11/22/2001 1:00AM

Big-name fillies overshadowed by 22-1 Forest Secrets


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - As seven highly accomplished fillies left the paddock Thursday to run in the $273,500 Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs, trainer John T. Ward Jr. could not help but express his amazement at the depth of the field.

"Other than the Breeders' Cup, I don't know that there's been anything like this," said Ward.

After the race, Ward was even more impressed that six Grade 1 winners, including three Breeders' Cup champions, had turned out for the Grade 3 Falls City. That's because Forest Secrets, a 3-year-old Forest Wildcat filly trained by Ward and his wife, Donna, posted a stunning victory, paying $47.40 after finishing 1 1/4 lengths ahead of runner-up Printemps.

Unbridled Elaine, the 2-1 favorite off a win in the Breeders' Cup Distaff in her previous start, finished third under Pat Day, another length back. Miss Linda was fourth, followed by Spain, Caressing, and De Bertie.

Forest Secrets, whose victory at 50-1 in the Grade 1 Acorn in June was easily her best prior effort, was always prominent under Craig Perret. As Miss Linda, ridden by Richard Migliore, led through fractions of 24.30 seconds, 48.80, and 1:13.39, Forest Secrets stuck closest to her.

"Richie was going easy and I didn't want to let him get away," said Perret. "This filly is good and kind. At the three-eighths pole, I kind of put her to it, and she was willing. When Richie's filly started backing up, I thought, 'Well, I've got something to fight with. Let's see if we can get home.' "

They did, with relative ease. Forest Secrets, owned by Debby Oxley, was never seriously threatened down the stretch, finishing 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.49 over a fast track.

The relatively slow pace was noted by Chris McCarron, rider of Printemps, the 2-1 second choice who rallied from sixth. "I thought they'd go faster than that," said McCarron. "That compromised our chances."

The upset may have eliminated two contenders in the races for divisional Eclipse Awards: Unbridled Elaine as top 3-year-old filly, and Spain, the 2000 Distaff winner, as top older filly or mare.

The other Breeders' Cup winner in the race, 2000 Juvenile Fillies winner Caressing, was 29-1, the only price higher than the winner's. The only non-Grade 1 winner was De Bertie.

* One race earlier, Solvig ($3), ridden by Pat Day, narrowly defeated Good Game after a stretch-long duel to win a $61,100 allowance for fillies and mares on turf. The victory was the first in nine starts this year for Solvig, who in her previous start finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.