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Jon White: A Filly on Derby Top 10, Plus 3YO Stakes Picks

by Jon White

March 3, 2022


Regret, Genuine Risk, Winning Colors…and Secret Oath?

Could Secret Oath possibly join one of the most exclusive clubs in all of American racing, a club that has just three members, the three fillies to have outrun the boys to win the coveted Kentucky Derby?

Secret Oath doesn’t just debut on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week. She makes a mighty splash, showing up on the list all the way up at No. 2.

Why do I have Secret Oath at No. 2? Because if were making selections for the Kentucky Derby today, she would be my second choice. Messier would my pick to win it. And if Messier wasn’t in the race, my choice to win the roses, if she were in the race, would be Secret Oath.

My Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week is below:

1. Messier
2. Secret Oath (new)
3. Classic Causeway
4. Emmanuel
5. Smile Happy
6. Epicenter
7. Early Voting
8. Rattle N Roll
9. White Abarrio
10. Simplification

Newgrange drops off my Top 10 this week after finishing off the board in last Saturday’s Grade I Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. He was No. 10 last week.

Actually, I came very close to putting Secret Oath at No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week. But I decided that Messier still deserves to be at the top of the list off his 15-length tour de force in Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes last month. In my opinion, that’s the most impressive performance so far this year by a 3-year-old.

Messier was in danger of dropping out of the top spot on my Top 10 this week due to not having a published workout since the Feb. 6 Lewis.

But Messier finally had a workout Monday morning at Santa Anita. He worked four furlongs in :48.60. He worked in company with El Camino Real Derby winner Blackadder, who also was clocked in :48.60. You can view this workout on XBTV: https://www.xbtv.com/video/empire-maker/messier-outside-and-blackadder-worked-4-furlongs-in-48-60-at-santa-anita-park-on-february-28th-2022/

Messier, working on the outside, began a half-length or so behind Blackadder. They raced as a team to the finish line, with Messier finishing slightly in front.

It’s particularly noteworthy that official clockers listed the workout by both Messier and Blackadder as “breezing” rather than “handily.”

At Southern California tracks, a workout is rarely listed as breezing. A breezing designation is given when a horse is considered by the official clockers to have worked considerably easier, without any urging at all, than a horse whose workout is termed handily.

Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains both Messier and Blackadder.

Messier has recorded three wins and two seconds from five career starts. He’s lost twice at Los Alamitos. When racing either at Santa Anita or Del Mar, the Canadian-bred colt by 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker has won by margins of 6 1/2, 3 1/2 and 15 lengths.

When Messier won the 1 1/16-mile Lewis, he posted a 103 Beyer Speed Figure. It’s the highest Beyer by a 3-year-old in 2022 to date.

Messier is expected to make his next start in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 9.

Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who like Baffert is an ex-Quarter Horse trainer, sent out the filly Winning Colors to take the 1988 Santa Anita Derby by 7 1/2 lengths in a sensational performance.

In her next start, Winning Colors was victorious in the Kentucky Derby. She followed in the footsteps of two other fillies to win the Run for the Roses, the great Regret in 1915 and Genuine Risk in 1980.

Secret Oath, a Kentucky-bred daughter of 2016 Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old male Arrogate, has reeled off three lopsided victories at the current Oaklawn meet. Luis Contreras was in the saddle for all three wins on the Arkansas oval.

After winning a one-mile allowance race by 8 1/4 lengths on Dec. 31, Secret Oath registered a 7 1/4-length victory in the Martha Washington Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 29.

In last Saturday’s Grade III Honeybee Stakes, again at 1 1/16 miles, Secret Oath was steadied midway on the far turn when in traffic, according to the Equibase chart. She then “hit a seam along the rail turning for home,” as the chart further noted. Undaunted by being steadied or racing inside rivals, she advanced readily to poke her head in front at the quarter pole, then drew off to win by 7 1/2 lengths in 1:44.74.

Later in the day at Oaklawn, the one-eyed Un Ojo pulled off a 75-1 shocker vs. 10 male foes in the Grade II Rebel Stakes. What was his final time? It was 1:45.69. In fifths, Secret Oath overcame a spot of trouble and won the Honeybee in 1:44 3/5, faster than Un Ojo’s 1:45 3/5.

The Thoroughbred Times’ T.D. Thornton believes that comparing Secret Oath’s “Honeybee romp against the performance of males in the Rebel three hours later on the same Oakawn card is a non-starter. The Rebel rates as the ‘chaos race’ of the season so far among Derby preps because the 4-5 favorite was a no-show in an otherwise so-so field, and the slowly run race was won by an improbable one-eyed gelding who paid $152.80.”

Thornton also noted that “rain had moved into Hot Springs by the time the feature race arrived, and although the track was still listed as ‘fast’ for the Rebel, it would soon require sealing and a downgrade to ‘sloppy’ for the final race. The un-California-like conditions would be eventually cited as a possible excuse for trainer Bob Baffert’s ship-in fave Newgrange, who appeared primed to pounce after a trouble-free stalking strip but instead retreated to sixth.”

Lukas also is the trainer of the improving Ethereal Road, who had a wide trip and finished second in the Rebel at 15-1, while Barber Road ran third at 6-1. Newgrange was off the board at 4-5 for his first loss in four career starts.

Will Secret Oath make her next start in Oaklawn’s Grade I Arkansas Derby in an attempt to accrue the qualifying points to get into the Kentucky Derby starting gate? Or will she instead run against -- and probably again trounce – fillies in Oaklawn’s Grade II Fantasy Stakes?

Ethereal Road’s good effort for Lukas in the Rebel does make him a legit contender for the Arkansas Derby on April 2. Does this make it less likely that Secret Oath also runs in that race? Perhaps. But if both Secret Oath and Ethereal Road run in the Arkansas Derby, I have absolutely no doubt that the filly will be a shorter price -- probably a much shorter price -- than the colt.

For those ruling out the possibility that Lukas will enter both Secret Oath and Ethereal Road in the Arkansas Derby, bear in mind that this is a trainer who has never been shy to run more than one horse in an important stakes race. This is the trainer who once sent out five of the 12 starters in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Hollywood Park in 1987. Lukas ran Dream Team (who finished third), Classic Crown (sixth), Over All (seventh), Lost Kitty (10th) and Blue Jean Baby (11th).

Or how about the time Lukas was represented by five starters in the Kentucky Derby? That occurred in 1996. Grindstone won by a scant nose while defeating fellow Lukas trainees Prince of Thieves (third), Editor’s Note (sixth), Victory Speech (10th) and Honour and Glory (18th).

Grindstone provided Lukas with one of what would be a total of four Kentucky Derby victories, joining the aforementioned Winning Colors, Thunder Gulch and Charismatic.

As a further indication that Lukas might run Secret Oath in the Arkansas Derby even though the 86-year-old trainer has Ethereal Road, in each of Lukas’ four Kentucky Derby victories, he did have other starters in the race.

Making history is part of Lukas’ DNA. He has made a lot of history during his illustrious career.

It is not lost on Lukas that the Arkansas Derby this year is five weeks out from the Kentucky Derby. That’s something he especially likes when weighing the pros and cons as to whether to run Secret Oath in the Arkansas Derby.

Lukas might have five Kentucky Derby wins to his credit instead of four if there had been five weeks between the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby in 1984.

The Lukas-trained Althea was voted a 1983 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly. In 1984, she finished second in the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy on April 14, then one week later annihilated males when she won the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby by seven lengths in 1:46 4/5. At that time, the Kentucky Derby came just two weeks after the Arkansas Derby.

Althea’s Arkansas Derby performance was so strong that if she had run like that again in the Kentucky Derby, she might have given the winner, Swale, a run for his money. But it was asking way too much of Althea to run in three races in three weeks, especially when she had run so hard in the Arkansas Derby. Althea wound up 19th in the Kentucky Derby.

Learning from what happened with Althea, Lukas four years later had a much better four-week gap between the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby with Winning Colors. Unlike Althea, Winning Colors’ tank was full for her Kentucky Derby.

By the way, the TDN’s Thornton pointed out this week that Lukas spent much of the week leading up to the 1984 Arkansas Derby saying “he wouldn’t enter Althea against the boys. He did anyway.”

About the only thing Lukas hasn’t accomplished is winning the Triple Crown, though “Coach” remarkably did once win six straight in the series. He won the 1994 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes with Tabasco Cat, the 1995 Derby with Thunder Gulch, the 1995 Preakness Stakes with Timber Country, the 1995 Belmont with Thunder Gulch, then the 1996 Derby with Grindstone.

Do you really think Lukas wouldn’t relish becoming the only trainer in history to win the Kentucky Derby with two fillies? But for that to possibly happen, Secret Oath has to run in the Arkansas Derby in order to try and earn enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby field.

Secret Oath already has enough points to get into the Kentucky Oaks. So if she doesn’t run well in the Arkansas Derby, she can go ahead and go the Oaks route on the first Friday in May.

Besides, a return to competition in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks on March 26 is looking more likely for undefeated Eclipse Award winner Echo Zulu. That certainly could be a springboard to the Kentucky Oaks for the four-for-four filly trained by Steve Asmussen. Echo Zulu has not appeared under silks since winning the Grade I BC Juvenile Fillies by 5 1/4 lengths last Nov. 5 at Del Mar.

Heck, if Lukas doesn’t run Secret Oath in the Arkansas Derby to try and qualify her for the Kentucky Derby, he might come to regret it. It’s not out of the question that the Kentucky Derby just might turn out to be a more winnable spot than the Kentucky Oaks for Secret Oath, especially if Messier is not in the Derby and Echo Zulu is in the Oaks.

And what if Lukas did win the Kentucky Derby with Secret Oath? What if the filly then also won the Preakness? How big of a story would that be to have her going to the Belmont with a chance to become the first filly to achieve Triple Crown glory? It would be HUGE. And I sure get the impression by the way Secret Oath has been widening in the final furlong, the 1 1/2 mile-mile distance of the Belmont might even be something she would relish.

Is Secret Oath going to win the Triple Crown? In reality, there is almost no chance of that. On the other hand, back when I was a writer for the Daily Racing Form, I first met Lukas at his Hollywood Park barn one spring day way back in 1981. If there is one thing I have learned when it comes to D. Wayne Lukas, never -- and I mean never -- think it’s impossible for him to do anything.


Secretariat.com’s Steve Haskin has Secret Oath at No. 7 in his Kentucky Derby rankings this week. Smile Happy is Haskin’s No. 1.

“I normally would never consider ranking a filly, especially with no points, but we are dealing with Wayne Lukas,” Haskin wrote. “In typical fashion, Lukas is playing it cool, saying right now that they are looking at the Fantasy for Secret Oath and the Arkansas Derby with Rebel runner-up Ethereal Road, but added they are leaving their options open. He did mention how much faster Secret Oath ran in the Honeybee Stakes than the boys did in the Rebel and that she did it under cruise control.

“I’ve known Lukas for 35 years,” Haskin continued, “and I have seen how bold he can be, especially with fillies, such as Winning Colors, Lady’s Secret, Serena’s Song, Althea and a number of others who were successful against the boys. He loves doing things others wouldn’t think of doing. I can see Lukas, at age 86, being daring one more time, especially with a filly this special and in a year when there are no real standouts. I’m not sure he can pass up this opportunity at this stage of his career. If he goes the Oaks route no harm done.”

1/ST BET analyst and handicapper Jeff Siegel has Secret Oath at No. 8 this week among his “main players” in his Triple Crown rankings, which are: 1. Messier, 2. Emmanuel, 3. Smile Happy, 4. White Abarrio, 5. Rattle N Roll, 6. Classic Causeway, 7. Epicenter, 8. Secret Oath, 9. Zozos, 10. Charge It, 11. Early Voting, 12. Zandon, 13. Mo Donegal, 14. Forbidden Kingdom, 15. Major General.


Secret Oath received a 92 Beyer Speed Figure for her Honeybee triumph. This is the highest Beyer by a Honeybee winner since Rose to Gold’s 98 in 2013.

Eight Belles recorded a 91 Beyer when she won the 2008 Honeybee. She would go on to finish second to Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby.

Un Ojo’s Beyer for winning the Rebel was just an 84.

Below are the Beyers for Rebel winners going back to 1990 (the figures prior to last year are listed in the 2021 American Racing Manual, which is now digital only and available for free on The Jockey Club’s website):

2022 Un Ojo (84)
2021 Concert Tour (94)
2020 Nadal (96)
2019 Omaha Beach (96)*
2019 Long Range Toddy (95)*
2018 Magnum Moon (97)
2017 Malagacy (94)
2016 Cupid (95)
2015 American Pharoah (100)
2014 Hoppertunity (100)
2013 Will Take Charge (95)
2012 Secret Circle (92)
2011 The Factor (103)
2010 Lookin At Lucky (98)
2009 Win Willy (102)
2008 Sierra Sunset (99)
2007 Curlin (99)
2006 Lawyer Ron (94)
2005 Greater Good (95)
2004 Smarty Jones (112)
2003 Crowned King (90)
2002 Windward Passage (94)
2001 Crafty Shaw (102)
2000 Snuck In (101)
1999 Etbauer (102)
1998 Victory Gallop (105)
1997 Phantom On Tour (102)
1996 Ide (93)
1995 Mystery Storm (92)
1994 Judge TC (95)
1993 Dalhart (105)
1992 Pine Bluff (106)
1991 Quintana (no Beyer listed)
1990 Nuits St. Georges (82)

*Run in divisions


Azure Coast
Barber Road
Call Me Midnight
Charge It
Ethereal Road
Forbidden Kingdom
Giant Game
In Due Time
Major General
Mo Donegal
Nitrous Channel
Pioneer of Medina
Slow Down Andy
Straight Up G
Tiz the Bomb
Un Ojo
We the People


This Saturday’s Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park has drawn a field of 10. The 1 1/16-mile contest has attracted a field of 13, including who is on the also-eligible list.

Mo Donegel would have been a contender, but he is going to be scratched, according to Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman.

The Donegal Racing partnership that owns Mo Donegal and Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher had been “on the fence on whether to run in the Fountain of Youth,” Privman wrote. “Drawing post 12 on Monday gave them more to think about.”

And then Mo Donegal had “a low-grade temperature of 102 degrees” Wednesday morning, Pletcher said, adding that Mo Donegal will be scratched and run next in Aqueduct’s Grade II Wood Memorial on April 2.

“We probably would have scratched anyway with post 12, but this made the decision for us,” Pletcher said. “He’s on target to head straight to the Wood. That’s the most likely scenario.”

Fountain of Youth entrants on my Top 10 are No. 4 Emmanuel, No. 8 Rattle N Roll and No. 10 Simplification.

My selections for the Fountain of Youth Stakes are below:

1. Emmanuel
2. Simplification
3. In Due Time
4. Rattle N Roll

Emmanuel, trained by Pletcher, is two for two, winning by 6 3/4 and 4 1/2 lengths. This is the much-anticipated stakes debut for the Kentucky-bred More Than Ready colt.

Simplification won Gulfstream’s one-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes by four lengths on Jan. 1. He then rallied after a poor start to finish second in Gulfstream’s Grade III Holy Bull at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 5.

In Due Time rolled to a 5 3/4-length win in a one-mile allowance/optional claiming race Feb. 4 at Gulfstream. His 92 Beyer in that race suggests he could prove a tough customer in the Fountain of Youth, which is his stakes debut.

I’m not picking Rattle N Roll higher than fourth mainly because he could be a bit rusty off the bench. He hasn’t raced since winning the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last Oct. 9.


Seven are scheduled to clash at 1 1/16 miles in this Saturday’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

My selections for the San Felipe Stakes are below:

1. Forbidden Kingdom
2. Doppelganger
3. Armagnac
4. Cabo Spirit

This will be Forbidden Kingdom’s first start in a race going this far. He’s coming off a front-running 2 1/4-length win in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes on Jan. 29. Hall of Famer Richard Mandella trains the Kentucky-bred colt by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

Doppelganger, who hails from the powerful Baffert barn, finished fourth as the 4-5 favorite in San Vicente. I would not be shocked if he turns the tables on Forbidden Kingdom in this longer affair.

Armagnac, also trained by Baffert, won a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at second asking Jan. 21 at Santa Anita. It’s to his credit that he’s already won going this far, unlike Forbidden Kingdom and Doppelganger.

Cabo Spirit finished second in the Robert B. Lewis last month. That’s the good news. The bad news is he was 15 lengths behind Messier at the end of that race.


Aqueduct’s Grade III Gotham Stakes has drawn a field of 10 to do battle at one mile around one turn.

My selections for the Gotham Stakes are below:

1. Morello
2. Rockefeller
3. Dean’s List
4. Glider

How good is Morello? At this point, who knows? He’s untested in two career starts. Trained by Hall of Famer Asmussen, the Kentucky-bred Classic Empire colt won a six-furlong maiden race by 4 1/4 lengths at Aqueduct on Nov 27. That was followed by a five-length victory in the seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield Stakes at the Big A on Feb. 6.

Asmussen has said he feels Morello has “a lot of quality.”

Rockefeller is back in New York after finishing second to Newgrange in Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes on Jan. 1. He won the Grade III Nashua Stakes at Belmont Park on Nov. 7.

Dean’s List, a Pletcher trainee, is two for two. Both of his wins have come in six-furlong sprints at Gulfstream.

Glider had to settle for second behind the highly regarded Emmanuel at Tampa Bay Downs last time out.


The first editions of this year’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll and Top 3-Year-old Poll were announced Monday.

The Top Thoroughbred Poll is indicative of who might be crowned a divisional champion and, moreover, Horse of the Year. Eligible journalists and broadcasters each week submit their Top 10 horses, with points awarded on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points basis.

The 2022 Top Thoroughbred Poll concludes after the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland on Nov. 4-5.

Voting in the final Top 3-Year-Old Poll of 2022 will be released following the Grade I Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June11.

Life Is Good, winner of the Grade I Pegasus World Cup by 3 1/4 lengths at Gulfstream over 2021 Horse of the Year Knicks Go (now retired), is No. 1 on the Top 10 in the first Top Thoroughbred Poll of 2022, which is listed below:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

1. 295 Life Is Good (28)
2. 225 Letruska (1)
3. 181 Colonel Liam
4. 145 Hot Rod Charlie
5. 137 Flightline
5. 100 Mandaloun
7. 88 Midnight Bourbon
8. 73 Country Grammer
9. 61 Knicks Go
10. 43 Express Train

The Top 10 in the final NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll of 2020:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

1. 360 Knicks Go (36)
2. 270 Essential Quality
3. 265 Life Is Good
4. 242 Medina Spirit
5. 205 Letruska
6. 126 Hot Rod Charlie
7. 67 Golden Pal
8. 64 Yibir
9. 59 Jackie’s Warrior
10. 55 Gamine


Epicenter, winner of Fair Grounds’ Grade II Risen Star Stakes, is No. 1 on the Top 10 in the first NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll of 2022:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

1. 254 Epicenter (7)
2. 169 Smile Happy (2)
3. 165 Messier (11)
3. 153 Classic Causeway (3)
5. 114 White Abarrio
6. 86 Un Ojo
7. 83 Corniche (2)
7. 83 Secret Oath (3)
9. 72 Zandon (1)
10. 61 Mo Donegal