Updated on 09/17/2011 11:02AM

Lady's Secret dead at age 21

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Lady's Secret takes a drink with an earlier foal. The 1986 Horse of the Year died Tuesday morning at California's Valley Creek Farm due to post-foaling complications.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Lady's Secret, Horse of the Year for 1986 and the last female to receive that honor before Azeri in 2002, died Tuesday morning at California's Valley Creek Farm because of post-foaling complications. She was 21.

Lady's Secret produced a General Meeting colt on Monday night at about 11:50 p.m. The foaling appeared normal, according to Leigh Ann Howard, who manages Valley Creek in Valley Center, Calif.

"There were no signs of trouble at all," Howard said Tuesday. "I checked her at 6:50 this morning, then came in and sent e-mail to people to tell them she had foaled."

At 7:45 a.m., an employee at the farm checked Lady's Secret again and found the mare dead in her stall. The General Meeting colt is healthy and will be placed on a nurse mare, Howard said.

Bred by Robert H. Spreen, Lady's Secret was born at trainer D. Wayne Lukas's Oklahoma ranch in 1982. It was a fitting start, because Lady's Secret eventually joined the Lukas stable for her racing career after Spreen sold her to fellow Lukas clients Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Klein.

A gray daughter of Secretariat and stakes winner Great Lady M., by Icecapade, Lady's Secret was small but powerfully built, with a blazing front-running style. She got off the mark quickly, winning in a dead heat with Bonnie's Axe her first time out in May 1984 at Belmont Park. During the next four seasons, Lady's Secret would race 45 times, winning 25 of those starts, and become known as racing's Iron Lady. Twenty-two of those victories came in stakes, and 11 of those were in Grade 1 races. In her 1986 championship season alone, she captured the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Distaff, Santa Margarita Invitational, Beldame, Ruffian, La Canada, Maskette, Shuvee, and Whitney. In the Whitney, she skated out ahead of males and won by 4 1/2 lengths on a sloppy track, a performance that helped push her beyond mere divisional honors as the year's leading older female and on to a Horse of the Year title. She was just the second Eclipse Horse of the Year, joining All Along, who won the honor in 1983.

"They nicknamed her the Iron Lady, and she was very special," Lukas said Tuesday. "A once-in-a-lifetime horse, she answered the bell every time. I think the Breeders' Cup and the Whitney clinched Horse of the Year. [A female winning Horse of the Year] only happened a few times in the game, and that says it all."

The Kleins and Lukas sent Lady's Secret racing again in 1987, and she obliged by winning a pair of races at Monmouth Park, including a seven-length July 21 allowance score that at the time made her the sport's all-time leading female earner with $3,021,425.

But her return was short-lived. In her next start, an Aug. 10 allowance race over a sloppy Saratoga strip, Lady's Secret bolted on the first turn, leaving the field in an apparent attempt to head for the barn. Jockey Chris McCarron scraped his boot on the outside railing along the backstretch before pulling the mare up safely.

Lukas was perplexed but found no physical problem. The Kleins, who already had plans to send their prize runner through the auction ring in November, retired Lady's Secret soon afterward.

Lady's Secret made it to her appointed sale as the star entry in Fasig-Tipton Kentucky's "Night of the Stars" sale in November, where she brought a sale-topping final bid of $5.4 million. But it was not enough to sell the great mare. Before Lady's Secret stepped into the ring, it was announced that, as part of an agreement to guarantee a minimum sale price for the Kleins, the sale company had placed a $5.7 million reserve on the mare.

The Kleins sold her later to Issam Fares for $3.8 million at the 1989 Keeneland November sale. Nine years later, when Fares dispersed his stock, the great racemare went through the Keeneland November sale again, this time in foal to Seattle Slew. But she had produced little in the intervening years, and John and Kim Glenney of Georgetown, Ky., picked her up for a relatively low price of $750,000.

As her early produce record suggested, Lady's Secret's best years were on the racetrack, and her career as a broodmare was far less illustrious. From 11 named foals, she has had just four winners.

The Glenneys moved Lady's Secret from Kentucky to California in May of 2001, believing the milder winters would benefit her.

"She was a nice mare," recalled Valley Creek manager Howard. "She wasn't pushy. She wanted to get along with everybody. Everyone always loved to come see her and feed her mints."

Howard said Lady's Secret had had some minor trouble after foaling in 2002 but that she was healthy and got in foal on her first cover afterwards.

"We were extra-careful with her this year," Howard said of the mare's fatal foaling. "Everything was so normal, I thought we'd be out of the woods."

Lady's Secret will be buried at Valley Creek Farm.