09/18/2002 12:00AM

Secret Romeo wins in near track-record time

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It was a busy week at Great Lakes Downs, which hosted a half dozen stakes races which lead up to the Oct. 5 Michigan Sires Stakes, the jewel of the track's stakes program.

Each of the six statebred races was worth $45,000.

Tuesday's Frontier Stakes at 1 1/8 miles, featured the return of local champion Secret Romeo. A 4-year-old, owned by Tony Catenacci, Secret Romeo closed strongly to defeat past champion That Gift by 1 1/4 lengths in a time of 1:54.59, two ticks off the track record.

Secret Romeo has been on the road most of the Great Lakes season, winning two out-of-town stakes and placing in two others for trainer Gerry Bennett. The Frontier was his 11th win in 15 starts over this oval.

Freddie Mata was aboard for the win.

Bennett said he is looking forward to the Sires Stakes, where Secret Romeo has been defeated in both of his starts.

Bennett also saddled Empress Livia to victory in Friday's Farer Belle Lee Handicap. Joe Judice rallied Empress Livia, Liz Weber's homebred 4-year-old filly, through the stretch to win by a half-length.

Judice teamed up with trainer James Jackson to win the Michigan Oaks and the Sickles Image stakes.

Sweetwater Promise, owned by Rosendo Parra, came from last to first for a four-length win in Saturday's Oaks. Her stablemate, 2001 Michigan horse of the year Born to Dance was third.

A day earlier, Jean's Way led most of the way under Judice to beat seven other juvenile fillies in the Sickles Image for owner Valerie Irvine.

Jackson and his wife, Laura, were recently honored at the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association awards dinner in Lexington as the top breeders in Michigan, where they bred Secret Romeo and the late Cashier's Dream.

Jockey Robert Perez won two of the six stakes, booting home Beau Classic and Equi Power. The 2-year-old Beau Classic, owned by John Carlesimo, won the Patrick Wood Stakes on Saturday for trainer Bob Miller as the odds-on choice. The late-running Equi Power, winless this year for Redbob Farms, won the Mackinac Handicap on Monday. He rallied five wide on the far turn and drew off to win by 4 1/2 lengths.