I am in full-on Breeders’ Cup mode. In about a month, I will be amidst the greatest Thoroughbred athletes in the world, watching them gallop before the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California at Santa Anita Park. Our last memory of the Breeders’ Cup is Drosselmeyer dancing home to a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI), earning Mike Smith redemption for his loss aboard Zenyatta in the same race a year prior, a race in which the great mare had recorded her greatest triumph. That triumph came at a track none other than Santa Anita.
This fall, for the first time, I will attend the Great Race Place. My eyes will take in the majestic racehorses that grace a track with arguably the greatest backdrop of any course nationwide – the San Gabriel Mountains. I cannot even begin to express my excitement.
Of course, since Zenyatta is my favorite racehorse of all-time, I will feel her presence greater than any other as I stand along the rail of the Arcadia, California track. But the presence of many other all-time greats will be felt as well, such as John Henry and Seabiscuit.
But there was another all-time great that graced Santa Anita, even winning a Breeders’ Cup race before the San Gabriel Mountains. Of course, multiple horses can fit into that description. But this was a silver Thoroughbred with a blaze and flowing black mane, sired by arguably the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle. This was Lady’s Secret.
Impeccably bred, the Oklahoma-bred Lady’s Secret was a daughter of Secretariat, the great red horse who owns the record for each of the Triple Crown races. Born seven years before the Triple Crown winner succumbed to laminitis, Lady’s Secret was the first foal out of the multiple stakes-winning track record setter Great Lady M, who was a daughter of Icecapade – a graded stakes-winning half-brother to the late great Ruffian.
Lady’s Secret began her career as a two-year-old at Belmont Park, but then was shipped to California and remained there for over seven months. As a juvenile, the gray filly captured two stakes at Hollywood Park and finished third in the Anoakia Stakes (GIII) in her initial start at Santa Anita – the first of eight career starts at the Great Race Place.
After beginning her sophomore season with a stakes win and other successful stakes outings in California, Lady’s Secret made her move back east, stopping at Oaklawn Park to take a stakes race before staying on the eastern seaboard for nearly the rest of the year, winning three grade ones, two grade twos, and three ungraded stakes races. Lady’s Secret’s first Breeders’ Cup start came in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) at Aqueduct, in which she finished second behind champion Life’s Magic.
Her next four starts came at Santa Anita, three of which were graded stakes victories, including two grade ones. Yet again, Lady’s Secret then made her way back east yet again, capturing six graded stakes – five of which were grade ones. Her return to Santa Anita came that fall in the race that defined her career: the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Sticking out like a sore thumb, the silver filly bounded to the lead shortly after breaking from the gate at the top of the Santa Anita stretch. Pat Day maneuvered her to an easy lead over Lady’s Secret’s seven rivals and the daughter of Secretariat looked incredibly comfortable as the field raced past the stands for the first time. The winner of the previous year’s Kentucky Oaks (GI), Fran’s Valentine, pressured her from the outside as the Thoroughbreds approached the first curve, but as Lady’s Secret led the field around the clubhouse turn, she lengthened her advantage on the others.
Several lengths distanced Lady’s Secret and the others as she galloped into the backstretch, with Pat Day sitting like a statue in the saddle. The gray filly recorded a brisk half-mile in 46 1/5 seconds, continuing to hold her dominant lead. As the crowd of over 69,000 people focused their eyes on the daughter of Secretariat, the striking gray proceeded to hold a lengthy lead on her opponents as the backstretch neared its conclusion.
With a three-quarters mark in 1:10, Lady’s Secret still held the lead as the field entered the far turn, though the others had begun to close the gap. Nonetheless, “The Iron Lady” maintained her lead around the final turn, keeping several lengths between her and her rivals. Pat Day remained stationary aboard his silver steed, leading the star-studded field by about five lengths.
At the top of the stretch, Pat Day began to move his hands along Lady’s Secret's neck as the others attempted to rally. But The Iron Lady was easily the best, drawing away as Day gave her reminders with his whip. Fran’s Valentine closed, but there was no way any of her rivals could catch Lady’s Secret. The striking filly crossed the wire 2 ½ lengths in front, stamping herself as clearly best.
The Distaff only put the icing on the cake for Lady’s Secret's 1986. Not only had the gray filly captured eight grade ones that year, but she had defeated males in the Whitney Handicap (GI) and had crushed rivals in the Ruffian Handicap (GI) despite carrying 129 pounds. With these accomplishments, The Iron Lady was not only honored as 1986 Champion Older Female, but also Horse of the Year. Six years later, she was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Lady’s Secret will forever be remembered by racing fans and holds a special place in the heart of many. Secretariat is often portrayed as somewhat of a failure as a stallion, but I do not believe that. He is not one of the best studs of all-time and did not re-produce himself, but face it: there will never be another Secretariat. He was the one and only; it would be impossible to re-produce him. But the great Triple Crown winner produced multiple millionaires, including the grade/group one victors Kingston Rule, Risen Star, and Tinners Way. Lady’s Secret is one of those millionaires. She is also one of those special horses that racing enthusiasts remember for decades, that leaves a lasting effect on not only the Breeders’ Cup, but the racing world in general. More than nine years have elapsed since the striking gray mare passed, but the legend of The Iron Lady still remains, as she is not easily forgotten by any means. Whether you were around during her reign or not, it easy to picture her graceful gray frame galloping across the finish line ahead of her rivals.