Trainer D. Wayne Lukas confirmed Wednesday that GI Longines Kentucky Oaks heroine Secret Oath (Arrogate) will become the latest filly to take on males in the GI Preakness S., to be held May 21 at Pimlico. The race will also feature a rematch of the top two finishers from the GI Kentucky Derby, as the connections of beaten Derby favorite Epicenter (Not This Time), who appeared home free until passed on the inside in the final strides by 80-1 longshot Rich Strike (Keen Ice), will head to Baltimore for the Triple Crown's middle jewel.
Lukas, who has won the Preakness six times, confirmed Briland Farm's Secret Oath for the 1 3/16-mile test after terming her 'probable' earlier in the day. Lukas, who won his first of four Kentucky Derbys with the filly Winning Colors in 1988, said he had discussed the Preakness for Secret Oath every day with owner-breeders Rob and Stacy Mitchell since her Oaks victory. He added that Secret Oath will only run in Grade I route races from here on out.
“We agonize over it,” Lukas said at Churchill Downs Wednesday morning. “She's gone back to the track, and she was very sharp out there today. I don't see anything about her that would change our decision right now [regarding the Preakness]. She's training well. She's bright. She's sharp and out there playing.
“Let's put it this way: The Derby horses pretty much all had a hard race. Her race was not hard on her,” he added. “Now, you sit back and say, 'Epicenter is going to be the favorite. Chad Brown is putting that other horse [Wood Memorial runner-up Early Voting] in.' What I always did on those, is I list all the horses going and say, 'Can I beat this one?' Yes. 'Can I beat that one?' Maybe. Go right down the line. But I still don't know who's going.
“Epicenter will be difficult. He's a legitimate favorite. He's a very good horse. Nobody can go over there and think they'll just run by him. He is going to be awfully tough to beat. You are taking a shot if you take him on,” Lukas continued. “The other thing that always factors in is that when they are really good like she is right now, you take advantage of that moment, that time frame. We've got it planned out all the way to the Breeders' Cup, but there's a lot of road until then. Things happen.”
Secret Oath jogged a lap around Churchill Downs and then jogged more in the track's mile chute Wednesday morning under Danielle Rosier.
Secret Oath will attempt to become the second filly in three years to capture the Preakness after eventual champion Swiss Skydiver (Daredevil) bested Derby victor Authentic (Into Mischief) in 2020's rescheduled October renewal.
Not joining the Preakness lineup, fellow Lukas trainee Ethereal Road (Quality Road) may instead make an appearance on the Preakness undercard in the Sir Barton S. Squeaking into the Kentucky Derby field after the defection of Un Ojo (Laoban), the colt was scratched by his trainer on the eve of the Derby.
David Fiske, Winchell Thoroughbreds' longtime bloodstock manager, confirmed after speaking with trainer Steve Asmussen Wednesday morning that Epicenter will run in the Preakness. The GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby winner returned to the track for training earlier in the morning at Churchill Downs, with Asmussen liking what he saw as Epicenter jogged and galloped under Roberto Howell.
Plans call for Epicenter to work an easy half-mile Monday and van to Pimlico Tuesday.
“Steve said he was really pleased with how he went back to the track this morning,” Fiske said. “He said he looked great. I mean, we were going. It was just that [Epicenter] needed to tell us that he wanted to go.”
After watching Epicenter train, Asmussen called bay colt “a remarkable physical [specimen]. He's very strong.”
“I thought he traveled well,” he said of Epicenter's first day back training. “Roberto said he was himself, more of the same. Being himself is a good thing. I thought he took the Derby really well. He laid down like he normally does. He's been nice and relaxed and traveled really good on the racetrack this morning.”
Other confirmed starters for the Preakness include Early Voting (Gun Runner), Simplification (Not This Time), Un Ojo (Laoban), Skippylongstocking (Exaggerator) and Creative Minister (Creative Cause), while possible starters include Derby third Zandon (Upstart), Rattle N Roll (Connect) and Shake Em Loose (Shakin It Up).