Lukas trusts Secret Oath's readiness for the Alabama

2022-09-17 10:33:22 By : Ms. Cathy Chi

Go back to the early days of the thoroughbred race meet at Saratoga Race Course.

That’s the day when everything came up lemons for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Yup, the second Saturday of the season was just nasty for the 86-year-old Lukas.

“That’s a sour spot for the meet for me,” Lukas said. “Still is.”

That was the day the New York Racing Association ran the $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), one of the showcase events at the Spa for 3-year-old fillies.

Lukas’ Secret Oath, who had been the darling of the division in the spring, got her head handed to her. The surging Nest, trained by former Lukas pupil Todd Pletcher, won the CCA Oaks by 12 1/4 lengths.

Since that drubbing, Lukas has been counting down the days until Secret Oath gets another crack at Nest. And that day is here. These two fillies will throw it down in Saturday’s $600,000 Alabama (G1), which drew a field of seven.

Nest, owned by Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House, is the overwhelming 1-2 morning line choice in the Alabama. Surprisingly, Secret Oath is the 4-1 third choice behind Klaravich Stables’ Gerrymander, who is 7-2 after winning the Mother Goose (G2) at Belmont on June 25.

Briland Farms’ Secret Oath, who won the Kentucky Oaks (G1) in May, lost her stranglehold in the division after Nest’s tour de force, although the Kentucky Oaks (G1) carries more weight than the CCA Oaks does.

However, Nest finished second in the grueling Belmont Stakes (G1) against the boys while Secret Oath was fourth in the Preakness (G1) in the second leg of the Triple Crown.

You can talk to Lukas every day for the rest of the summer and he will never, ever say that Nest is a dozen lengths better than Secret Oath. Not in a million years.

“I am very confident,” Lukas said. “I think she is the best of her class. But you have to prove it. You have to prove it over and over. I am very comfortable. I’m where I want to be. I don’t know what the hell I would do to change where she is at.”

Lukas saw two problems with the Secret Oath in the CCA Oaks. One was that it was the first time the daughter of Arrogate had been on the Saratoga strip. Another was the ride the filly was given by jockey Luis Saez.

Lukas says Saez took Secret Oath out of her comfort zone when he hustled her towards the lead in the CCA Oaks. Secret Oath is at her best when she makes one, big sweeping move, like she did in the Kentucky Oaks.

Since the CCA Oaks, Lukas and Saez have had three different conversations about the race – well, actually Lukas did all of the talking. Lukas is confident the two are on the same page heading into the 1 1/4-mile Alabama.

He said he never considered taking Saez off the horse. Saez has ridden Secret Oath in her last three starts. Her only win in that time came in the Kentucky Oaks.

“He’s had a month to think about it,” Lukas said. “Luis is a great finisher and a super good rider. And I’m good friends with his agent (former trainer Kiaran McLaughlin) who worked for me for 14 years, so I’m not going to, you know, muddy the waters. Kiaran is like family.”

Lukas thinks Secret Oath, who has won three of six starts this year and is five for 10 overall, is breathing fire heading to the Alabama. She has certainly caught the attention of Pletcher, who is plenty wary of her heading into the rubber match between the two fillies.

“Secret Oath is an awfully good filly,” he said. “I don’t think she ran her race last time, so I am sure the coach will have her ready to go this time.”

Lukas is just as impressed with Nest, and calls her the horse to beat in the Alabama. As competitive as he is, he knows some of it has rubbed off on his former assistant.

“Todd’s got that silent, hitman, killer instinct,” Lukas said with a smile. “I am looking forward to this. The fans are going to get a real treat.”