Jorge Velasquez scored the kind of daily double that most jockeys only ever dream of Sunday.
First, in a between-races ceremony attended by many of the nation's top riders past and present, the 39-year-old Panamanian-born champion was presented the 1986 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award by Santa Anita president Robert P. Strub. The award is voted upon by riders nationwide.
Then, in his only ride of the day, Velasquez scored an impressive victory aboard Lady's Secret, winning the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap by almost three lengths and breaking the stakes record in the process.
The Santa Anita crowd of 44,785 had sent the Eugene Klein-owned filly off as its 8-5 first choice and Lady's Secret did not disappoint her backers. She led from start to finish, covering the 1 1/2 miles on a fast main track in 1:47 flat.
Johnica, ridden by Gary Stevens, was second, 2 3/4 lengths behind the winner, with Laffit Pincay third aboard Dontstop Themusic, another 1 lengths back. Pincay had held the old stakes record of 1:47 1/5 set on Princess Karenda in 1981.
Lady's Secret paid $5.20, $3.40 and $3.00; Johnica paid $4.20 and $3.40, while Dontstop Themusic paid $4.40. The winner's share of the purse was $180,000.
It was a dominating performance by the gray 4-year-old daughter of Secretariat and Great Lady M. and it kept her latest win streak intact. Lady's Secret was coming off victories in the El Encino and La Canada stakes.
"The thing that's amazing about this filly is that she rises to the occasion," trainer Wayne Lukas said. "She did that last summer in eight straight races. Every time she was factored out and every time she came through. She runs over her head all the time.
"She carries weight and she's not very big, but she always seems to have a little bit more. Just about the time you think you've got the upper hand on her, boom, here she comes."
Lukas said he believes Lady's Secret's performance Sunday might have been her finest yet.
"I thought it was one of her very best races and Jorge thought it was one of her best races," he said. "He thought she did two things, she relaxed better than she had in the summer in New York and she finished stronger."
That finishing kick was enough to thwart Stevens aboard Johnica.
"My horse was running relaxed. I thought we had her all the way," Stevens said. "We turned into the stretch and she (Lady's Secret) just took off. From the 3/8-pole to the 1/8-pole I thought I had her any time I wanted her. My filly just kept digging in and she just kept opening it up."
Chris McCarron, who passed up the ride on Lady's Secret in favor of Love Smitten, finished a well-beaten seventh in the field of nine.
"The winner didn't surprise me, but my filly's effort surprised me," McCarron said. "She didn't fire at all, she didn't run her race.
"She was pulling me out of the tack the first part, she was going along beautiful. I was right on that gray the whole way. My plan was not to let her (Lady's Secret) cruise from the half-mile pole to the quarter-pole like she's been able to do her last couple of races, and I thought if anyone was in a position to prevent her from cruising, I was.
"When I asked my filly to run to go get her, I had nothing. She only ran about 5/8 of a mile and after that she didn't give me anything. She just didn't fire. I don't know why."
Lukas said he would have no hesitation in putting McCarron on Lady's Secret again.
"I think that if we were to run back in a stake here we would probably talk to Jorge but I wouldn't be surprised if we gave the ride to Chris," he said.
"Chris made the decision and I accepted it. I tried to be honest with him. I said, 'Look, we're probably going to run here once, we may run at Arkansas (in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn), but she's probably going to have a summer campaign in the East. Although that's not chiseled in stone anywhere, either.'
"I think Chris rode the horse he wanted to ride."
The 49th running of the Grade I stake was a one-horse race, however. Just as Love Smitten's challenge fizzled, so, too, did that of Videogenic, another filly that had been expected to be in the running. With her regular rider, Robbie Davis, choosing to not come West, Videogenic was ridden by Alex Solis and finished fifth.
Shywing, meanwhile, did not even make the race, trainer Jerry Fanning believing that she was not in Lady Secret's class and scratching her Sunday morning.
There may not be many in Lady's Secret's class.
Said Velasquez, who was aboard her for 7 of her 10 stakes triumphs last year: "She is naturally quick, and I know if anyone is going to try to go with her, she probably won't finish but they won't finish either.
"To sit behind her like they did, they weren't going to beat her. She relaxed nicely for me. When we got to the 3 1/2, she took off on her own, I didn't even ask her.
"I waited to the 3/16 pole to really ask her. I hit her once. There was no need to hit her twice."