At the tail end of an unseasonably warm late-September day, after all the activity and hubbub of the back-stretch had subsided, sounds of laughter could be heard coming from Barn 25 at Belmont Park. The owner, Gene Klein, the trainers, D. Wayne and Jeff Lukas, père et fils, and their ladies were awaiting the triumphant return of the lady, their superstar, Lady's Secret. Just a couple of hours earlier, carrying half the earth on her back, the 4-year-old daughter of the great Secretariat had demolished the competition in the Ruffian Handicap.
"Here she comes," said Klein as the small gray filly was led into the barn area. "She's just incredible!" Here she came indeed, prancing and dancing and dragging her groom along under the shedrow. A little bundle of energy who barely clears 15 hands and doesn't weigh more than 800 pounds, she looks dainty and feminine and delicate—and a whole bunch of other words commonly used in women's intimate-apparel ads. What Lady's Secret did not look like was a horse who had just come off a tough race. She looked like a champion on her way to a race. "She has to be the best filly that ever ran," said the exuberant Klein.
He may be right. This mere slip of a filly has done it all. As a 3-year-old she won an astounding eight straight stakes races. This year she ran in the slop and beat the colts in the Whitney at Saratoga; she raced and won on four different tracks, from Santa Anita to Monmouth; she never finished out of the money in 13 starts; and she had weight heaped on her while never conceding a single pound to any filly or mare. And so far in her racing career she has won $2,318,725.
"There are no adjectives to describe her," says Wayne Lukas. Sure there are, Wayne, and here are just a few: astonishing, breathtaking, classy, dazzling...and on and on down the alphabet.
"She is the greatest filly I've ever seen, and I've been around for a while," the legendary Woody Stephens, 73, told Joe Hirsch of the Daily Racing Form. "I thought Ruffian was the best until I saw Lady's Secret this season. She's the best of the best."
Ironically, it was her performance on Sept. 21, in the race named for Ruffian, that put the stamp of greatness on Lady's Secret. Her biggest handicap was not just the spread of the weights (she gave away from 4 to 20 pounds to the five other fillies in the race), it was the backbreaking 129 pounds she carried.
The weight could have been her undoing, but it wasn't. When the gates clanged open for the Ruffian, the front-running Lady broke well but stumbled, and it was Shocker T. who had the early lead. But jockey Pat Day sat chilly, and Lady's Secret shot past her like a silver bullet to lead at the half-mile mark. She never looked back until she had streaked past the red and white wreath standing on Ruffian's infield grave and hit the finish line, a widening eight lengths ahead of runner-up Steal A Kiss. Incredibly, she lugged that 129 pounds over the 1‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬µ miles in 1:46⅘ a new stakes record. "It just takes your breath away," Wayne Lukas said in the winner's circle, watching a rerun of the race on a monitor. "Look how easily she's running. She's not trying at all. Now those other horses look like they could be stepping on their tongues."
The Belmont crowd—and not just those with winning tickets—lustily applauded her, a circumstance that occurs at a racetrack about as often as a maiden claimer wins a stakes. But Lady's Secret is becoming a celebrity. Belmont is even having Lady's Secret Day on Oct. 18, with fans in attendance receiving mementoes of the occasion.
Before that, the Silver Bullet will be going after her second consecutive sweep of Belmont's fall championship series for fillies when she runs in the Beldame on Oct. 12—a race she ought to win no matter who dares challenge her. The Lady is so far ahead in her division, in fact, that she has already wrapped up the Eclipse Award for best older filly or mare. More than that, she has a real shot at Horse of the Year.
Clearly, this Lady has a powerful hold on Wayne Lukas. Long after the Ruffian had been run and won, and dusk had dropped like a veil over the Belmont backstretch, the trainer stood outside Barn 25 watching Lady's Secret bounce along under the shedrow. "She's just a free, natural runner," he said. "This filly just bounds. She just hits the ground and is gone. You'd have to sprinkle flour to see if she's actually touched it.
"I think her achievements are going to go down in the history books," he said, "especially if we race her next year, which we plan to do. She will become a standard to judge fillies by. People will say, 'Here's another Lady's Secret.' "