LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Secret Oath charged from pack to grab the lead from Yuugiri and off favorite Nest by two lengths Friday in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, giving 86-year-old trainer D. Wayne Lukas his fifth Oaks win and first since 1990.
Coming off a third-place run behind colts Cyberknife and Barber Road in the Arkansas Derby, the chestnut filly started the 14-horse race from the rail and was in the middle as Yuugiri set the pace through the final turn. Secret Oath steadily worked forward and moved into contention by the far turn before surging along the rail into the lead.
Nest, the 2-1 favorite, made a push down the stretch but couldn’t catch Secret Oath at the finish. As she earned her fifth career win in eight starts, the Hall of Fame trainer got his first Grade 1 stakes win since the 2017 Hopeful Stakes with Sporting Chance at Saratoga.
Lukas, who last won the Oaks in 1990 with Seaside Attraction, also won in 1989, 1984 and 1982. The win offset Ethereal Road’s defection from the Kentucky Derby earlier in Friday.
Ridden by Luis Saez, Secret Oath covered the 1 1/8th mile on a good track in 1:49.44 and paid $10.80, $5.60 and $4.60. She took $767,250 for the win.
Nest returned $4.20 and $3.20 to place, and Desert Dawn paid $15.40 to show.
Churchill Downs was back at full capacity for the first time since 2019 after two years of schedule changes with limited spectators because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Race fans — many of whom ditched the face masks required the past two runnings — enthusiastically returned beneath the Twin Spires and infield with women in big, colorful hats and men puffing cigars while wearing bright suits.
Not even a cool, cloudy afternoon with occasional showers spoiled the scene after being the restrictions. Later races were delayed and fans retreated beneath the grandstands after storms moved over the historic track.
Much of the attention was on Nest, the 5-2 morning line favorite who dominated the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland by 8 1/4 lengths nearly a month ago. The filly had won her past three starts by nearly 15 lengths combined and aimed to give trainer Todd Pletcher consecutive Oaks victories.
Nest stayed close the leaders and mounted a strong run in the stretch, but not enough to catch Secret Oath.