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HOT SPRINGS, AR – Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he plans to cover a variety of subjects in his keynote address Wednesday during the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association’s annual convention at Oaklawn’s luxury hotel overlooking the track’s first turn.
“I think we’ll try to entertain them a little bit,” Lukas said Sunday morning. “We’ll touch on all kinds of topics. Maybe the plusses and minuses of where the trainers are this time of year and for this era and where the ownership is and where the tracks are. I’ll bounce all over the place.”
Perhaps, Lukas, 86, can slip in a word or two about his horses. After all, one of Thoroughbred racing’s most iconic figures has a lot to talk about these days after nearly sweeping Oaklawn’s two major 3-year-old prep races Saturday.
Lukas captured the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for fillies with heavily favored Secret Oath, whose 7 ½-length romp represented her third consecutive scintillating victory at the meeting. Roughly three hours later, Lukas finished second in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) with Ethereal Road, who was beaten a half-length by one-eyed Un Ojo, a 75-1 outsider.
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“That filly ran so much faster than the colts, too, and she was on cruise control and they’re under a drive,” Lukas said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep it one and one for now, for sure.”
Lukas was referring to next-race plans for Secret Oath and Ethereal Road, specifically, the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) and the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1). Both races are April 2 at Oaklawn.
Secret Oath – emphatically – reinforced her status as Oaklawn’s top 3-year-old filly by recording the third-largest margin of victory in the Honeybee’s 35-year-old history. A homebred for Briland Farm (Robert and Stacy Mitchell), Secret Oath ($2.60) covered 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in 1:44.74 under Luis Contreras. She received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 92.
Secret Oath secured a spot in the Kentucky Oaks with the Honeybee victory, which was her fourth in sixth starts overall and pushed her career earnings to $465,167. Secret Oath tops the leaderboard for the Kentucky Oaks, limited to 14 starters, with 60 points, including 50 for her Honeybee victory. But because she has been so dominant at the meet, Lukas said Secret Oath could be a candidate to challenge males for the first time in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby. Lukas won the 1984 Arkansas Derby with Althea, a week after she second finished second in the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy.
“Right now, she would be in the Fantasy and Ethereal Road would be in the (Arkansas) Derby,” Lukas said.
Secret Oath represented the record-extending sixth Honeybee victory for Lukas, who also won the first four runnings (1988-1991) and again in 2007. From the first crop of the deceased champion Arrogate, Secret Oath has won her three starts at the meet by a combined 23 lengths. She was an 8 ¼-length allowance winner Dec. 31 and captured the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 29 by 7 ¼ lengths. She is the shortest-priced Honeybee winner in history.
“Our stable, we started out with one and we got the right one,” Lukas said. “We don’t have any other 3-year-old fillies of any importance. The other two are both claimers. We only had one that we were trying to develop in the first place.”
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Ethereal Road was making his stakes debut following an eye-catching four-length last-to-first maiden victory at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 29. Ethereal Road, at 15-1 in the Rebel, held a narrow lead in midstretch before being collared on the inside by Un Ojo. The final time over a fast track – the surface was transitioning to sloppy because of rain – was 1:45.69 for 1 1/16 miles.
“You can develop that colt,” Lukas said. “I think Luis moved like he did when he won his maiden race. If he would have sat a little longer, I think we would have gotten that one, too. But he rode a good race. I don’t want to be a critic.”
Ethereal Road earned 20 points for his runner-up finish and ranks fourth on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Un Ojo collected 50 points for his Rebel victory and vaulted to No. 2 overall with 54.
A New York-bred son of the late Laoban, Un Ojo earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 84 for winning the Rebel under Ramon Vazquez.
Clay Courville, who saddled Un Ojo in the absence of his father, trainer Ricky Courville, said Sunday morning that the gelding exited the Rebel in good order and was to be vanned later in the morning to Copper Crowne Training Center in Opelousas, La. Ricky Courville said he keeps around 30 horses at Copper Crowne, which is five minutes from Evangeline Downs.
“He’s feeling good,” said Clay Courville, 25, who broke and gallops Un Ojo. “He’s ready to get out (of the stall).”
Un Ojo was coming off two closing runner-up finishes at Aqueduct for trainer Tony Dutrow, including the $250,000 Withers Stakes (G3) at 1 1/8 miles Feb. 5. Un Ojo was transferred back to Ricky Courville for the Rebel, arriving Tuesday after being flown from New York to Memphis via FedEx and vanned approximately 190 miles to Hot Springs.
Un Ojo subsequently generated the second-highest win payoff in Oaklawn stakes history ($152.80). Rockamundo paid a record $218 in the 1993 Arkansas Derby (G2).
“It still feels unreal, you know?” said Clay Courville, who assists his father.
Un Ojo, who lost his left eye in a pasture accident as a yearling, is owned by Cypress Creek Equine LLC (Kevin Moody). Ricky Courville said in a telephone interview following the Rebel that he would confer with Cypress Creek regarding next-race plans for Un Ojo (Spanish for “one eye.”)
“Give him a couple of weeks and maybe head back up for the Arkansas Derby a week out, like we did,” Courville said.
The Rebel, Un Ojo’s second victory from six lifetime starts, pushed his career earnings to $776,321.
Ethereal Road finished a nose ahead of Barber Road, who was coming off runner-up finishers in Oaklawn’s first two Kentucky Derby points races – $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1 and the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Jan. 29 – for trainer John Ortiz.
Ortiz said Sunday morning that Barber Road exited the Rebel in good order and likely will be pointed for the Arkansas Derby.
“It’s just one move away from being the winner,” Ortiz said. “I think the Arkansas Derby is what we’re looking at right now. Obviously, we’ll let him tell us where we go from here. But the Arkansas Derby is the dream for the barn.”
Barber Road has 18 points to rank fifth on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. The race is limited to 20 starters.
Ortiz also finished second in the Fantasy with Ice Orchid for breeder/owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs. Ice Orchid, a daughter of Super Saver, earned 20 points for her runner-up finish and ranks No. 7 on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard.
“Came back great, looks great,” Ortiz said. “Feel like she career-bested her numbers again. She just went out there for a little workout for the points and now we focus on the Fantasy. Know Keeneland is fixing to open, but the Fantasy is exactly what we want to win.”
Trainer Rodolphe Brisset said Yuugiri also could be headed to the Fantasy following her third-place finish in the Honeybee under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. Yuugiri hadn’t started since finishing second in the $400,000 Golden Rod Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs. Secret Oath was fifth in the Golden Rod, 10 ¼ lengths behind Yuugiri, but has flourished at Oaklawn.
“All good,” Brisset said Sunday morning. “We just jogged her and she’s sound. Cleaned up her feed tub last night. She broke flatfooted, so the first jump was not very good. She has done that in the past. She forced her way up there – :23, :47, 1:12 and change are very solid fractions for that track. That track was pretty sticky. She just got tired the last sixteenth and Johnny respected her. That was good, too. We’ve got to regroup a little bit. Obviously, our first choice would be the Fantasy right now, but it’s a little too early. I think we’re obviously going to keep our eyes on the Fantasy first and then go from there.”
Yuugiri has 14 points to rank No. 10 on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard.
Brisset also saddled Rebel odds-on favorite Newgrange for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and said the Violence colt appeared to come out of the race in good shape. Newgrange finished a weakening sixth, his first loss in four career starts. The Southern California-based Newgrange won the Southwest. Baffert runners are ineligible to collect Kentucky Derby qualifying points because he’s banned from Churchill Downs, a suspension stemming from the disqualification of his 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit for a medication violation.
The Arkansas Derby and Fantasy are both 170-point qualifying races for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, respectively. Both prep races will offer 100 points to the winner, 40 to second, 20 to third and 10 to fourth.
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