Lady and The Track | September 25, 2023

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Secret Oath Tackles Boys in Arkansas Derby

By Margaret Ransom

Each year the $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI) at Oaklawn Park normally represents the end of yet another grueling Road to the Kentucky Derby (GI) journey and as such it’s often the most anticipated of them all, as well as one of the most productive prep races in producing both Derby runners and winners. American Pharoah used the Hot Springs route as a springboard to racing immortality in 2015 and this year, six runners whose connections hope their charges are only half as talented as the 12th Triple Crown winner – including a filly — will line up to race the 1 1/8 miles over the Hot Springs, Arkansas, oval.

The race again offers 170 Road to the Derby points will be awarded to the top-four finishers (100-40-20-10), which in addition to guaranteeing a spot in the Derby gate for the winner, those who finish in the top four who have points already quite possibly could break the bubble from “out” to “in” on the list of 20.

Secret Oath. Coady Photo

A handful who have been considered top Kentucky Derby contenders all season who, for one reason or another were unable to earn a lot of points, have a lot more to lose than just a race with a poor showing on Saturday. And this year, the race has been moved to five weeks out from the first Saturday in May, up from three weeks in previous non-Covid-19 years and to accommodate the shift to more time between a last prep and the Kentucky Derby.

Even though the Arkansas Derby has only produced four Kentucky Derby winners overall, three of which completed the Arkansas Derby-Kentucky Derby double, 72 Arkansas Derby runners have competed in the Run for the Roses since 1997 and 54 since 2004 alone. In addition to winners American Pharoah, Smarty Jones and Sunny’s Halo, other big-time names have taken the southern path to Triple Crown race success, include Elocutionist, Temperence Hill, Tank’s Prospect, Pine Bluff, Lil E. Tee, Victory Gallop, Afleet Alex, Super Saver and Creator, not to mention a half-dozen other classic-placed runners in the more recent history of the race.

American Pharoah stands out at the most significant runner to have made his way to Louisville through Arkansas, taking Oaklawn Park’s signature race. The Bob Baffert-trained colt, as we all know, went on to become the 12th Triple Crown winner seven years ago and the first since Affirmed in 1978, quenching a 37-year drought without one.

2022 Rebel Stakes winner Un Ojo. Coady Photo.

Country House was third in Hot Springs in 2019 before going on to claim the controversial Kentucky Derby victory after the disqualification of Maximum Security from the win and ended his career wearing the blanket of roses. Fox Hill Farm’s Omaha Beach won this nine-furlong event that year and was labeled the Kentucky Derby favorite after the draw, but was withdrawn two days before the race due to an entrapped epiglottis. Two years ago, Charlatan was the victor, but a post-race test revealed the prohibited medication Lidocaine in his system, so he was eventually disqualified and his win forfeited to the runner-up, Basin, who didn’t end up making the Derby gate and then spent six months on the shelf after a second in the Amsterdam Stakes (G2) at Saratoga in late August.

Last year Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen saddled his father’s horse, Super Stock, owned in partnership with Irv Woolsey, to victory before the colt finished 16th in Louisville.

Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher is the leading trainer in number of wins, having sent out five winners (2000, Graeme Hall; 2001, Balto Star; 2013, Overanalyze; 2014, Danza; and 2018, Magnum Moon.) Retired Hall of Famer Pat Day won three throughout his illustrious career (1986, Rampage; 1987, Demons Begone; and 1997, Crypto Star.)

The D. Wayne Lukas-trained mare Althea defeated males in 1984 in a final time of 1:46.80, which remains the fastest Arkansas Derby in its 73-year history. The legendary Hall of Fame conditioner sends out the filly Secret Oath this year.

The weather for the Hot Springs area on Saturday is expected to be wet, with morning showers likely ending later in the day. The expected high will reach into the low- to mid-70s.

Barber Road. Coady Photo.

This year’s Arkansas Derby field, which is the day’s 12th race and has an expected post time of 635 p.m. CT, in post position order:

1. Kavod, M. Murrill, Chris Hartman, 15-1
Lea—Weekend Connection, by Pulpit

2. Chasing Time, Jose Lezcano, Steve Asmussen, 12-1
Not This Time—Race Hunter, by Dixie Union

3. Barber Road, Reylu Gutierrez, John Ortiz, 8-1
Race Day—Encounter, by  Southern Image

4. Doppelganger, John Velazquez, Tin Yakteen, 3-1
Into Mischief—Twice the Lady, by Quiet American

5. Un Ojo, Ramon Vazquez, Ricky Courville, 6-1
Laoban—Risk a Chance, by A.P. Indy

6. Secret Oath, Luis Contreras, D. Wayne Lukas, 5-2
Arrogate—Absinthe Minded, by Quiet American

7. Ben Diesel, Jon Court, Dallas Stewart, 15-1
Will Take Charge—Girls Secret, by Giant’s Causeway

8. Cyberknife, Florent Geroux, Brad Cox, 8-1
Gun Runner—Awesome Flower, by Flower Alley

9. We the People, Flavien Prat, Rodolphe Brisset, 9-2
Constitution—Letchworth, by Tiznow


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