February 20, 2024

Clairiere, Secret Oath ready for season-opening clash in Azeri

Clairiere edges Malathaat in the Ogden Phipps Stakes (Photo by Joe Labozzetta/Coglianese Photos)

Clairiere, who enjoyed an outstanding 2022 campaign, will look to kick off her five-year-old season on a winning note Saturday in a terrific renewal of the $350,000 Azeri (G2) at Oaklawn Park.

The 1 1/16-mile Azeri is the leading prep for Oaklawn’s signature event for fillies and mares, the Apple Blossom H. (G1), in which Clairiere finished second in last season. The Steve Asmussen-trained daughter of Curlin went on to defeat divisional champion Malathaat twice, in the Ogden Phipps (G1) and Shuvee (G2), and just missed claiming the Eclipse Award herself when finishing a head to that rival in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).

The Azeri also marks the return to action of Secret Oath, last year’s Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine. Secret Oath romped in the Martha Washington S. and Honeybee (G3) at Oaklawn last winter, and also placed in the Arkansas Derby (G1).

Secret Oath is winless since the Oaks, her form having tailed off after a fourth-place finish in the Preakness (G1). Distantly placed in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), Alabama (G1), and Cotillion (G1), she was a non-threatening fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff when last seen.

“She’s dead fit. She’s ready to go,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said of Secret Oath. “I mean, I probably could have run her three weeks, a month ago. I’m not worried about her fitness.”

There is plenty of speed signed on for the Azeri. Interstatedaydream, who captured the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) and Indiana Oaks (G3) last term, figures to be fresh in her first start since Aug. 23. Another with some early zip is Lovely Ride, a dual stakes winner earlier in the meet and most recently second in the Bayakoa (G3).

Other notables among the field of eight include Grade 3 winner Hidden Connection, runner-up in the Houston Ladies Classic (G3) last out, and American Beauty S. winner Hot and Sultry, whose trainer, Norm Casse, is having an outstanding Oaklawn meet with 12 wins from his first 26 starters.