Gene Klein couldn't get to his filly fast enough after the Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park on Sunday. And jockey Pat Day was grinning and twirling his whip like a baton as he brought the swell dame who had just won the Beldame to a halt in front of the stands. Klein rushed out onto the track. "Here, let me lead her," he called out. "She's just the greatest." Then he took hold of Lady's Secret's bridle and led her to the winner's circle amid the cheers of the crowd. The Silver Bullet had done it again, covering the 1¼-mile distance in a stakes-record time of 2:01[3/5].
With that gutsy victory, Lady's Secret swept Belmont's fall championship series for fillies and mares for the second straight year. The Lady was such a prohibitive favorite that it looked for a while as if the Beldame might even come up a walkover. She simply scared the competition away. Classy Cathy, Millracer and Coup De Fusil, the three fillies who did show up, were going for also-ran money.
Shug McGaughey, trainer of Classy Cathy, winner of the Alabama at Saratoga, had declared five days before the Beldame that his horse had a shot "if Lady's Secret stubs her toe." Millracer, who had run all but one of her races on the grass in England and had scored a single turf win at Belmont, was pronounced "not a contender" by her trainer, Bill Hirsch. "To be perfectly honest," he said, "we're going for third-place money and the prestige of the race. Years from now, when someone looks in a sales catalog, they won't remember there were only four horses in it." And Jan Nerud, trainer of Coup De Fusil, who had finished 18 lengths behind the Lady in the Ruffian Handicap, explained his filly's presence in the Beldame this way: "I know women like a lot of company." Whatever that means.
The only uncertainty in the script was the order of finish for the also-rans. On Sunday, Lady's Secret, her ears flattened like a cat's, went right to the lead, and it looked like she had the Beldame all to herself. She led by five lengths at the half-mile and by four at the three-quarters mark, and she picked her ears up, just as she always does when she's well in front. But at the top of the stretch Coup De Fusil, with Angel Cordero up, and Classy Cathy, with Jose Santos aboard, made a run at her, coming up on the outside for a heart-stopping stretch run. While both trailing jockeys were furiously whipping their mounts, Day gave the Lady one slap deep in midstretch, and once again she laid her ears flat, dug in and won by half a length over Coup De Fusil. Classy Cathy was third and Millracer fourth, 23½ lengths farther back.
The story of Lady's Secret began in 1978, when trainer D. Wayne Lukas wandered up to the rail one summer's day to idly watch some ordinary horses run on the turf. "This gray filly tries to make a bid going by in the stretch," says Lukas. "She's down on her belly just busting a gut trying to get there. I turned to this kid standing next to me and said, 'Hey, let me see your program.' I looked her up and it turns out her name was Great Lady M."
Even though Great Lady M. finished up the track, Lukas was so impressed by the filly's performance that he asked bloodstock agent Albert Yank to see if he could buy her. "No problem," said Yank, quickly offering her for twice the amount he had paid. Lukas objected to the price. "But it's the American way, Wayne," said Yank, a Runyonesque character with an unreasonable penchant for the color purple (his house is purple, as are his clothes). "We have to have a little for Albert, a little for Wayne, a little for the trainer. And the poor groom is very attached to this filly, so we have to have a little for him." Confronted with this take-it-or-leave-it offer, Lukas took the gamble and bought the 3-year-old filly for one of the owners he trains for, Robert Spreen of Downey, Calif.
"I thought she'd be a solid high-priced claimer," says Lukas, "but she went on to win stake after stake. She was so strong, she was absolutely hickory." Great Lady M. raced through her 5-year-old year, set a track record for six furlongs (1:09[4/5]) at Los Alamitos and retired with a nest egg of $332,008.
At the end of her career, Lukas bred Great Lady M. to Secretariat, who, as a sire, just wasn't living up to the expectations of breeders who had hoped Big Red would produce cookie-cutter versions of himself. Although he consistently ranked among the top 10% of sires in the world, he failed to produce anything that even approached his star status on the racetrack. As a stud, poor old Secretariat came to be regarded as pretty much of a dud—until Lukas decided to depart from the established pattern of breeding him to classic, long-winded mares and bred him instead to pure speed. "I've been a Secretariat fan from day one," says Lukas, "but I always felt you had to breed him to a certain kind of mare. Mares that were very precocious and very quick."
Great Lady M. fit the bill perfectly. She was durable, could withstand a lot of training and had good speed. After her date with Secretariat, she was shipped to the Lukas ranch in Oklahoma. And the result of that cross was Lady's Secret, born a Sooner in 1982 and now the most famous Oklahoma-bred thoroughbred ever. She is her daddy's No. 1 money winner with $2,508,325, more than the combined earnings of Secretariat's next five top offspring.
Lady's Secret was sold to Klein, late of the San Diego Chargers, as part of a three-weanling package put together by Lukas. Klein, who divested himself of the Chargers in 1984, much prefers his four-legged athletes to the bipedal variety. "At least I know I'm not going to get a call from Lady's Secret or her agent," says Klein, "demanding more oats and hay and a renegotiation of her contract before she'll race again."
The great gray Lady began her career with a bang, breaking her maiden in a dead heat at Belmont in her first start as a 2-year-old. Last year she sailed through eight straight stakes victories, including the Test at Saratoga, where she beat Mom's Command, the Eclipse-winning 3-year-old filly of '85. And this year, well, she's not getting older, she's getting better. In her last two starts before the Beldame she set stakes records in the Maskette and the Ruffian.
All this from a filly who's never had a day off. "Now this is the God's truth," says Lukas. "From the day we bitted her up and broke her, she has never, ever, been turned out in a paddock. She's always been at a racetrack in a race stall, in a training-type program." The Lady is remarkably sound, a chip off the old hickory. Never had a pimple on her, never a bucked shin, never a leg problem.
And when you feel good, you act good. The minute she hears someone rattling a shank, Lady's Secret starts jumping up and down in her stall. "I've never been around a horse that enjoys getting out the way she does," says Lukas. "She meets you at the door. She's like a kid at recess time." Maybe that's because her stall at Belmont faces the junction of Whirlaway Road and Secretariat Avenue.
With her third consecutive stakes record tucked firmly under her bit, the Lady came back to the barn from the Beldame bouncing. Then she stopped for a moment and turned her nose west, toward her next challenge, the 1¼-mile Breeders' Cup Distaff on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita. Bet the farm. And let's hear it for the girl who's Horse of the Year.