Heroes of Churchill Downs: Secret Oath

Mar 13, 2023 Sara Dacus TwinSpires.com

Secret Oath’s 4-year-old season is off to a scintillating start with a 2 3/4 length romp in Oaklawn’s Azeri S. (G2). She bested multiple Grade 1 winner Clairiere and earned her first victory since triumphing in the 2022 Kentucky Oaks (G1), snapping a five-race winless streak that was nevertheless full of remarkable moments.

The chestnut filly is a homebred for Robert and Stacy Mitchell of Briland Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. Secret Oath’s first win came a little more than 20 years after the Mitchells began building their small breeding operation by paying $1 to acquire Chao Praya, an unraced daughter of Gold Legend. She produced three Grade 3 winners.

The Mitchells now board approximately a half-dozen broodmares on their 90-acre farm, and Secret Oath represents their biggest success to date. She is from the first crop of the deceased Arrogate, who was named the country’s champion 3-year-old male of 2016 after roaring to five consecutive victories, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

Secret Oath’s road to stardom began under the Twin Spires, where she broke her maiden by 5 1/4 lengths in her second career start. Her 2-year-old season ended with a crescendo: she won a Dec. 31 allowance race at Oaklawn by 8 1/4 lengths, earning an Equibase Speed Figure of 99, among the highest in the country for a 2-year-old in 2021.

The daylight scores continued in 2022 as she jumped up in class. She drew away to take the listed Martha Washington S. by 7 1/4 lengths and the Honeybee S. (G3) by 7 1/2 lengths, earning 60 points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks for these two efforts. However, a few hours after the Honeybee, a new path emerged. The feature race was the Rebel S. (G2), a Kentucky Derby prep worth 50 points to the winner, and victor Un Ojo rated hard-fought speed figures that were lower that what Secret Oath earned operating under cruise control earlier in the day.

Her Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, 87, one of the most iconic figures in Thoroughbred history, is known to be willing to take on a challenge. He won the 1984 Arkansas Derby (G1) with Althea, a week after the filly finished second in the Fantasy S. (G1). Two weeks later, she started in the Kentucky Derby (G1); four years later, his filly Winning Colors won the Kentucky Derby (G1).

Lukas began seriously considering Secret Oath for the Arkansas Derby after she crushed the field in the Martha Washington, and the Honeybee confirmed his thinking. Secret Oath became the first filly to run in the Arkansas Derby since 1986, going off as the 7-5 favorite, but she experienced trouble at the start, and finished third. Her Kentucky Derby dreams were over, but the Oaks dreams resumed.

In the Oaks, Secret Oath made a five-wide sweeping move on the far turn and then passed Echo Zulu at the three-sixteenths pole en route to a 2-length victory over favored Nest, igniting a rivalry. She gave Lukas a record-tying fifth Kentucky Oaks victory that was his first since 1990.

“I told Luis (Saez) that down the backside to get into position,” Lukas said. “When I saw him moving around the turn and I turned and hugged my wife and said ‘here we go.’ It feels great. I’ve said all week, as trainers we think it’s us. After you win one, the real satisfaction is for the (owners) who raised her and let them have the opportunity to enjoy this and get the thrill.”

Barely 12 hours after winning the Oaks, Lukas was back on his pony leading his horses out to train Saturday starting at 5:15 a.m., and he was considering the Preakness S. (G1). However, tougher times were ahead.

After the Oaks, Secret Oath lost five starts – all Grade 1 events – including a fourth against males in the Preakness and two seconds against Nest, who would be crowned the country’s champion three-year-old filly. Secret Oath was beaten 5 1/2 lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff after leading in midstretch.

Lukas said Secret Oath remained in light training following the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and became more robust physically at four.

“She was kind of gangly and that big old frame needed filling out,” Lukas said. “She’s filled out a lot. I would say she’s put on 50 pounds, maybe more.”

Her four-year-old bow indicates she is still among the top of her class. Secret Oath is now being pointed to the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares April 15 at Oaklawn.

  • Ticket Info

    Sign up for race updates and more


Thank You To Our Sponsors


Missed something? Catch up on past Churchill Downs news