Cyber Secret was starting to look like a good sale, but maybe not the best buy. The kind old owners don't regret selling and the kind new owners wish they didn't buy.
He wasn't horrible by any means, but he wasn't getting the job done either.
Dirt, turf, synthetic, it didn't seem to matter for the Broken Vow colt, who lost five straight until trainer Lynn Whiting found a nine-furlong allowance on the turf three days from the end of the Churchill Downs' 2012 fall meet.
Cyber Secret didn't win that race either, stretching his losing streak to six, but a light went off. He finally didn't show the same over anxiousness and eagerness that cost him in earlier races. He still raced close to the pace, but handled restraint and left enough in the tank to keep running at the end. A loss is a loss, but it was still a good sign of things to come.
Good things did come for Cyber Secret, Whiting, and owner Charles Cella. They came in a big way last Saturday at Oaklawn Park when Cyber Secret beat a good field to collect his second straight graded stakes victory in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on closing day. Oaklawn is of course Cella's racetrack, the popular Hot Springs, Arkansas, spot that draws big crowds for more than its great corned beef sandwiches. They come for great racing and they got it when Cyber Secret led off a graded-stakes three pack-which also featured wins by Justin Phillip in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap and Overanalyze in the signature Arkansas Derby-in the Oaklawn Handicap.
"It certainly was very pleasing," Whiting said from the road Monday afternoon, already hundreds of miles from Hot Springs and about an hour away from his main base at Churchill Downs. "We were looking forward to getting him to Oaklawn. We thought with the allowance conditions he had left that he'd be formidable and could win a few races down there. He's just developed."
"Now he's a focused horse. All his works have been smart. Before he just wasn't performing like the horse's he's developed into now. He didn't seem to have his mind in the game. I think he's kind of found himself now."
And with that Whiting finds himself with the temptation to keep going with Cyber Secret or giving him a rest with designs for a fall campaign. Logical targets are the Alysheba Stakes on the May 3 Kentucky Oaks program or the June 15 Stephen Foster Handicap.
Safe money is on at least another start sometime soon.
"We'll be looking around," Whiting said. "I'm thinking about giving him a little break sometime soon, maybe early spring or summer. But like the old adage goes, when a horse is on his game that's not the time to stop him. So I might want to wait until he throws a clunker in. I wouldn't think this would be the time to pull the plug on him."
Former owners Gary and Mary West and trainer Chad Brown pulled the plug on Cyber Secret-albeit after putting a sizable and undisclosed price tag on the colt-after he finished a never-threatening seventh in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes late in the 2011 Churchill meet.
Whiting wasn't scared off by that effort. He thought going from a 6 1/2-furlong maiden at Belmont to the two-turn Kentucky Jockey Club in about a month's time was a tough task. Whiting also believed Cyber Secret was in tough that day, and performances by the likes of Gemologist, Optimizer and Ever So Lucky-graded winners or graded placed runners who finished ahead of Cyber Secret that day-proved he was right.
"He was an impressive looking horse, I liked him and after talking to some bloodstock agents I said I'd be interested," Whiting said. "So we pursued the deal. ... For quite a while it looked like they made the right move."
After joining Whiting's stable, Cyber Secret managed one victory-in an allowance-optional claimer in early February last year-after a bad loss and before the string of defeats. He was still thought highly enough for Whiting and Cella to start on the classic trail, but Cyber Secret could manage no better than a pair of fifths in the Southwest and Rebel at Oaklawn.
A turnaround like Cyber Secret's is certainly nothing new in racing, nor anything all that remarkable considering the accomplishments and skill of his trainer, who saddled Lil E. Tee to victory in the 1992 Kentucky Derby.
What is remarkable is that Cyber Secret's Razorback Handicap and Oaklawn Handicap victories, the latest in a string of four straight victories during the just wrapped meet in Hot Springs, is that they were the first graded wins for Cella at Oaklawn.
Cella is no stranger to high-profile wins and won the 1995 Breeders' Cup Turf with Northern Spur. His family and Oaklawn were awarded the Eclipse Award of Merit in 2005 and in 2008 Cella himself was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. He's even won a pair of non-graded stakes at Oaklawn, Dryfly taking the 2010 Smarty Jones Stakes and Uncle Brent the 2011 Northern Spur Stakes. Whiting trained both.
Never one to be shy or to celebrate, Cella was on Cloud Nine after the race but quietly deflected praise to his horse and trainer, calling them both "great."
"He was very excited to say the least," Whiting said. "It was gratifying for me. I started working for Mr. Cella about three years ago, and strangely he had never even won a stakes race at Oaklawn in all the years he's been around. Now I've won four stakes for him and two of them are graded."