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Lady's Secret Runaway Winner of the Eclipse Horse of Year Award

January 31, 1987|BILL CHRISTINE | Times Staff Writer

Gene Klein is not likely to have another week like this one.

On Thursday, the former owner of the San Diego Chargers' 66th birthday, a San Diego jury awarded him a second $5-million settlement in his suit against the Raiders' Al Davis.

Then Friday, Klein's undersized 5-year-old mare, Lady's Secret, was an easy winner of the Eclipse Horse of the Year Award for 1986, being named on 75% of the ballots cast and getting 172 votes to 41 for Manila.

Klein started the week last Sunday by winning the Super Bowl. Well, not the real Super Bowl, which has eluded the Chargers for almost two decades, but the Super Bowl Handicap, a race at Bay Meadows that was won by Tricky Squaw, a filly owned by Klein and his wife, Joyce.

Although Manila gained considerable support in the horse-of-the-year voting with his win in the Breeders' Cup Turf Stakes at Santa Anita Nov. 1, Klein remained confident that Lady's Secret would still be voted the title.

"When my horse got all the votes to win the championship in her division (older fillies and mares) a couple of weeks ago, I thought she'd also be horse of the year," Klein said.

Half an hour before Manila's win at Santa Anita, Lady's Secret won the Breeders' Cup Distaff for her 10th stakes win of the year, 8 of them in major races. The silver-coated daughter of Secretariat and Great Lady M. also had 3 seconds and 2 thirds in 15 starts, earning $1.8 million.

Still, there were purists who said that Lady's Secret didn't deserve to be horse of the year because she couldn't beat the top males. Lady's Secret won only one of four starts against males and twice finished behind Precisionist, who didn't even win in his own division.

At voting time, however, turf writers, track racing secretaries and staffers from the Daily Racing Form supported Lady's Secret as she led the tallies of all three groups. Besides Manila, the other horses getting votes were Turkoman, 8; Snow Chief, 4, and Flatterer, the champion steeplechaser, 3.

Since the award was first given in 1936, Lady's Secret is only the fifth female to win, the others having been Twilight Tear in 1944, Busher in 1945, Moccasin in 1965 and All Along in 1983. Moccasin and Roman Brother shared honors in '65, when the voting organizations conducted separate elections.

Secretariat, Lady's Secret's sire, was horse of the year in 1972-73, and his sire, Bold Ruler, shared top honors with Dedicate in 1957.

Trainer Wayne Lukas is preparing Lady's Secret for her 1987 debut, which will probably be in the Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita March 1. The Santa Margarita was one of four stakes wins at Santa Anita last year for Lady's Secret, who survived an arduous campaign even though she weighs a smallish 950 pounds. She also won four stakes at Belmont Park and one each at Saratoga and Monmouth Park.

"We'll watch her run another year, and then we'll watch her babies run," said Klein, indicating that Lady's Secret would be retired for breeding after this year.

Great Lady M., who once held the six-furlong record at Los Alamitos, raced for Robert Spreen and Lukas and was bought by Lukas and Melvin Hatley before she foaled Lady's Secret in Oklahoma. Lady's Secret, who was Great Lady M.'s first foal, was still a weanling when Klein bought her in a three-horse package.

Before her win in the Breeders' Cup, Klein rejected an offer of $7 million for Lady's Secret.

"Who knows what she's worth?" Klein said. "All I know is that she's an unusual filly, a true champion and a horse that only comes along once in a lifetime. I've only been in this sport for a few years, but when trainers like Woody Stephens and Charlie Whittingham say that she's the best filly they've ever seen, then you know how great she is."

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