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1986 Breeders’ Cup Distaff: Lady’s Secret Caps Off Legendary Season

1986 Breeders’ Cup Distaff: Lady’s Secret Caps Off Legendary Season by Reinier Macatangay- Fans remember superstar-level horses seen in the present time, while a few great ones tend to be forgotten. It is a cruel cycle as the next generation of fans take over. For instance, consider Lady’s Secret, the 1986 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) champion at Santa Anita Park, as well as runner-up in 1985 at Aqueduct.

Breeders' Cup Distaff

Lady’s Secret remains one of the greatest female racehorses, and her 1986 campaign was so unthinkable, that newer connections will not dare to duplicate such a series of races for their filly. Photo: Santa Anita Park

Lady’s Secret accomplished what most present-day fillies never will.

To be fair, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained filly, owned by Eugene Klein, did not come into her second Distaff attempt in 1986 with a crystal-clean record. The earliest races actually look a bit spotty when studying them.

For instance, in 1984, Lady’s Secret ran eight times and won three races. All three wins were ungraded.

The first half of 1985 appears more or less the same, with a few ungraded stakes races to pad the otherwise average record. She at least turned in a runner-up finish in the Prioress Stakes (GIII) at Aqueduct.

Then, Lady’s Secret transformed and went on a tear for the second half of 1985 leading up to the Breeders’ Cup.

She won eight straight races, including the Test Stakes (GII), Ballerina Stakes (GII), Maskette Stakes (GI), Ruffian Handicap (GI) and Beldame Stakes (GI). Considering she already competed seven times for the year before the streak began, to go on a hot rampage in the summer and win eight straight is unbelievable.

If Lukas tried to run a filly 15 times before the Breeders’ Cup today, fans might protest against such a schedule, especially in the social media-driven world where people are sitting and waiting for something to become angry about. Lady’s Secret was resilient. Hence, she eventually became known as “The Iron Lady.”

After losing to Life’s Magic in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she also finished runner-up in the La Brea Stakes (GII) to end the roller coaster 1985 campaign.

In 1986, Lady’s Secret stuck to graded stakes races, and won a grand total of seven Grade I events leading up to the Breeders’ Cup. Yes, seven. One of those wins came against males in the Whitney Handicap (GI). Plus, she finished runner-up in three different Grade I races, including the Woodward Stakes (GI) against males too.

Furthermore, Lady’s Secret picked up third-place checks in the Metropolitan Handicap (GI) and Philip H. Iselin Handicap (GI). Lukas is certainly not afraid of facing males with female racehorses.

Overall, she competed 14 times in 1986 before the Breeders’ Cup, along with 25 races from previous years. She had 17 losses going into the race, but only because the trainer was fearless in spotting her.

Now for the recap of the Distaff win (replay). It was a beautiful romp, from start to finish.

Lady’s Secret broke well and gradually went to the lead. Fans could easily point out Lady’s Secret because she looked like a flashing gray light, who just happened to be a daughter of the immortal Secretariat.

The first quarter before the initial turn went in a lively 23 seconds (consider the 1 1/4-mile distance).

Around the turn, Lady’s Secret suddenly opened up on the field by over four lengths through a 46 1/5 half mile. Either the other jockeys forgot a loose-on-the-lead runner usually wins, or their mounts were not fast enough. To be fair, she had this kind of lead at Aqueduct, and Life’s Magic mowed her down.

Life’s Magic was not in the field this time.

Lady’s Secret blitzed through the six-furlong marker in 1:10 flat, with her lead slightly diminished. It turns out she only teased her opponents to get a breather. As the field went around the far turn, she opened up again.

Announcer Tom Durkin described the situation: “But it is Lady’s Secret who puts it in another gear as they turn for home. She leads by five at the top of the stretch!”

Fran’s Valentine and Outstandingly chased to no avail. Fans might recognize the name Fran’s Valentine as a regular stakes race for California breds. Back in 1985 and 1986, the actual horse had to chase a superstar.

She chased Lady’s Secret, who powered home to capture the Breeders’ Cup Distaff by a couple of lengths in 2:01.20. Lady’s Secret won her 10th race of the season out of 15 starts, and eighth Grade I.

For her efforts, Lady’s Secret earned the Horse of the Year title, accomplishing this feat the hard way with a mixture of female and open-company Grade I races.

The top form displayed could not hold forever. Lady’s Secret returned in 1987 and opened her new season by running sixth in the Donn Handicap (GI) at Gulfstream Park. After two allowance wins at Monmouth Park, and a runner-up finish in the Molly Pitcher Handicap (GII), she posted a “DNF” in her final start at Saratoga.

She entered the Hall of Fame in 1992. In addition, for many years Santa Anita, or rather the Oak Tree Racing Association, ran the Lady’s Secret Stakes (also known as the Lady’s Secret Breeders’ Cup Handicap). It served as the local prep for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

The race is now known as the Zenyatta Stakes (GI).

Zenyatta deserves a graded stakes race in her honor. She won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Classic, and supported horse racing with an entire new generation of fans. With the new summer season at Santa Anita though, perhaps a different Lady’s Secret Stakes could reemerge, or one of the spring races can be tweaked.

Rename one of the stakes races and set the distance at 1 1/4 miles, in honor of the 1986 Distaff. Imagine how great it would look on a filly’s resume to take home the Zenyatta and Lady’s Secret. It is an idea.

In any case, Lady’s Secret remains one of the greatest female racehorses, and her 1986 campaign was so unthinkable, that newer connections will not dare to duplicate such a series of races for their filly.

While Lady’s Secret died in 2003, hopefully the name lives on forever.

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