The scene was set, the characters were in place. If you can't make history, then perhaps you can orchestrate it.
Lady's Secret, called the greatest filly ever by her obviously prejudiced owner, Eugene Klein, had just won the Breeders' Cup Distaff race handily. It was time to surround her with history.
First, and not by coincidence, Penny Chenery, the woman who bred and raced Secretariat, was there to present the trophy. Secretariat sired Lady's Secret.
Then, as Lady's Secret was walking off the track, on walked John Henry, an overweight vestige of his once great self.
Lady's Secret suddenly, and not accidentally, was just where Klein and trainer Wayne Lukas wanted her to be--surrounded by memories of greatness.
Lukas and Klein are trying to make a case for Lady's Secret as Horse of the Year. Her performance, while outstanding, probably needed the upset of both Precisionist and Turkoman in the Classic to assure the honor.
"It's that intangible thing (that makes her great)," Lukas said. "It's the heart that makes her different. That's what Secretariat, Seabiscuit, Swaps and John Henry had."
Lady's Secret had more than speed on Saturday. She was just flat out fast. She broke on top, pulled to a four-length lead after three-quarters of a mile in the 1-mile race, and won by 2 1/2 lengths. Jockey Pat Day hit her only twice, and those were backhanded taps that do little more than let the horse know you're there.
"She has tremendous natural speed and the ability to carry it over a mile and a quarter," Day said. "She's a great individual, the best horse I've ever ridden. She's been a mark of consistency all year. She's got my vote for Horse of the Year."
Lady's Secret has won 10 of her 15 races this year, including a sweep of Belmont's fall championship for fillies and mares.
And therein lies the rub. She has run against the boys only four times this year and has only won one of those races--the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. She finished second in the Woodward behind Precisionist and was third in the Iselin Handicap behind Roo Art and Precisionist. Her other open race was a third in the Metro Handicap at Belmont.
But being horse of the year is just that--an award that rewards outstanding performance over an entire year.
"She's just the best filly that ever ran," Klein said, sipping on champagne, which might excuse some hyperbole. "If you look at all the credentials, she's not horse of the moment, she's Horse of the Year."
Lukas echoed his boss, saying: "I've always felt that horse of the year has to do something extraordinary. If it is horse of the year, not of the moment, than you have to look from January to January. If we have to point to one race to find the horse of the year, we're in trouble."
But if it was tied to one race, Saturday's Distaff was not a bad one to be associated with. Lady's Secret got a big nod of respect from the competition.
"The winner was just too much," said Bill Shoemaker, who rode Fran's Valentine to a second-place finish. "From the time we hit the half-mile pole, I knew we weren't going to catch her."
Gary Stevens, who rode the third-place finisher, Outstandingly, said: "She (Outstandingly) ran her race, but it's like chasing a shadow. At the 3/8ths, I thought I had a shot, but the other one just ran away from her."
Lukas and Klein plan to put Lady's Secret back on the track next year as a 5 year old.
"If you were to ask around, 99 out of 100 people would probably retire her," Lukas said earlier in the week. "But that's not what we're going to do. It's our philosophy to be more interested in racing horses than breeding them. That's the kind of people I train for."
The Lukas-Klein combination also won the first race of the day--the Juvenile, for 2-year-old colts and geldings. Capote, of whom Klein is a part-owner with two other men, went wire-to-wire to establish himself as the early favorite for next year's Kentucky Derby.
"Believe me, I thought you saw a budding star (in Capote)," Lukas said. "We were thinking about the (Kentucky) Derby back in May. . . . This is a big, raw-boned horse that is going to get better. As he develops into his frame, I think you're going to see a very good horse."
Lukas also can lay some claims to being good, or at least to having good horses. In the three years of the Breeders' Cup, he has had four winners, five seconds and one third. He has won $3.23 million in purses.
As for Klein, former owner of the San Diego Chargers, it was a less stressful weekend than he used to have.
"I'm not unhappy that I left football," he said. "I know Capote's agent isn't going to call me tonight and demand a better stable. And I know the horses' union isn't going to say that no horse is going to take a urinalysis."
All Klein has to worry about is whether the good ol' boys of horse racing are going to recognize his little girl.