By Kathleen Adams
James Fortney was deeply disappointed the day he received word from Stone Farm in Paris, Ky. announcing that his request to breed a mare to 1999 Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Menifee had been denied.Convinced the mating should take place, Fortney, made a telephone call to Arthur Hancock III and personally asked him to reconsider the decision. Hancock did so. And on April 30, 2002, Fortney's mare – Candi's Parfait – gave birth to a bay filly at his 230-acre farm in central Kentucky.Fortney and wife Marty, who operate Elkhorn Oaks Inc. eventually named the youngster Gallant Secret."She's a determined, tough horse," Fortney, 61, said of his Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) contender. Gallant Secret's pedigree traces back to two Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winners – Alysheba and Genuine Risk.Fortney says Gallant Secret demonstrated true grit as a 2 year old when she broke her maiden at Keeneland her first time out."She destroyed the other horses," he said.Then on Derby day last year at Churchill Downs, Gallant Secret took on the boys in the Three Chimneys Juvenile Stakes and finished second.Following the race, one of the first people to congratulate the Fortneys was Hancock."We've had a lot of good associations with people in this business," Fortney said while sipping coffee at the track kitchen at Churchill Downs hours before entering Gallant Secret in the Oaks. "That's the key thing. To associate yourself with good people who can help you get where you want to be."Although she was to be put into the 2003 Keeneland September Sale, Fortney said he pulled Gallant Secret out almost right away."If you don't have the top line broodmares it's a tough business," he said. "We felt she had strong enough bloodlines and decided to keep and race her."James Jackson conditions Gallant Secret, who is 30-1 on the Oaks morning line, as well as three other horses for the Fortneys, who live in Roswell, Ga."I think he's a terrific trainer," Fortney said. "He's hands-on. She's not lost in a stable of sixty other horses. He knows horses. He knows how to motivate them."Jackson grew up around Lexington, Ky. within a racing family. His father trained Thoroughbreds and Jackson took out his trainer's license while still a teenager.He eventually left Kentucky and moved to Michigan where he won several training titles. In the late 1990s, he and wife Laura moved back to the Blue Grass. At the end of last summer, the Jacksons returned to Michigan.Gallant Secret is Jackson's first start in the Kentucky Oaks."She's done everything I want her to do," Jackson said while standing on a platform just outside of the clocker's tower at Churchill Downs earlier this week. "I know the better bloodlines and bigger boys are in there. I'm not supposed to beat them. I'm going to go out there and do my best."Stabled at Keeneland, Jackson said Gallant Secret will van over to Churchill Downs early Friday morning."I just like it a little better over there," Jackson said. "It's quieter."The decision to keep the filly away from all of the pre-Derby hoopla was supported by Fortney."We think it's best for the horse to be where she is," he said. "The experience is nice. But we're not here for the experience. We're here to win."Mike Smith will ride Gallant Secret Friday afternoon.