The way she did it was somewhat anticlimactic, but Lady's Secret yesterday became the top female money-winner in thoroughbred racing history.

The daughter of Secretariat won an unimportant $25,000 allowance race at Monmouth Park in New Jersey that brought her career total to $3,021,425 and enabled her to break the record held by All Along.

Lady's Secret had no trouble beating her five nondescript rivals by seven lengths, but her very presence in such a race signified that the 5-year-old gray mare ain't what she used to be. Since earning Horse of the Year honors in 1986 she has not looked particularly impressive in any of her four races this year.

Yet it seems to be a tenet of the Wayne Lukas' training operation that he will acknowledge no problems with any horse -- unless they are so infirm they can't even hobble. His horses usually earn their retirement when they are broken down.

There had been speculation that this was a way for Lady's Secret to bow out gracefully -- to win a race easily and then be retired -- but assistant trainer Jeff Lukas, Wayne's son, quickly dashed this notion at Monmouth yesterday.

"I hope this puts to rest the rumors that she'll be retired," Jeff Lukas said. "She was better today than she was last time, and she'll be better the next time."

He said that Lady's Secret was entered in this race because the Lukases want to race her every two or three weeks, and this was the only reasonable race that fit into that schedule.

"We'd be kidding ourselves if we said she was as good today as when she won the Ruffian {Handicap} last year," Lukas acknowledged. "But she'll be that good again by the day of the Ruffian this fall."

That's possible -- but doubtful. The mare's amazing performance in a grueling campaign that earned her the nickname "The Iron Lady" may have taken its toll.

Lady's Secret had been campaigning without a real vacation from the fall of her 2-year-old season in 1984 until the end of last year.

She had initially looked like a one-dimensional, front-running sprinter, but when she was 3, she began to show increased stamina and versatility that surprised even her trainer. That spring she launched a streak that has made racing history.

Over a 17-month period, Lady's Secret ran in 25 stakes races, winning 18 and finishing in the money in all 25.

Only a couple of quibbles could be made about her record.

She wasn't good enough to beat the very best males of her generation. But when a negativist suggested to Lukas that she didn't deserve to win the Horse of the Year title over Turkoman and Precisionist, the trainer answered that if those males had tried to handle the type of schedule Lady's Secret had endured, they never would have survived. Lukas probably was right, and Lady's Secret was an overwhelming choice for Horse of the Year.

She earned her first real rest as a result, but when she returned, backstretch rumors said she was "sour" -- that she seemed to have lost interest in her training.

A 32-length loss in her first start of the year confirmed this impression, and nothing she has done subsequently has altered it. Lady's Secret has won only two allowance races at Monmouth in four starts, and finished second there against a stakes field she would have toyed with in her prime.

Jeff Lukas said that he and his father are pointing Lady's Secret for New York's fall series of rich filly-and-mare stakes and for the Breeders' Cup, but the Lukas' record of bringing horses back after setbacks is not a good one.

Lady's Secret probably should be pointed toward a comfortable retirement -- and no racehorse ever will have deserved it more richly.