Oaks Prep: Optionality Faces Secret Oath In Martha Washington - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Oaks Prep: Optionality Faces Secret Oath In Martha Washington

Secret Oath breaks her maiden at Oaklawn on Dec. 31

If the linemaker is correct, it will be a Hall of Fame exacta in the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Saturday at Oaklawn.

Multiple stakes winner Optionality is the 9-5 program favorite for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Secret Oath is the early 2-1 second choice for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Probable post time for the Martha Washington, which goes as the fourth of 11 races, is 1:32 p.m. (Central). First post Saturday is 12:02 p.m.

The 1 1/16-mile Martha Washington is Oaklawn's first of three Kentucky Oaks points races and will offer 17 to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1) toward starting eligibility for the country's biggest event for 3-year-old fillies.

While Optionality will be making her Oaklawn debut Saturday, Secret Oath may be the most impressive winner to date during the 2021-2022 meeting that began Dec. 3. Combining style and substance, Secret Oath demolished an allowance field by 8 ¼ lengths Dec. 31 under Luis Contreras to earn a Beyer Speed Figure of 93, among the highest in the country for a 2-year-old in 2021. The 1-mile race also marked the most lopsided victory in Oaklawn's brief history of running routes for 2-year-olds.

Paired for the first time with Contreras, Secret Oath raced well off the early pace and waited briefly in traffic reeling in the leaders on the second turn. Secret Oath moved three-wide turning for home and drew off in the final furlong to become the first female Oaklawn winner sired by the late champion Arrogate.

“If we can get that repeat performance, we'll be in pretty good shape,” Lukas said. “That was impressive. It was absolutely textbook. If I'd drawn it up on paper and got the other seven or eight or nine that were in there to cooperate, that's the way I would like it. I'd like to have her inside like that, catching dirt in her face and then angling out and opening up on them like that. That was textbook.”

A homebred for Briland Farm (Robert and Stacy Mitchell), Secret Oath returned with a half-mile bullet workout (:46.80) Jan. 11 in advance of her 3-year-old debut.

Lukas and Briland teamed to win three Oaklawn stakes ($100,000 Bayakoa in 2011 and 2012 and $75,000 Pippin in 2012) with Absinthe Minded, who is Secret Oath's dam.

Secret Oath's task now, Lukas said, is to record consecutive victories for the first time in her brief career. Secret Oath was coming off a fifth-place finish in the $400,000 Golden Rod Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs. After finishing third in her career debut, Secret Oath broke her maiden by 5 ¼ lengths at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 31 at Churchill Downs.

“Some days these fillies are like your wife,” Lukas said. “They're a little temperamental and you can't always depend on them giving the same performance every day, so we'll look past that one, though, and look for a little improvement. I think she'll be one of the choices.”

Lukas is seeking his record-tying third Martha Washington victory, having won the race in 2010 with Decelerator and 2015 with champion Take Charge Brandi.

Asmussen also is seeking his third Martha Washington victory after winning the first division in 2008 (Sky Mom) and 2013 (Sister Ginger).

The rapidly improving Optionality, a homebred daughter of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner for Winchell Thoroughbreds (Ron and Joan Winchell), has won her last three starts by a combined 21 ½ lengths.

Optionality won the $50,000 Zia Park Princess Stakes by 6 ½ lengths Nov. 23 at Zia Park and closed 2021 by winning the $100,000 Trapeze Stakes by 8 ¼ lengths Dec. 17 at Remington Park in her two-turn debut.

“She hasn't done anything wrong,” said David Fiske, the Winchells' longtime farm and racing manager. “Her speed figures keep increasing every time she goes out. We thought maybe she was just a sprinter, but going around two turns at Remington didn't seem to bother her that much. Won by a big margin, so we thought she deserved her chance to kind of step up on the big stage.”

The projected six-horse Martha Washington field from the rail out: Hypersport, Tiago Pereira to ride, 115 pounds; 8-1 on the morning line; Princess Pauline, Francisco Arrieta, 115, 8-1; Como Square, John Velazquez, 122, 5-2; Optionality, Ricardo Santana Jr., 122, 9-5; Cupid's Music, Luis Quinonez, 115, 20-1; and Secret Oath, Luis Contreras, 122, 2-1.

All six entrants will remove Lasix, owing to a ban on the anti-bleeder medication in Kentucky Oaks points races.

Unbeaten Como Square (2 for 2) will be making her seasonal, stakes and two-turn debut for trainer Brad Cox and breeder/owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs. Como Square was a 4 ¾-length winner of her Nov. 11 career debut at Indiana Grand and came from well off the pace to clear her first allowance condition Dec. 19 at Oaklawn, while her more highly regarded stablemate, Marr Time, a half-sister, to, among others, champion Beholder and super sire Into Mischief, finished last after becoming fractious in the gate.

“She got a good setup that day,” Cox said. “She's been a little surprising, I'll admit it. She's been a little surprising that she's 2 for 2, but you can't take anything away from her heart and determination. She's a very tough filly.”

Cox and Anthony teamed to win the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and run second in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) last year at Oaklawn with Como Square's half-brother, Caddo River. Como Square is by Into Mischief.

The speedy Hypersport figures to set the pace from the rail for trainer Ingrid Mason. Hypersport was a sharp opening-day maiden winner sprinting before finishing a leg-weary fourth, beaten 12 ¾ lengths by Secret Oath, in her two-turn debut New Year's Eve. Cupid's Music ran ninth in the Dec. 31 allowance race for breeder/owner/trainer Danele Durham. Supplemental nominee Princess Pauline is a four-race maiden for Asmussen.

The Martha Washington, which was inaugurated in 1979, is being run for the first time at 1 1/16 miles after previously being a mile.

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