When Debby Oxley's Forest Secrets made the huge jump from entry-level allowance to grade I stakes this spring, the class question loomed. She answered with a phenomenal neck victory at 50-1 in the one-mile Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park.
Four subsequent defeats, including a fourth-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I), raised other questions about the speedy filly: How far could she go, and could she handle two turns? On Nov. 22 at Churchill Downs, she delivered again, this time at 22-1, and in the process left some who cast votes for divisional honors scratching their heads.
Yes, there is life after the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships the last weekend in October, and the $273,500 Falls City Handicap (gr. III) for fillies and mares at Churchill on Thanksgiving Day served as evidence. Of the seven starters, six were grade or group I winners, and the seventh a grade II winner. As stuffing for the turkey, the 1 1/8-mile holiday centerpiece lured the one-two finishers in this year's Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I).
"I've been doing this for 11 years," said Don Richardson, senior vice president of racing for Churchill Downs, "and it's the best (stakes) I've been able to put together so far. I really doubt I can ever do it again."
For a gauge of the field's depth, consider that 3-year-old Forest Secrets shared low weight of 113 pounds with Caressing, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) winner. It took Forest Secrets 1:49.49 to prove she's a much better filly than weight assignments or past performances suggest. Just ask her trainer, who said Forest Secrets has had excuses for her defeats.
"I felt in my heart that she was very qualified to do it," said Donna Ward, who oversees the filly contingent for her husband, trainer John Ward. "What she was lacking was experience, and I didn't know how she was going to respond with two turns. She has really good tactical speed, and I think as she does this more, she'll learn to relax."
With Craig Perret aboard for the first time, Forest Secrets broke well from post seven and stalked front-running Miss Linda through moderate fractions of :24.30 for the opening quarter-mile, :48.80 for the half-mile, and 1:13.39 for six furlongs on a fast track. She took over by 1 1/2 lengths after a mile in 1:37.26, and won under a moderate drive by 1 1/4 lengths.
The anticipated rematch of Unbridled Elaine and Spain, who finished a head apart in the Distaff, didn't materialize. Unbridled Elaine, with Pat Day aboard, broke awkwardly and rallied for third after a wide trip, while Spain bobbled at the start and couldn't capitalize on a smooth inside journey. She checked in fifth for rider Victor Espinoza.
"There were some nice horses in there," said Dallas Stewart, trainer of favored Unbridled Elaine. "Pat said we got smashed leaving there, and that might have cost her a little bit, but I can't make an excuse for her. She had every chance."
Second-place finisher Printemps, the heavy favorite when odds for the Falls City first flashed on the tote board, turned in a sharp performance. She raced wide throughout in sixth but rallied strongly in the lane for jockey Chris McCarron. The multiple group I winner in Chile flew home strongly for third in her previous start in the Three Chimneys Spinster Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland.
Forest Secrets, bred in Kentucky by William Patterson and James Glenn, and purchased for $425,000 by John Oxley for his wife at the 1999 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale, has banked $400,035 in eight starts. The Forest Wildcat filly will head to the Palm Beach Downs training facility in South Florida to prepare for her 2002 campaign.
Donna Ward said the filly passed an important test in the Falls City and probably will go two turns again next year. With one of her favorites, champion Beautiful Pleasure, retired and headed to the breeding shed, Ward said the timing couldn't be better.
"Beautiful Pleasure is being weaned from me, and I'm being weaned from her," Ward said with a laugh. "With Beautiful Pleasure retired, I've been looking for a two-turn filly." No Catching Him
The Falls City kicked off a fine holiday weekend for Perret, who bagged his fourth stakes of the meet the following day with a victory aboard Gary and Mary West's Ubiquity in the $452,000 Clark Handicap (gr. II), also at 1 1/8 miles. This time around, Perret seized the early lead, and Ubiquity, at 19-1, never looked back.
"I was told before the race that he's as good as you're going to get him right now," Perret said. "We just didn't know if he was good enough to run with this field."
Though it didn't figure to impact Eclipse Award voting, the Clark lured a solid, competitive field of 10 headed by Include and Gander, who finished seventh and ninth, respectively, in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I). Among the 3-year-olds in the race was Super Derby (gr. I) winner Outofthebox.
Ubiquity, a 4-year-old who to date had only been able to clear his second allowance condition, nursed a one-length lead over Oklahoma champion Mr Ross through solid fractions of :23.76, :47.37, 1:11.19, and 1:35.64. His final time of 1:48.26 on a fast track broke a 42-year-old stakes record and was only about one second off the track record for the distance.
The only anxious moments in the Clark came in the final eighth of a mile. Mr Ross made a vain bid to pass the leader to his outside in the lane but had to settle for third. Include, the millionaire favorite under Day, secured racing room in the lane and stormed home along the rail to just miss by a neck. He appeared to be past the winner a jump or two after the wire.
"We got shuffled back a little farther than we wanted to around the first turn," Day said. "I put him to task leaving the five-sixteenths pole and he responded very gamely. It was a good effort."
Ralph Nicks, assistant to trainer Bill Mott, said Ubiquity "earned a trip to Florida" and perhaps a date with the top handicap horses early next year. Ubiquity, by Colonial Affair, was purchased by the Wests in 1998 for $50,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale. The colt, bred in Kentucky by Kim Nardelli, has earned $397,425 in only 10 starts. Continued...