in Saturday’s $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) before an on-track crowd of 36,000. The Arrogate filly was making her first start since finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who collected his fourth win in the race.
Ridden for the first time by Tyler Gaffalione, Secret Oath was the last away from post position one and settled into seventh-place early as Lovely Ride set the pace of :23 3/5 and :48 1/5 for the first half mile. After being moved to the outside down the backside, she advanced into striking position around the final turn and came five wide into the stretch before drawing off to win by 2 ¾ lengths over multiple Grade 1 winner Clairiere, the slight $1.10-1 favorite, who encountered traffic late. Interstatedaydream finished third. Secret Oath’s winning time was 1:43 1/5 over a fast track.
Hot and Sultry, Le Da Vida (CHI), Lovely Ride, Hidden Connection and Moon Swag completed the order of finish.
Secret Oath improved her record to 6-2-4 from 14 starts and has now earned $1,982,267. She returned $4.80, $2.80 and $2.10 as the $1.40-1 second choice.
The Azeri is the final local prep for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) Saturday, April 15. Lukas said after the race that Secret Oath would be pointed towards that race.
Live racing resumes Sunday with a 12:30 p.m. first post. Next Saturday will be highlighted by the $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) and the $200,000 Whitmore Stakes (G3). In addition, it is the second annual Hall of Fame Day featuring Hall of Fame jockeys and trainers, including Pat Day, Laffit Pincay Jr., Angel Cordero Jr., Steve Asmussen, D. Wayne Lukas and Bill Mott among many others.
Winning jockey Tyler Gaffalione: “I didn’t want to rush her off her feet. I know what kind of kick she has, so I just let her kind of find herself in the place she wanted to be. Going into the (second turn), she tried to go about the three-eighths pole. Just took a little hold of her and she came right back to me. Swung her out coming down the stretch. Showed her the whip once and she finished the job well.”
Winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas: “She’s got such a long stride. She just kicks. When she kicks it in like that, her stride increases about 4 feet. She just eats that ground up. It’s impressive to watch it. I thought she would run a big one today. I have so much respect for Steve Asmussen’s filly (Clairiere). I was confident she would run a big one, but when you’ve got a field this tough, you’ve got to beat them. I just thought she would throw a real good one today because I did everything I wanted to do with her coming into it. I didn’t have to adjust a work or anything. I did it all when I wanted to. I thought I had her tuned.”
Jockey Joel Rosario, second on Clairiere: “She came running. The other filly (Secret Oath) ran a good race today. She came moving forward, but it looked like the winner got the jump in the clear outside. That’s how it goes.”
Jockey Florent Geroux, third on Interstatedaydream: “She ran a great race. I thought I was second, to be honest. Very good race. Just off the lead, nice and relaxed. Found some room on the inside and I went for it. Got out-bobbed right there at the end by Clairiere for second. Thought she ran a great race, and the winner was very impressive today.”
Trainer Norm Casse, fourth with Hot and Sultry: “I’m extremely pleased with the way that she ran. We’re trying to do something she hasn’t done before. Took her a little while to shut off. Got hung wide in the first turn and turning for home, we were in front of some really nice fillies, and it took a lot of nice fillies to run by us. I was very excited with the way that she ran.”