11/28/2009 1:00AM

Lady's Secret deserves better

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Tom Keyser
Oak Tree renamed the Lady's Secret Stakes in honor of Zenyatta (above).

NEW YORK - The Oak Tree Racing Association's announcement last week that it is renaming the Lady's Secret Stakes the Zenyatta was not only a premature and disrespectful decision but also an improper attempt to influence the Horse of the Year voting.

"We feel strongly that Zenyatta should be Horse of the Year," said Sherwood Chillingsworth, Oak Tree's executive vice president, in an over-the-top press release that began, "In the wake of what many consider to be the most dramatic performance in Breeders' Cup history . . ."

Public reaction to the announcement has been overwhelmingly negative. Steve Haskin of The Blood-Horse magazine sharply criticized the decision the day it was announced, writing that "Zenyatta is one of the great fillies of all time and should have a race named after her, but not two and a half weeks after the Breeders' Cup and not at the expense of Lady's Secret." Over 90 percent of the more than 100 Internet commenters who responded agreed, many of them citing their admiration and support for Zenyatta but their dismay at such a hasty and political gesture.

There are two issues here: whether it was proper to kick the memory of Lady's Secret to the curb, and whether it is proper for racetrack operators to speak publicly in support of candidates in Eclipse Award races and use their power to name stakes races in an attempt to further those candidacies.

Oak Tree's announcement, just 24 days after Zenyatta's final race, was a break with its past practice in naming races. It has yet to name a race after Azeri, who won the 2002 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington en route to becoming the last female to be named the Horse of the Year. It took Oak Tree seven years to name a race after the previous filly to be so honored: Lady's Secret was Horse of the Year in 1986, and Oak Tree first ran a Lady's Secret Stakes in 1993.

For those who have forgotten, and will no longer be reminded of it, Lady's Secret was one of the greatest racemares of the 20th century, known then and now as the Iron Lady of the sport for both her gray coat and her remarkable durability. At a time when champions made more than five starts a year, the Oklahoma-bred daughter of Secretariat won 25 of 45 starts at 10 tracks over four seasons, winning 11 Grade 1 races, including the 1986 Whitney. She raced 21 times in New York and 15 times in California, winning every major race for older females on both coasts and facing males seven times.

Lady's Secret, who died in 2002, deserves better than being abandoned just so Oak Tree can try to tilt an election by saying it considers Zenyatta more important than a horse who actually won the Horse of the Year title. Oak Tree could have either created a new race named the Zenyatta or proposed renaming any of a number of existing events at Santa Anita, including the Grade 1 Santa Maria or Santa Margarita. It certainly could have waited six weeks, until this year's Eclipse balloting was over, to address the issue at all.

You don't see executives at Oaklawn, Fair Grounds, Churchill Downs, Pimlico, Belmont, Monmouth, or Saratoga issuing announcements that they "feel strongly" Rachel Alexandra should be Horse of the Year because she ran at their tracks this year.

Euroears makes promising return

The holiday weekend stakes racing began on a heartening note when Euroears won the Thanksgiving Day Handicap at the Fair Grounds. It was his first stakes victory since winning the 2008 Duncan Kenner on the Louisiana Derby undercard, a performance that had made him look like a potential champion sprinter.

After that race, where Euroears toyed with a sharp field of graded-stakes winners while running his record to 6 for 6 and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 110, everything went wrong for 1 1/2 years, including two leg surgeries and three lengthy defeats. He got back into the winner's circle in an allowance race at Hoosier Park last month, and his victory Thursday was another step in the right direction. A tepid 5-2 morning-line favorite, he was bet down to 4-5 and scored by 1 1/2 lengths.

It was another step forward, but it's still too soon to say whether he'll ever get back to where he was in early 2008. Finding that out will be one of the first interesting things about the 2010 racing season.