06/12/2001 11:00PM

Forest Secrets now open secret

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ELMONT, N.Y. - She stood her ground.

One of the gamest performances on last weekend's stellar racing menu was the victory of the 50-1 Forest Secrets in the $200,000 Acorn Mile for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park. With a background of only two starts, she was always in the thick of the fight, was threatened on both sides near the finish, and turned back all challenges - some by more seasoned opponents - with obvious determination.

Forest Secrets, owned by Debby Oxley, was repaying the confidence expressed in her by Donna Ward. While John Ward concentrated on preparing John Oxley's Monarchos for the Belmont Stakes, his wife, Donna, trained Debby Oxley's filly. Forest Secrets could have run in an allowance race on Saturday's Belmont Stakes program and probably would have been a solid favorite, but Donna Ward insisted the filly was ready for the Acorn.

"Forest Secrets is a tough-minded individual," John Ward said from his Lexington, Ky., headquarters. "She is very comzetitive. She pins her ears back and fights, as she did in the Acorn. The mile is not her best distance. She is a big, strong filly and wants to go further."

It is likely she will get the chance in the $250,000 Mother Goose at nine furlongs on June 30. In addition to those from the Acorn field who will run back, Forest Secrets will be opposed by fillies - such as the Kentucky Oaks winner, Flute - who have already raced nine furlongs and did not want to drop back in distance for the Acorn. The Mother Goose looks like a much tougher race than the Acorn but Forest Secrets's people expect improvement from their filly, too.

Forest Secrets was purchased at the Saratoga yearling sales for $425,000. By the Storm Cat stallion Forest Wildcat she is out of Garden Secrets by Time for a Change. The dam is a half-sister to the dam of the brilliant Silverbulletday and other stakes-winners, so there is a lot to like about the pedigree.

"We bought two daughters of Forest Wildcat out of that sale," John Ward noted. "We've found them to be sound and having a good disposition; both important considerations. The other filly, Slow Dance, has raced a few times and should be back in action soon. We take our time with fillies. Forest Secrets worked at Saratoga last Summer on a track with some moisture in it and was injured. We didn't rush her and in time she came around. Now she is ready and we're looking at Saratoga's Alabama Stakes as her main goal of the summer. It's run at a mile and a quarter and we have no concerns she will stay the trip. This is a nice filly."

Worthwhile reading

With another Triple Crown campaign fresh in memory, "The Race for the Triple Crown" by Joe Drape (Atlantic Monthly Press, $25) is not only timely reading but one of the outstanding racing books of the year.

Drape, who covers racing for The New York Times, details the colorful classic season and the fascinating personalities associated with the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. With a keen eye for detail and a skilled pen he writes of the rivalry between high-profile trainers Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert, the triumph at Churchill Downs of the $4 million Fusaichi Pegasus, the remarkable development of More Than Ready, the success and tragedy of Charismatic, and the startling Preakness upset by Red Bullet.

Drape is a lifelong racing fan. Introduced to the sport by his father, he raced a small stable of his own and has a knowledge of all aspects of the sport. He has an entertaining style and presents his stories with appreciation for nuance and sensitivity. If you enjoy racing, you'll love this book. It throbs to the beat of the turf and is an experience not to be missed.