After Skipping Shuvee, Secret Oath Returns In Personal Ensign

Secret Oath | Sarah Andrew

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY — Never shy about being a promoter, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas did not have to use his best pitch as he looked ahead to the GI Personal Ensign S. on Aug. 25 where he will saddle Secret Oath (Arrogate).

Always an important race that draws the top older dirt fillies and mares, the $500,000 Personal Ensign will once again have a strong lineup on Friday. Champion Nest (Curlin) and Clairiere (Curlin), who ran 1-2 in the GII Shuvee S. on July 23 are the obvious headliners. In addition to Secret Oath, the field could include Juddmonte's GII Delaware H. winner Idiomatic (Curlin). Three-time graded stakes winner Search Results (Flatter), the runner-up last year by a half-length to champion Malathaat (Curlin), was also nominated.

“This will be a Breeders' Cup prep.  That's what this is,” Lukas said. “This may be the best race of the year up here.”

The field will be without one standout, Rigney Racing's Played Hard (Into Mischief). Trainer Phillip Bauer said Friday that she will skip the Personal Ensign. The GI La Troienne S. winner spiked a fever in July that caused her to miss the Shuvee, had a breeze interrupted when a rider on another horse was unseated and is not quite ready to return to top-caliber competition.

Lukas, 87, is anxious to run Secret Oath in the Personal Ensign. She opened her 4-year-old season with three strong races. She beat Clairiere by 2 3/4 lengths in the GII Azeri S., but Clairiere reversed the finish by a neck in the GI Apple Blossom H. Played Hard edged Secret Oath by a neck in the La Troienne.

In her fourth outing of the season, Secret Oath was a well-beaten fifth of six behind Clairiere and Search Results in the GI Ogden Phipps S. on June 10 at Belmont Park. Lukas said the filly's owners, Stacy and Robert Mitchell, wanted to pass on the Shuvee and have her ready for the Personal Ensign, the GI Juddmonte Spinster S. on Oct. 8 at Keeneland and the GI Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita on Nov. 4.

Secret Oath, winner of the 2022 GI Kentucky Oaks, has been in Saratoga with Lukas throughout the meet and has breezed four times on the Oklahoma training track.

“She's doing everything right and working lights out,” he said. “But there's nothing like racing to keep them sharp.”

During the 76 days between starts, Lukas has made a point of giving her aggressive works. She turned in a bullet five furlongs in :59 flat (1/14) on Aug. 12 and will work again early Sunday morning. He was she was good, but laid back, so he is trying to tune her up.

“She has trained and put on weight and gotten a lot more relaxed mentally,” he said. “That kind of happens when you give them those long breaks. She's had an eight-week break, maybe even more, but she's really doing everything right. I'm hoping that she'll wake up.”

To that end, Lukas worked her five furlongs in 1:00.45 on Aug. 3, sent her out for a circuit of the track doing a two-minute lick on Aug. 7 and followed up with the bullet breeze. He will continue with that approach Sunday morning.

“I will let her work,” Lukas said. “They say, 'I just want a maintenance work.' I'll go :59, :58. That will be fine with me. I want a sharp one.”

Secret Oath was scheduled to be sold at auction last November, but Lukas encouraged the Mitchells to withdraw her and keep her in training this year. He argued that she could earn quite a lot of purse money and probably enhance her value. She has earned $576,350 this year, pushing her career total to $2,344,767 from 17 starts.

At Saratoga last summer, Nest easily handled Secret Oath in the GI Coaching Club American Oaks and the GI Alabama S., which sent her to the 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award. Lukas said that Secret Oath has improved in the last 12 months.

“She's stronger and bigger and she should run better,” he said. “Let me put it this way, I think this race will be good for her, really good, but the next one will be a lot better. I really feel like once she gets this one under her belt, she will be really tough in the Spinster.”

Bauer said he had to scuttle the plan to run Played Hard in the Shuvee and the Personal Ensign.

“We decided after a five-eighths drill the week before that we had really lost too much fitness with the time that she got sick,” he said. “We went back and forth on it, but basically landed on, if we're going to take on this type we better not have any reservations about it. We're just going to turn the page to the [Sept. 16 GIII] Locust Grove, which she won last year at Churchill. She's probably a work away from the Personal Ensign, which we may have achieved if the first work off the time off would have gone to plan. Everything kind of blew up on us for both of the races up here.”

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