Impressive Sophomore Filly Secret Oath Following Family Tradition At Oaklawn Park

What began as a $1 investment continues to pay big dividends, particularly at Oaklawn, for hands-on Kentucky breeders Robert and Stacy Mitchell.

Secret Oath upheld the family tradition in Hot Springs with an eye-catching one-mile allowance victory for 2-year-old fillies on Dec. 31 for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The Mitchells (Briland Farm) bred and own Secret Oath, who is by deceased champion Arrogate out of their prized broodmare and multiple Oaklawn stakes winner, Absinthe Minded.

Secret Oath’s 8 ¼-length margin of victory was the largest in Oaklawn history in a 2-year-old route race and propelled her into the lineup for the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 29. The 1 1/16-mile Martha Washington is Oaklawn’s first of three points races for the Kentucky Oaks, the country’s biggest event for 3-year-old fillies.

“I would just say we’re keeping our expectations in check,” Robert Mitchell said on New Year’s Day. “I mean, this was an allowance race. She ran a good race. She had a great acceleration at the end. But a lot of things happen in the horse business.”

Secret Oath’s victory came a little more than 20 years after the Mitchells (husband and wife) began building their small breeding operation by paying $1 to acquire Chao Praya, an unraced daughter of Gold Legend. Owing to a light pedigree and bad foot, Robert Mitchell said Chao Praya’s owners wanted to give her away, but he settled on $1 as “sort of a proof of purchase.”

Bred to Level Sands, Chao Praya produced Level Playingfield, a Grade 3 winner of $664,822 for Bob Holthus, Oaklawn’s all-time leading trainer, and Arkansas owner Lorene Jones (Fly Racing). Level Playingfield was a four-time allowance winner at Oaklawn (2004, 2005 and 2006).

Chao Praya also produced Imposing Grace, a daughter of Empire Maker who won the $150,000 Arlington Matron Stakes (G3) in 2013 at Arlington Park for trainer Wayne Catalano and owner Coffeepot Stables. The Mitchells bred both Level Playingfield and Imposing Grace, who sold for $75,000 as a yearling.

“So, our $1 first broodmare we ever bought produced two Grade 3 winners,” Mitchell said. “That’s just kind of how we got started.”

The Mitchells now board approximately a half-dozen broodmares on their 90-acre Briland Farm in Lexington. Among them is Absinthe Minded, a homebred daughter of Quiet American who compiled a 6-6-3 race record from 35 lifetime starts and earned $607,747.

Absinthe Minded, also trained by Lukas, did her best work at Oaklawn, winning the $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes for older fillies and mares in 2011, $75,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares in 2012, and the $100,000 Bayakoa again in 2012.

The first two foals out of Absinthe Minded to reach the races, full sisters La Fee Verte and Sara Sea, also were winners at Oaklawn for Briland and Lukas in 2019 and 2020, respectively. La Fee Verte and the robust Sara Sea are daughters of 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow. Secret Oath is from Arrogate’s first crop.

“Some horses like certain tracks,” Robert Mitchell said. “She looks a lot like her mother. They’re both kind of tall, thin, long-striding horses. I kind of think sometimes the Oaklawn track’s a little tiring on some horses, and they have a long stride to them and that may give them an advantage. I don’t know. I’ve had horses do bad at Oaklawn. They have done fairly well there.”

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. She had broken her maiden by 5 ¼ lengths at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 31 at Churchill Downs.

Paired for the first time with jockey Luis Contreras in the allowance event, 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. Her winning time of 1:37.38 over a fast track generated a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 93, among the highest in the country for a 2-year-old in 2021.

“That’s the filly we’ve been waiting on all along,” Lukas said after training hours Wednesday morning. “She put it all together that day. That’s the filly that we’ve been training and we see every day. She’s pretty special.”

Lukas was using the allowance race, which had no conditions, as a prep for the Martha Washington, a race he won in 2010 with Decelerator and 2015 with juvenile filly champion Take Charge Brandi.

Lukas has trained approximately 13 years for the Mitchells, who normally have no more than three horses in training. Lukas also has another horse for the couple at Oaklawn, Double Speak, an unstarted 3-year-old filly by multiple Grade 1 winner and 2003 Oaklawn Handicap champion Medaglia d’Oro.

Double Speak is out of multiple stakes winner Tempus Fugit, a Briland homebred who finished 11th in the 2003 Kentucky Oaks. Another daughter of Tempus Fugit, Impasse, broke her maiden by seven lengths in allowance company for Lukas and Briland at the 2017 Oaklawn meeting.

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Briland’s first foals to race were born in 2000. Normally, Robert Mitchell said, no more than five foals are born each year at Briland, which emphasizes quality over quantity.

“My wife, basically, does most of it (foaling), but we foal every horse on our farm,” Mitchell said. “We’ve never put a horse on the track that wasn’t born on our farm. We’ve never bought one. In other words, we’ve never bought a race horse. We’ve just bred exclusively. I know there’s syndicates of people that like to buy horses after they win and that’s probably good. That’s a good thing for them. But for us, we just want to take pride in we’re only going to race the horses that we breed.”

Mitchell said recently retired Sara Sea has joined Briland’s broodmare band and is to be bred this year to multiple Grade 1 winner Liam’s Map. Absinthe Minded also is booked back to Liam’s Map, he said.

“We tend to keep the fillies so we can have more broodmares, and obviously there’s an economic consideration and how they look,” Robert Mitchell said. “And all those play into it, but we tend to keep the fillies, generally, and tend to sell the colts. But we also sell fillies, too. Our philosophy is flexibility.”

The Mitchells plan to race an unnamed 2-year-old filly out of Absinthe Minded. By Medaglia d’Oro, the filly is about to be sent to Florida to be started by Randy Bradshaw, a former Lukas assistant. Bradshaw also broke Secret Oath.

“This is the fruit of our work,” Stacy Mitchell said. “This is my full-time job. Stay out there with the mares and foal the babies and meet the vets. I’m just going all the time.”

The Dec. 31 allowance race was the last for 2-year-olds in 2021 at Oaklawn. Because of its December opening, Oaklawn was able to card 2-year-old races for the first time since 1975 at the expanded 2021-2022 meeting. The handful of route races for 2-year-olds were the first since 1945, when Oaklawn ran a fall meet because of World War II.

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