10/05/2002 11:00PM

Secret Romeo wins his first Sire Stakes

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MUSKEGON, Mich. - The third time was a charm, as Secret Romeo finally won a Michigan Sire Stakes, a prize that eluded him at ages 2 and 3. A son of Service Stripe, Secret Romeo locked up his third state championship with his win Saturday evening at Great Lakes Downs in the last of six races in the series for the progeny of Michigan stallions. The purse for each race was approximately $150,000.

Secret Romeo took command earlier than usual, opened up a four-length lead in the upper stretch, and then held on to win by two and a quarter lengths over Smooth Roller, last year's winner, who rallied late to be second best. Secret Romeo ran the mile and an eighth in 1:56 1/5 and paid just $2.60. It was the third win of the evening for trainer Gerald Bennett, who saddled both juvenile winners. Winning jockey Freddie Mata also won three Sire Stakes races. Monetary Star, one of four of Bennett's charges in the juvenile colts and geldings race, was a three-length winner under Mata in the card's opener.

Jockey Wade Rini booted home Sailing Sal to win the 2-year-old filly race for the first of his two victories. Rini had to survive a claim of foul aboard Sefas Rose in the distaff division before claiming victory. The pair led all the way and Sefas Rose became a repeat winner in this race for trainer Brenda Hill.

Sweetwater Promise, who lingered at 10-1 while in the paddock, lived up to her billing when she came from last to first as the odds-on choice in the sophomore fillies race. Under a well-timed ride from Joe Judice, she was clear by a length at the wire.

American Deputy took the lead early under Mata for a popular victory against eight 3-year-old rivals. Bob Gorham trains American Deputy, a son of Service Stripe. It was a red-letter day for Service Stripe. Besides American Deputy and Secret Romeo, he was also represented by Sweetwater Promise.