HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he plans to cover a variety of topics in his keynote speech Wednesday at the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association annual convention at the Hall of Fame. Oaklawn luxury overlooking the first corner of the track.
“I think we’ll try to entertain them a bit,” Lukas said on Sunday morning. “We will discuss all kinds of subjects. Maybe the pros and cons of where the coaches are at this time of year and for this time and where the property is and where the trails are. I will bounce everywhere.
Maybe 86-year-old Lukas can slip a word or two on his horses. After all, one of the most iconic figures in thoroughbred racing has a lot to say these days after nearly sweeping the two main Oaklawn 3-year-old prep races on Saturday.
Lukas won the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for fillies with heavily favored Secret Oath, whose 7½-length frolic represented his scintillating third consecutive victory at the meeting. About three hours later, Lukas finished second in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) with Ethereal Road, who were beaten by half a length by one-eyed underdog Un Ojo 75-1.
“This filly ran so much faster than the colts too, and she was on cruise control and they are under training,” Lukas said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’ll keep it one and one for now, that’s for sure.
Lukas was referring to plans for the next race for Secret Oath and Ethereal Road, specifically the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) and the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1). Both races will be held April 2 in Oaklawn.
Secret Oath – categorically – cemented her status as Oaklawn’s top 3-year-old filly by recording the third-largest winning margin in Honeybee’s 35-year history. A homebred for Briland Farm (Robert and Stacy Mitchell), Secret Oath ($2.60) ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast lane in 1:44.74 under Luis Contreras. She received a preliminary Beyer speed figure of 92.
Secret Oath secured a berth in the Kentucky Oaks with Honeybee’s victory, which was his fourth in sixth overall start and pushed his career earnings to $465,167. Secret Oath leads the Kentucky Oaks standings, limited to 14 starters, with 60 points, including 50 for their Honeybee victory. But because she was so dominant in the competition, Lukas said Secret Oath could be a candidate to challenge the men for the first time in the 1 1/8 mile Arkansas Derby. Lukas won the 1984 Arkansas Derby with Althea, a week after finishing second in the 1 1/16 mile Fantasy.
“Right now she would be in Fantasy and Ethereal Road would be in the (Arkansas) Derby,” Lukas said.
Secret Oath represented Honeybee’s record sixth victory for Lukas, who also won the first four races (1988-1991) and again in 2007. Since the late champion Arrogate’s first crop, Secret Oath has won all three of his starts at the encounter. by a total of 23 lengths. She won an 8 ¼ length allowance on December 31 and won the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes on January 29 by 7 ¼ length. She is the cheapest Honeybee winner in history.
“Our stable, we started with one and we got the right one,” Lukas said. “We don’t have any other important 3-year-old fillies. The other two are both plaintiffs. We only had one that we were trying to develop in the first place.
Ethereal Road was making its debut in the stakes after an eye-catching first four-length victory from last to first at 1 1/16 miles on January 29. Ethereal Road, at 15-1 in the Rebel, held a narrow lead down the middle before being stuck inside by Un Ojo. The last time on a fast track – the surface was getting sloppy from the rain – was 1:45.69 for 1 1/16 miles.
“You can develop this colt,” said Lukas. “I think Luis moved like he did when he won his first race. If he had sat a bit longer I think we would have had that one too. But he did a great race. I don’t want to be a critic.
Ethereal Road earned 20 points for second place and ranks fourth in the Kentucky Derby standings. Un Ojo collected 50 points for their Rebel win and ranked No. 2 overall with 54.
A son of the late Laoban, born in New York, 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 the gelding left the Rebel in good condition and was to be transferred later that morning to the Copper Crowne Training Center in Opelousas, Louisiana. Ricky Courville said he kept about 30 horses at Copper Crowne, five minutes from Evangeline Downs.
“He feels good,” said Clay Courville, 25, who broke and gallops Un Ojo. “He’s ready to come out (from the stall).”
An Ojo had just won two closing finals at Aqueduct for trainer Tony Dutrow, including the $250,000 Withers Stakes (G3) at 1 1/8 miles on February 5. An Ojo was transferred to Ricky Courville for the Rebel, arriving Tuesday after being flown from New York to Memphis via FedEx and traveling approximately 190 miles to Hot Springs.
An Ojo then generated the second highest payout in Oaklawn stakes history ($152.80). Rockamundo paid a record $218 in the 1993 Arkansas Derby (G2).
“It always seems unreal, you know?” says Clay Courville, who assists his father.
An Ojo, who lost his left eye in a grazing accident when he was one year old, is owned by Cypress Creek Equine LLC (Kevin Moody). Ricky Courville said in a phone interview after the Rebel that he would speak with Cypress Creek regarding plans for the next race for Un Ojo (Spanish for “one eye”).
“Give it a couple weeks and maybe come back for the Arkansas Derby in a week, like we did,” Courville said.
The Rebel, Un Ojo’s second victory in six lifetime starts, pushed his career earnings to $776,321.
Ethereal Road finished a nose ahead of Barber Road, who had just finished second in Oaklawn’s first two Kentucky Derby points races – $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes on January 1 and the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) on January 29 – for coach John Ortiz.
Ortiz said Sunday morning that Barber Road left the Rebel in good order and would likely be fielded for the Arkansas Derby.
“It’s only one step to be the winner,” Ortiz said. “I think the Arkansas Derby is what we’re looking at right now. Obviously we’ll let it tell us where we go from here. But the Arkansas Derby is the dream barn.
Barber Road has 18 points to rank fifth in the Kentucky Derby standings. The race is limited to 20 runners.
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 second place finish and ranks 7th in the Kentucky Oaks standings.
“I came back great, it looks great,” Ortiz said. “I feel like she’s broken her career bests yet again. She’s just come out for a little practice for the points and now we’re focusing on Fantasy. I know Keeneland is about to open, but the Fantasy is exactly what we want to win.
Trainer Rodolphe Brisset said Yuugiri could also head to Fantasy after finishing third at 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 on Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs. Secret Oath finished fifth in the Golden Rod, 10 ¼ lengths behind Yuugiri, but thrived at Oaklawn.
“Everything is fine,” Brisset said Sunday morning. “We just jogged her and she’s healthy. Cleaned out his feed tray last night. She broke her flat foot, so the first jump wasn’t very good. She has done it in the past. She worked her way up there – :23, :47, 1:12 and change are very solid fractions for this track. This trail was pretty sticky. She just got tired the last sixteenth and Johnny respected her. It was good too. We need to regroup a bit. Obviously, our top pick would be Fantasy right now, but that’s a bit too soon. I think we’re obviously going to keep our eyes on fantasy first and then go from there.
Yuugiri has 14 points to rank No. 10 in the Kentucky Oaks standings.
Brisset also saddled Rebel 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 sixth, his first loss in four career starts. Newgrange, based in Southern California, won the Southwest. Baffert’s runners are ineligible to collect Kentucky Derby qualifying points as he is banned from Churchill Downs, a suspension stemming from the disqualification of his 2021 Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, for a drug violation.
The Arkansas Derby and Fantasy are both 170 point qualifying races for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, respectively. The two preparatory races will offer 100 points to the winner, 40 to the second, 20 to the third and 10 to the fourth.
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
Photo:Hall by Fame Trainer Dr. Wayne Lukas/Coady Photography