Secret Circle eyes Arkansas Derby

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Secret Circle will attempt to complete a sweep of Oaklawn Park's series for 3-year-olds next month, when he runs in the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby. He is being pointed to the April 14 race, trainer Bob Baffert said Sunday, one day after the horse took the Grade 2, $500,000 Rebel at Oaklawn. Earlier in the meet, Secret Circle captured the second and faster division of the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest Stakes.

Secret Circle, who is based at Santa Anita, is scheduled to fly home Wednesday, Baffert said. The horse walked the shed row early Sunday morning at Oaklawn and was bright-eyed and content following his three-quarter-length win in the Rebel. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 92 and showed a new dimension by coming from farther off the pace than ever before, stalking the leaders in fourth and then getting through on the final turn. Secret Circle proceeded to overtake the leaders in the 1 1/16-mile race and then held off a charging Optimizer.

"Today, we found a new dimension that we didn't know he had," Baffert said. "It's exciting.

"I thought maybe he would be on the lead. About the half-mile pole, it looked like he wasn't running. It looked like, at the three-eighths pole, he was going to get nothing. But he dove inside and started running. He's a quirky horse. He reminds me of Silver Charm.

"He'll win, but he's not going to show himself. I was really impressed with him. I thought he was hopelessly beat at the three-eighths pole. He pulled it through. He just seems to get the job done."

Secret Circle was racing beyond a mile for the first time in the Rebel. He has now won 5 of 6 starts, his other stakes scores coming in the Jack Goodman at Santa Anita last October and the Breeder's Cup Juvenile Sprint at Churchill Downs in November.

Smarty Jones swept Oaklawn's series for 3-year-olds in 2004, and Lawyer Ron did the same in 2006.

Optimizer also is headed to the Arkansas Derby, trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. The horse, who was third in last year's Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity, rallied from eighth in the Rebel. Jon Court, who has won the last two runnings of the Arkansas Derby, rode the horse Saturday.

"Jon said he didn't get to move him when he wanted to," Lukas said. "This horse makes a big run, and he said he had to hesitate a little bit, he said [a horse] came over and he had to wait a little bit. He said if he could have moved when he wanted to, he might have won it."

Scatman had the lead into the stretch of the Rebel and finished third, 2 1/4 lengths behind Secret Circle.

"He ran a very solid race," trainer Mike Lauer said. "It was a little disappointing to take the lead and give it back. But it was still a very solid race."

Lauer said he will wait and see how Scatman trains before making a firm decision on his next start, but said the Arkansas Derby will be a consideration. Scatman came into the Rebel off a second-place finish to Secret Circle in the Southwest.

Jake Mo, who was fourth in the Rebel, is now being pointed to the Arkansas Derby, trainer Allen Milligan said. Earlier in the meet, the horse ran second in the first Southwest division won by Castaway. Jake Mo, who was not an early nominee to the Triple Crown, was nominated to the series after the Southwest, Milligan said.

Sabercat, who finished eighth in the Rebel in his first start since winning the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot on Nov. 19, will most likely make his next start in the Arkansas Derby, trainer Steve Asmussen said.

-- additional reporting by Jay Privman