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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH FL, April 6, 2022 – With victory unattainable with a furlong remaining in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, it’s possible that, while it hurt at the time, losing the place in the final strides to Barber Road might have been the best thing for Secret Oath’s future.

Had she secured second and gained 40 points, the temptation to run in the Derby would have been there and, in our view, would not have been in the filly’s best interests down the road. And questions remain. To wit:

Is she an Oaklawn horse for course, or can she take her game on the road? While faster on figures, does she class up with the male competition she’s face on May’s first Saturday? As it is, will she out-finish Gulfstream Oaks winner Kathleen O on May’s first Friday?

HRI regulars are aware that we are not in the habit of jockey bashing, knowing that I wouldn’t have the guts to do what they do for a living. I have a hard enough time with paper cuts and carpal tunnel syndrome. And I admire horsemen who show loyalty, but Luis Contreras is a bad fit.

She’s been in trouble in two straight now, jammed up inside before being fortunate enough to find a hole on the Honeybee fence, ultimately proving much the best. She was the fastest horse on figures entering the Arkansas Derby. But the Classics spotlight is intense and she will need an elite partner.

As for Cyberknife, much respect for the big move between rivals approaching the five-eighths, holding his contending spot into the lane, separating himself, then driven out while drawing off in an excellent effort.

But Cyberknife snaked his way home. Given his boyish mind, and despite having enough experience going into Oaklawn, these are concerns when he meets 19 rivals and 150,000 race fans on Derby Day. We love the Gun Runners, but the Derby is a big ask at this time.

Poor Barber Road. He never has it easy, but that is the plight of all deep closers. But say this for him; he loves a fight. He knocked Un Ojo into the rail mid-far-turn while making his run, then found his own trouble the length of the stretch.

Sandwiched and buffeted about throughout the lane, he reached deep down to earn the place with a final-strides surge. He’s a money threat whatever the competition, but he will need room to run if he wants to win one of these. The big Derby field figures to compromise him, too.

In Florence, Kentucky meanwhile, Tiz the Bomb was the bomb. His victory in the Jeff Ruby Steaks was even more impressive than his Battaglia prep and is one of those horses that get stronger with every lengthened stride. Synth and turf suit; dirt’s a different ballgame, of course.

I capital L love the points system. It has done its job, allowing the cream to rise on almost every occasion. But the system favors trainers with deep shed-rows.

Tiz the Bomb is in the Derby because he has the points and Ken McPeek holds a strong hand for America’s Race. Every horse he–or anyone in his position—enter to keep rivals at bay. Yes, it happens every day all over the world but the Derby is one of those once in a lifetime things.

Of course, Saturday’s Blue Grass, Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby will complete the picture. Can’t wait…  

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14 Responses

  1. “Is she an Oaklawn horse for course, or can she take her game on the road?”

    As big a Secret Oath stan as I am, this is still a very fair question. She did run huge in her 2nd lifetime start at CD, but obviously that doesn’t prove definitively that she can beat good winners somewhere outside of Oaklawn. And yes, we are in full agreement on both the fact that she needs an A list jockey now, as well as which one fits her extremely well (Tyler).

    With regard to the points system, if there is one thing that might be considered a negative, it is that since the institution of the points system, the Kentucky Derby no longer has any real speedsters in the gate, and you now cannot win the race unless you are pretty close to the pace. Some might not see that as such a negative thing though.

  2. Doc, given it’s generally a 20-horse field–a rider’s race by definition–I believe makes it more interesting. If you have 3 or 4 or 5 EP types, trips, based on post position and tactics, will dictate the race shape. I find, as a general rule, that the best horse will prevail given those circumstances. And that makes the Derby very interesting as the best horses are tactical types and under the right conditions, steal might steal off, providing 10 furlongs is in their scope.

    If someone explodes this weekend, they can emerge a clear favorite. Otherwise another 5-1 favorite is in the offing. How easy would this game become if all favorites were that price?

    1. Absolutely true about this weekend. If anyone in AQU, KEE, or SA just cooks their field, that is your favorite. As a homer, I would love for the Wood to produce a Derby winner here; it’s been a while.

      I think this jockey decision on Secret Oath is really important in the big picture because this is really the gal who will carry on the Arrogate legacy; her success on track will determine what happens later in the breeding shed. A big G1 win outside of Oaklawn would go a long way in that regard. Out of all the Arrogates that were produced before his passing, she is the chosen one – Arrobatic was a very promising debut winner for Chad Brown back in February, but she has a long way to go and it seemed like a relatively soft race for a Maiden Special at GP.

      1. Saw an interview with the Coach today, Doc. He said he was talking to Luis the next morning and the rider said he was surprised she moved that fast, that early, that he was trying to get into position before making the winning run. Not sure I buy that. The Coach didn’t say anything further but wasn’t asked the question that’s one everyone’s mind…

        1. Yeah I think the problem is that it’s the 2nd consecutive race where it was made much harder on her than it should have been. This has also been in Oaklawn against pretty good jockeys, but not a field full of elite riders who know every trick in the book and have the conscience of a starving burglar. What is going to happen when the Oaks gate is loaded with horses carrying the top 10 jockeys in the game? Better to put one of them on her back at this point.

  3. Since you mentioned female horses ,a bit delayed Happy 30 th Birthday to a consistent lady who rarely was running out of the money, running in different tracks, SERENA s SONG. Not too big physically but with lots of heart and talent, ,and good DNA to spread on her long ‘Honeymoon’ after she retired. THAT Classy Lady was Not a tramp ! [good memories]

    1. Fantastic name from the past there! Serena’s Song was a terrific racehorse. Won the Haskell, and finished her career with 7 consecutive ITM finishes, all in graded stakes including a runner up finish in the Whitney vs the boys. I was lucky enough to see her in person winning the Hempstead, the Mother Goose, the Beldame, and the Gazelle. And of course when she was on the track for Inside Information’s explosion in the BC Distaff, which was the greatest live performance of my race attending career. Serena’s Song was an absolute pleasure to watch.

      1. She was Doc, Good, athletic, a colt-y type with a feminine head. Sleek and strong. Love it when The Faithful recognizes the game beyond the betting. Good on you all…

    2. JG, She was a good one, no question, then the Coach has trained a lot of good fillies!

      1. There have been equine athletes whose demeanor,courage,presence and style won’t be forgotten. I’m sure that many of us have their own, for my humble self, I will only mention John Henry,Secretariat and in Harness racing Nistross which I nicknamed * The Train* and little Seatrain who lost too many races on the stretch partly because of diminutive stature. There should be some calendar with these special horses. Just saw a replay of Serena s Song last race, chasing 44 and change early speed and then get beaten at the end by Fast Cat… NY Times byline by the venerable Joe Durso, and if you knew the sport and good writers, it says it all. Even in my high school creative writing class the teacher would choose his articles for scrutiny and appreciation, anyway the line was Serena s Song Made History, Not Derby ..

        1. Sorry, the byline date was 4-2-1995, Was Nakatani Serena s Song s main,only rider ? Another great rider from the west coast.

  4. They should be running Kathleen O in the Derby, and you are right Secret Oath needs a jockey but what I am worried about is what happened to Classic Causeway, just stopped like he was drugged in the gate. Oh I forgot that never happens like the Russian people will say they are not killing innocent people. Does anyone know if the horse is hurt? Kat

  5. KAT, I have heard nothing about CC. Not even whispers. My theory, better horses and a speed surface compared to more demanding deeper Tampa.

    Then of course, the short rest, an unnecessary speed work following a fast race. Wouldn’t give up on him if you like him, but seriously doubt anything untoward here.

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