There she was again, out there with her ears pinned back, galloping by herself on the lead and moving along in that quick, rhythmic, fluid stride that has become her hallmark as a racehorse.
From the drop of the flag in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Distaff for fillies and mares, Lady's Secret simply drumrolled to the lead as she pleased, opened up five lengths of sunny daylight between her and Outstandingly and Fran's Valentine down the backstretch, racing through the first three quarters of a mile in a brisk 1:10 flat, and then coasted home to win in a laugher by 2½ lengths. And as she made her final run through the homestretch at Santa Anita Park, the applause from the crowd of 69,000 built gradually to a mild ovation—a warm outpouring of cries and cheers that followed the Lady as she pulled up and was led back to the winner's circle.
Bigger and faster and stronger colts went to the post during the Breeders' Cup series of races on Saturday, but nothing so stirred the affections of the galleries as the sight of this diminutive gray daughter of Secretariat pounding home alone in the final yards of the 1¼-mile Distaff. Jockey Gary Stevens had tried to give chase on Outstandingly, but his filly never got close enough to breathe on Lady's Secret, much less run with her, and after dismounting, Stevens said, "It's like chasing a shadow. Very discouraging. I tried to catch her at the three-eighths pole. I tried at the quarter pole. Every time you try, she lets out another notch. Lady's Secret is just a freak."
"What makes her great," said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, "is the same ingredient that's made them all great down through history. It's something you can't put your finger on. As horsemen, we study legs, knees, conformation, but it's the heart that matters. That's what Secretariat had, Seabiscuit had, John Henry had—they all had it. When it comes along, it's truly a gift."
Of course, none of the cheerleaders was more vociferous than the filly's owner, Gene Klein, the former proprietor of the San Diego Chargers. Moments after Lukas had boosted jockey Pat Day aboard the filly, Klein had given Day a thumbs-up sign and called to him, "Go get 'em, Pat!" So Day went and got 'em. Then, heading for the winner's circle, Klein had bellowed to no one special, "To hell with the Chargers!"
Now, his face flushed, Klein yelled to the jockey in the winner's circle, "Way to go, Pat!" Approaching the filly, amid the cheers of bettors draped over the grandstand railing, Klein patted her on the shoulder. "That's my baby!" he said. "We all expected her to win, but anything can happen in a race. You just never know. But a superstar is a superstar is a superstar. She is the horse of the year! There's no question in my mind."
To be sure, there was no question in the minds of many others at Santa Anita that, at year's end, Lady's Secret will be voted America's 1986 Horse of the Year, thereby becoming only the second female in the last 40 years to be honored as the nation's leading racehorse (the French filly, All Along, won in 1983). And so, rightfully, the Lady should be. If there was any doubt about the outcome of that vote, it was all but erased on Saturday afternoon when the two other leading contenders for the title, Turkoman and Precisionist, both got whipped by the long-shot Skywalker in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic. That startling turn of events left Lady's Secret, as she has been in most of her races this year, all alone and on the lead—this time, on the way to winning the most coveted title in the game.
"Who else can it be but the filly?" asked trainer Woody Stephens. "No one, except her. Not after Skywalker just dried those other two horses out."
Lady's Secret's odds-on victory, her 10th in 15 starts this year, was predictable enough and could be seen in the distance as clearly as the San Gabriel Mountains, the backdrop for what had promised to be a day in which the best horses in the world would emerge to dominate their divisions. What developed instead was an afternoon of racing shot through with failures, disappointments and surprises that left chalk-players muttering. In fact. Lady's Secret and her stablemate, Capote, a racy-looking son of Seattle Slew who won the Juvenile for 2-year-old colts, were the only favorites to win any of the seven Breeders' Cup events.
No race was more competitive than the 1[1/16]-mile Juvenile, but Capote confirmed the strong impression he had made when he announced himself, just three weeks earlier, in the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita. In that race Capote had shot to the lead in only the third start of his life and outrun the hitherto undefeated Gulch, the star of New York racing, to win by 1¾ lengths. On Saturday, however, there were half a dozen horses deemed capable of winning the Juvenile, including another undefeated New Yorker, Polish Navy. But Capote left the gate like a bird leaving a branch and never let a horse draw next to him. Lukas, Capote's trainer, had told jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. to let the colt bounce out of the gate and dare them to come and get him.