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(March 30, 1970 – October 4, 1989) was an American Thoroughbred racehorse who, in 1973, became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. His record-breaking win in the Belmont Stakes, where he left the field 31 lengths behind him, is widely regarded as one of the greatest races of all time. During his racing career, he won five Eclipse Awards, including Horse of the Year honors at ages two and three. He was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1974. In the List of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century, Secretariat is second only to Man o’ War (racing career 1919–1920), who also was a large chestnut colt given the nickname “Big Red”.
At age two, Secretariat finished fourth in his 1972 debut in a maiden race, but then won seven of his remaining eight starts, including five stakes victories. His only loss during this period was in the Champagne Stakes, where he finished first but was disqualified to second for interference. He received the Eclipse Award for champion two-year-old colt, and also was the 1972 Horse of the Year, a rare honor for a horse so young. At age three, Secretariat not only won the Triple Crown, he set speed records in all three races. His time in the Kentucky Derby still stands as the Churchill Downs track record for 1 1⁄4 miles, and his time in the Belmont Stakes stands as the American record for 1 1⁄2 miles on the dirt. His controversial time in the Preakness Stakes was eventually recognized as a stakes record in 2012. Secretariat’s win in the Gotham Stakes tied the track record for 1 mile, he set a world record in the Marlboro Cup at 1 1⁄8 miles and further proved his versatility by winning two major stakes races on turf. He lost three times that year: in the Wood Memorial, Whitney and Woodward Stakes, but the brilliance of his nine wins made him an American icon. He won his second Horse of the Year title, plus Eclipse Awards for champion three-year-old colt and champion turf horse.
At the beginning of his three-year-old year, Secretariat was syndicated for a record-breaking $6.08 million on condition that he is retired from racing by the end of the year. Although he sired several successful racehorses, he ultimately was most influential through his daughters’ offspring, becoming the leading broodmare sire in North America in 1992. Secretariat died in 1989 due to laminitis. His daughters produced several notable sires, including Storm Cat, A.P. Indy, Gone West, Dehere and Chief’s Crown, and through them Secretariat appears in the pedigree of many modern champions. He continues to be recognized as one of the greatest horses in American racing history.
Secretariat was officially bred by Christopher Chenery’s Meadow Stud, but the breeding was actually arranged by Penny Chenery (then known as Penny Tweedy), who had taken over the running of the stable in 1968 when her father became ill. Secretariat was sired by Bold Ruler and his dam was Somethingroyal, a daughter of Princequillo. Bold Ruler was the leading sire in North America from 1963 to 1969 and again in 1973. Owned by the Phipps family, Bold Ruler possessed both speed and stamina, having won the Preakness Stakes and Horse of the Year honors in 1957, and American Champion Sprint Horse honors in 1958. Bold Ruler was retired to stud at Claiborne Farm, but the Phipps’s owned most of the mares to which Bold Ruler was bred, and few of his offspring were sold at public auction. To bring new blood into their breeding program, the Phipps’s sometimes negotiated a foal-sharing agreement with other mare owners: Instead of charging a stud fee for Bold Ruler, they would arrange for multiple matings with Bold Ruler, either with two mares in one year or one mare over a two-year period. Assuming two foals were produced, the Phipps family would keep one and the mare’s owner would keep the other, with a coin toss determining who received first pick.
Under such an arrangement, Chenery sent two mares to be bred to Bold Ruler in 1968, Hasty Matelda and Somethingroyal. She then sent Cicada and Somethingroyal in 1969. The foal-sharing agreement stated that the winner of the coin toss would get first foal pick of the foals produced in 1969, while the loser of the toss would get first pick of the foals due in 1970. In the spring of 1969, a colt and filly were produced. In the 1969 breeding season, Cicada did not conceive, leaving only one foal due in the spring of 1970. Thus, the winner of the coin toss would get only one foal (the first pick from 1969), and the loser would get two (the second pick from 1969 and the only foal from 1970). Chenery later said that both owners hoped they would lose the coin toss, which was held in the fall of 1969 in the office of New York Racing Association Chairman Alfred G. Vanderbilt II, with Arthur “Bull” Hancock of Claiborne Farm as witness. Ogden Phipps won the toss and took the 1969 weanling filly out of Somethingroyal. The filly was named The Bride and never won a race, though she did later become a stakes producer. Chenery received the Hasty Matelda colt in 1969 and the as-yet-unborn 1970 foal of Somethingroyal, which turned out to be Secretariat.
‘A foal is born at midnight
And in the frosty morn
The horseman eyes him fondly,
And a secret hope is born. But breathe it not, nor whisper
For fear of a neighbor’s scorn.
He’s a chestnut colt, and he’s got a star.
He may be another Man o’ War. Nay, say it aloud – be shameless.
Dream and hope and yearn,
For there’s never a man among you
But waits for his return.
—from “Big Red”, by J.A. Estes
On March 30, 1970, at 12:10 a.m. at the Meadow Stud in Caroline County, Virginia, Somethingroyal foaled a bright-red chestnut colt with three white socks and a star with a narrow stripe. The foal stood when he was 45 minutes old and nursed 30 minutes later. Howard Gentry, the manager of Meadow Stud, was at the foaling and later said, “He was a very well-made foal. He was as perfect a foal that I ever delivered.”The colt soon distinguished himself from the others. “He was always the leader in the crowd”, said Gentry’s nephew, Robert, who also worked at the farm. “To us, he was Big Red, and he had a personality. He was a clown and was always cutting up, always into some devilment.”Sometime later, Chenery got her first look at the foal and made a one word entry in her notebook: “Wow!”
That fall, Chenery and Elizabeth Ham, the Meadow’s longtime secretary, worked together to name the newly weaned colt. The first set of names submitted to the Jockey Club (Sceptre, Royal Line and Something Special) played on the names of his sire and dam, but were rejected. The second set, submitted in January 1971, were Games of Chance, Deo Volonti (God Willing) and Secretariat, the last suggested by Ham based on her previous job associated with the secretariat of the League of Nations (the predecessor of the United Nations).
Appearance and conformation
Secretariat grew into a massive, powerful horse said to resemble his sire’s maternal grandsire, Discovery. He stood 16.2 hands (66 inches, 168 cm) when fully grown. He was noted for being exceptionally well-balanced, a big, powerful horse described as having “nearly perfect” conformation and stride biomechanics. His chest was so large that he required a custom-made girth, and he was noted for his large, powerful, well-muscled hindquarters. An Australian trainer said of him, “He is incredible, an absolutely perfect horse. I never saw anything like him.”
Secretariat’s absence of major conformation flaws was important, as horses with well made limbs and feet are less likely to become injured. Secretariat’s hindquarters were the main source of his power, with a sloped croup that extended the length of his femur. When in full stride, his hind legs were able to reach far under himself, increasing his drive. His ample girth, long back and well-made neck all contributed to his heart-lung efficiency.
The manner in which Secretariat’s body parts fit together determined the efficiency of his stride, which affected his acceleration and endurance. Even very small differences in the length and angles of bones can have a major affect on performance. Secretariat was well put together even as a two-year-old, and by the time he was three, he had further matured in body and smoothed out his gait. The New York Racing Association’s Dr. M. A. Gilman, a veterinarian who routinely measured leading Thoroughbreds with a goal of applying science to create better ways to breed and evaluate racehorses, measured Secretariat’s development from two to three as follows:
||October aged 2
||October aged 3
|Height (at withers)
||16 3⁄4 hands (64.75 inches, 164 cm)
||16.1 1⁄2 hands (65.5 inches, 166 cm)
|Point of shoulder to point of shoulder (chest width)
||16 inches (41 cm)
||16.5 inches (42 cm)
|Girth (around center of gravity)
||74 inches (188 cm)
||76 inches (193 cm)
|Withers to point of shoulder
||28 inches (71 cm)
||28.5 inches (72 cm)
|Elbow to ground (length of leg)
||37.5 inches (95 cm)
||38.5 inches (98 cm)
|Point of shoulder to point of hip
||46 inches (117 cm)
||49 inches (124 cm)
|Point of hip to point of hip
||25 inches (64 cm)
||26 inches (66 cm)
|Point of hip to hock
||40 inches (100 cm)
||40 inches (100 cm)
|Point of hip to buttock
||24 inches (61 cm)
||24 inches (61 cm)
|Poll to withers (neck length)
||40 inches (100 cm)
||40 inches (100 cm)
|Buttock (croup) to ground (height in rear)
||53.5 inches (136 cm)
||55.5 inches (141 cm)
|Point of shoulder to point of buttock (body length)
||68 inches (173 cm)
||69.5 inches (177 cm)
|Circumference of cannon under knee
||8.25 inches (21.0 cm)
||8.5 inches (22 cm)
Secretariat’s length of stride was considered large even after taking into account his large frame and strong build. While training for the Preakness Stakes, his stride was measured as 24 feet, 11 inches. His powerful hindquarters allowed him to unleash “devastating” speed and because he was so well-muscled and had significant cardiac capacity, he could simply out-gallop competitors at nearly any point in a race.
His weight before the Gotham Stakes in April 1973 was 1,155 pounds (524 kg). After completing the grueling Triple Crown, his weight on June 15 had dropped only 24 pounds, to 1,131 pounds (513 kg). Secretariat was known for his appetite—during his three-year-old campaign, he ate 15 quarts of oats a day—and to keep the muscle from turning to fat, he needed fast workouts that could have won many a stakes race.
Seth Hancock of Claiborne Farm once said,
You want to know who Secretariat is in human terms? Just imagine the greatest athlete in the world. The greatest. Now make him six-foot-three, the perfect height. Make him real intelligent and kind. And on top of that, make him the best-lookin’ guy ever to come down the pike. He was all those things as a horse.
Racing colors of Meadow Stable
Secretariat raced in Meadow Stables’ blue-and-white-checkered colors. He never raced in track bandages, but typically wore a blinker hood, mostly to help him focus, but also because he had a tendency to run in towards the rail during races. In January 1972, he joined trainer Lucien Laurin’s winter stable at Hialeah. Secretariat gained a reputation as a kind horse, likeable and unruffled in crowds or by the bumping that occurs between young horses. He had the physique of a runner, but at first was awkward and clumsy. He was frequently outpaced by more precocious stable mates, running a quarter-mile in 26 seconds compared to 23 seconds by his peers. His regular exercise riders were Jim Gaffney and Charlie Davis. Davis was not initially impressed. “He was a big fat sucker”, Davis said. “I mean, he was big. He wasn’t in a hurry to do nothin’. He took his time. The quality was there, but he didn’t show it until he wanted to.” Gaffney though recalled his first ride on Secretariat in early 1972 as “having this big red machine under me, and from that very first day I knew he had a power of strength that I have never felt before …”
Groom Eddie Sweat was another important member of the Secretariat team, providing most of the daily hands-on care. Sweat once told a reporter, “I guess a groom gets closer to a horse than anyone. The owner, the trainer, they maybe see him once a day. But I lived with him, worked with him.”
Laurin sent Chenery regular updates on Secretariat’s progress, saying that the colt was still learning to run, or that he still needed to lose his baby fat. Chenery recalled that when Secretariat was in training, Lucien once said: “Your big Bold Ruler colt don’t show me nothin’. He can’t outrun a fat man.”But Secretariat made steady progress over the spring. On June 6, he wore blinkers for the first time to keep his attention focused and responded with a half-mile workout in a solid 47 3⁄5 seconds. On June 24, he ran a “bullet”, the fastest workout of the day, at 6 furlongs in 1:12 4⁄5 on a sloppy track. Laurin called Chenery at her Colorado home and advised her that Secretariat was ready to race.
1972: Two-year-old season
For his first start on July 4, 1972 at Aqueduct Racetrack, Secretariat was made the lukewarm favorite at 3–1. At the start, a horse named Quebec cut in front of the field, causing a chain reaction that resulted in Secretariat being bumped hard. According to jockey Paul Feliciano, he would have fallen if he hadn’t been so strong. Secretariat recovered, only to run into traffic on the backstretch. In tenth position at the top of the stretch, he closed ground rapidly and finished fourth, beaten by only 1 1⁄4 lengths. In many of his subsequent races, Secretariat hung back at the start, which Laurin later attributed to the bumping he received in his debut.
With Feliciano again up, Secretariat returned to the track on July 15 as the 6–5 favorite. He broke poorly, but then rushed past the field on the turn to win by six lengths. On July 31 in an allowance race at Saratoga, Feliciano was replaced by Ron Turcotte, the regular jockey for Meadow Stables. Turcotte had ridden the colt in several morning workouts, but had missed his first two starts while recovering from a fall. Secretariat’s commanding win as the 2–5 favorite caught the attention of veteran sportswriter, Charles Hatton. He later reported, “You carry an ideal around in your head, and boy, I thought, ‘This is it.’ I never saw perfection before. I absolutely could not fault him in any way. And neither could the rest of them and that was the amazing thing about it. The body and the head and the eye and the general attitude. It was just incredible. I couldn’t believe my eyes, frankly.”
In August, Secretariat entered the Sanford Stakes, facing off with highly regarded Linda’s Chief. Entering the stretch, Secretariat was blocked by the horses in front of him but then made his way through “like a hawk scattering a barnyard of chickens” on his way to a three-length win. Sportswriter Andrew Beyer covered the race for the Washington Star and later wrote, “Never have I watched a lightly raced 2-year-old stamp himself so definitively as a potential great.”
Ten days later in the Hopeful Stakes, Secretariat made a “dazzling” move, passing eight horses within 1⁄4 mile to take the lead then drawing off to win by five lengths. His time of 1:16 1⁄5 for 6 1⁄2 furlongs was only 3⁄5 of a second off the track record. Returning to Belmont Park on September 16, he won the Belmont Futurity by a length and a half after starting his move on the turn. He then ran in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont on October 14 as the 7–10 favorite. As had become his custom, he started slowly and then made a big move around the turn, blowing past his rivals to win by two lengths. However, following an inquiry by the racecourse stewards, Secretariat was disqualified and placed second for bearing in and interfering with Stop the Music, who was declared the winner.
Secretariat then took the Laurel Futurity on October 28, winning by eight lengths over Stop the Music. His time on a sloppy track was just 1⁄5 of a second off the track record. He completed his season in the Garden State Futurity on November 18, dropping back early and making a powerful move around the turn to win by 3 1⁄2 lengths at 1–10 odds. Laurin said, “In all his races, he has taken the worst of it by coming from behind, usually circling his field. A colt has to be a real runner to do this consistently and get away with it.”
Secretariat won the Eclipse Award for American Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse and, in a rare occurrence, two two-year-olds topped the balloting for 1972 American Horse of the Year honors, with Secretariat edging out the undefeated filly, La Prevoyante. Secretariat received the votes of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America and the Daily Racing Form, while La Prevoyante was chosen by the National Turf Writers Association. Only one horse since then, Favorite Trick in 1997, has won that award as a two-year-old.
1973: Three-year-old season
In January 1973, Christopher Chenery, the founder of Meadow Stables, died and the taxes on his estate forced his daughter Penny to consider selling Secretariat. Together with Seth Hancock of Claiborne Farm, she instead managed to syndicate the horse, selling 32 shares worth $190,000 each for a total of $6.08 million, a world syndication record at the time, surpassing the previous record for Nijinsky who was syndicated for $5.44 million in 1970. Hancock said the sale was easy, citing Secretariat’s two-year-old performance, breeding, and appearance. “He’s, well, he’s a hell of a horse.” Chenery retained four shares in the horse and would have complete control over his three-year-old racing campaign, but agreed that he would be retired at the end of the year.
Secretariat wintered in Florida but did not race until March 17, 1973 in the Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct, where he went off as the heavy favorite. As the trainer of one of his opponents put it, “The only chance we have is if he falls down.” Racing boxed in by horses on each side, Turcotte decided to go through a narrow gap between horses rather than try to circle the field. Secretariat broke free and won easily, but one of the other jockeys claimed that Secretariat had committed a foul going through the hole. The stewards reviewed photos from the race and determined that Secretariat was actually on the receiving end of a bump, so let the result stand. The Bay Shore established that Secretariat had improved over the winter and that he could also handle adversity.
In the Gotham Stakes on April 7, Laurin decided to experiment with Secretariat’s running style. With no speed horses entered in the race, Secretariat would be allowed to set his own pace. Accordingly, Turcotte hustled Secretariat from the starting gate and they led easily. Down the stretch though, Champagne Charlie came running and at the eighth pole was almost even. Turcotte tapped Secretariat once on each side with the whip and Secretariat drew away to win by three lengths. He ran the first 3/4 mile in 1:08 3⁄5 and finished the one-mile race in 1:33 2⁄5, matching the track record.
His final preparatory race for the Kentucky Derby was the Wood Memorial, where he finished a surprising third to Angle Light and Santa Anita Derby winner Sham. Laurin was crushed, even though he had trained the winner, Angle Light, who set a slow pace and “stole” the race. Secretariat’s loss was later attributed to a large abscess in his mouth, which made him sensitive to the bit. Before and after the race, there was some ill feeling between Laurin and the trainer of Sham, Pancho Martin, fanned by comments in the press. The dispute centered around the use of coupled entries as Martin had entered two horses in addition to Sham, all with the same owner. There was fear that an entry could be used tactically to gang up on another horse. Stung by such insinuations, Martin wound up scratching the two horses that he had originally entered with Sham, and asked Lauren to do the same, but Laurin could not follow suit as Secretariat and Angle Light had different owners.
Because of the Wood Memorial results, Secretariat’s chances in the Kentucky Derby became the subject of much speculation in the media. Some questioned his stamina: in part because of his “blocky” build, more typical of a sprinter, and in part because of Bold Ruler’s reputation as a sire of precocious sprinters. Rumors circulated that Secretariat was unsound.
The 1973 Kentucky Derby on May 5 attracted a crowd of 134,476 to Churchill Downs, then the largest crowd in North American racing history. The bettors made the entry of Secretariat and Angle Light the 3–2 favorite, with Sham the second choice at 5–2. The start was marred when Twice a Prince reared in his stall, hitting Our Native, positioned next to him, and causing Sham to bang his head against the gate, loosening two teeth. Sham then broke poorly and cut himself, also bumping into Navajo. Secretariat avoided problems by breaking last from post position 10, then cut over to the rail. Early leader Shecky Greene set a reasonable pace, then gave way to Sham around the far turn. Secretariat came charging as they entered the stretch and battled with Sham down the stretch, finally pulling away to win by 2 1⁄2 lengths. Our Native finished eight lengths further back in third.
Secretariat at the Derby
On his way to a still-standing track record of 1:59 2⁄5, Secretariat ran each quarter-mile segment faster than the one before it. The successive quarter-mile times were :25 1⁄5, :24, :23 4⁄5, :23 2⁄5, and :23.This means he was still accelerating as of the final quarter-mile of the race. No other horse had won the Derby in less than 2 minutes before, and it would not be accomplished again until Monarchos ran the race in 1:59.97 in 2001.
Sportswriter Mike Sullivan later said:
I was at Secretariat’s Derby, in ’73… That was… just beauty, you know? He started in last place, which he tended to do. I was covering the second-place horse, which wound up being Sham. It looked like Sham’s race going into the last turn, I think. The thing you have to understand is that Sham was fast, a beautiful horse. He would have had the Triple Crown in another year. And it just didn’t seem like there could be anything faster than that. Everybody was watching him. It was over, more or less. All of a sudden there was this, like, just a disruption in the corner of your eye, in your peripheral vision. Then before you could make out what it was, here Secretariat came. Then Secretariat had passed him. No one had ever seen anything run like that – a lot of the old guys said the same thing. It was like he was some other animal out there.
Secretariat in the winner’s circle after the Preakness, with Ron Turcotte, Lucien Lauren, Eddie Sweat and Penny Chenery (then Tweedy)
In the 1973 Preakness Stakes on May 19, Secretariat broke last, but then made a huge, last-to-first move on the first turn. Raymond Woolfe, a photographer for the Daily Racing Form, captured Secretariat launching the move with a leaping stride in the air. This was later used as the basis for the statue by John Skeaping that stands in the Belmont Park paddock. Turcotte later said that he was proudest of this win because of the split-second decision he made going into the turn: “I let my horse drop back, when I went to drop in, they started backing up into me. I said, ‘I don’t want to get trapped here.’ So I just breezed by them.”Secretariat completed the second quarter mile of the race in under 22 seconds. After reaching the lead with 5 1⁄2 furlongs to go, Secretariat was never challenged, and won by 2 1⁄2 lengths, with Sham again finishing second and Our Native in third, a further eight lengths back. It was the first time in history that the top three finishers in the Derby and Preakness were the same; the distance between each of the horses was also the same.
The time of the race was disputed. The infield teletimer displayed a time of 1:55 but it had malfunctioned because of damage caused by people crossing the track to reach the infield. The Pimlico Race Course clocker E.T. McLean Jr. announced a hand time of 1:54 2⁄5, but two Daily Racing Form clockers claimed the time was 1:53 2⁄5, which would have broken the track record of 1:54 set by Cañonero II. Tapes of Secretariat and Cañonero II were played side by side by CBS, and Secretariat got to the finish line first on tape, though this was not a reliable method of timing a horse race at the time. The Maryland Jockey Club, which managed the Pimlico racetrack and is responsible for maintaining Preakness records, discarded both the electronic and Daily Racing Form times and recognized the clocker’s 1:54 2⁄5 as the official time; however, the Daily Racing Form, for the first time in history, printed its own clocking of 1:53 2⁄5 underneath the official time in the chart of the race.
On June 19, 2012, a special meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission was convened at Laurel Park at the request of Penny Chenery, who hired companies to conduct a forensic review of the videotapes of the race. After over two hours of testimony, the commission unanimously voted to change the time of Secretariat’s win from 1:54 2⁄5 to 1:53, establishing a new stakes record. The Daily Racing Form announced that it would honor the commission’s ruling with regard to the running time. With the revised time, Sham also would have broken the old stakes record.
As Secretariat prepared for the Belmont Stakes, he appeared on the covers of three national magazines: Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated. He had become a national celebrity. William Nack wrote: “Secretariat suddenly transcended horse racing and became a cultural phenomenon, a sort of undeclared national holiday from the tortures of Watergate and the Vietnam War.” Chenery needed a secretary to handle all the fan mail and hired the William Morris Agency to manage public engagements. Secretariat responded to his fame by learning to pose for the camera.
Only four horses ran against Secretariat for the June 9 Belmont Stakes, including Sham and three other horses thought to have little chance by the bettors: Twice A Prince, My Gallant, and Private Smiles. With so few horses in the race, and Secretariat expected to win, no “show” bets were taken. Secretariat was sent off as a 1–10 favorite before a crowd of 69,138, then the second largest attendance in Belmont history. The race was televised by CBS and was watched by over 15 million households, an audience share of 52%.
His only point of reference is himself.
— Charles Hatton
On race day, the track was fast, and the weather was warm and sunny. Secretariat broke well on the rail and Sham rushed up beside him. The two ran the first quarter in a quick :23 3⁄5 and the next quarter in a swift :22 3⁄5, completing the fastest opening half mile in the history of the race and opening ten lengths on the rest of the field. After the six-furlong mark, Sham began to tire, ultimately finishing last. Secretariat continued the fast pace and opened up a larger and larger margin on the field. His time for the mile was 1:34 1⁄5, over a second faster than the next fastest Belmont mile fraction in history, set by his sire Bold Ruler, who had eventually tired and finished third. Secretariat, however, did not falter. Turcotte said, “This horse really paced himself. He is smart: I think he knew he was going 1 1⁄2 miles, I never pushed him.” In the stretch, Secretariat opened a lead of almost 1⁄16 of a mile on the rest of the field. At the finish, he won by 31 lengths, breaking the margin-of-victory record set by Triple Crown winner Count Fleet in 1943 of 25 lengths. CBS Television announcer Chic Anderson described the horse’s pace in a famous commentary:
Secretariat is widening now! He is moving like a tremendous machine!
The time for the race was not only a record, it was the fastest 1 1⁄2 miles on dirt in history, 2:24 flat, breaking the stakes record by more than two seconds. Secretariat’s record still stands as an American record on the dirt. If the Beyer Speed Figure calculation had been developed during that time, Andrew Beyer calculated that Secretariat would have earned a figure of 139, the highest he has ever assigned.
A large crowd had started gathering around the paddock hours before the Belmont, many missing the races run earlier in the day for a chance to see the horses up close. Secretariat and Chenery were greeted with an enthusiasm that Chenery responded to with a wave or smile; Secretariat was imperturbable. A large cheer went up at the break, but as the race went on, the two most commonly reported reactions were disbelief and fear that Secretariat had gone too fast. When it was clear that Secretariat would win, the sound reached a crescendo that reportedly made the grandstand shake. Blood-Horse magazine editor Kent Hollingsworth described the impact: “Two twenty-four flat! I don’t believe it. Impossible. But I saw it. I can’t breathe. He won by a sixteenth of a mile! I saw it. I have to believe it.”
The race is widely considered the greatest performance of the twentieth century by a North American racehorse. Secretariat became the ninth Triple Crown winner in history, and the first since Citation in 1948, a gap of 25 years. Bettors holding 5,427 winning parimutuel tickets on Secretariat never redeemed them, presumably keeping them as souvenirs (and because the tickets would have paid only $2.20 on a $2 bet).
Three weeks after his win at Belmont, Secretariat was shipped to Arlington Park for the Arlington Invitational. Laurin explained: “Even before the Belmont, you remember, I said I really didn’t know how I could give this horse a rest. He’s so strong and full of energy. Well, this is only a week and a half after the Belmont, and believe me when I tell you, if I don’t run this horse he’s going to hurt himself in his stall. So we decided it would be nice to race him in Chicago to let the people in the Midwest have a chance to see him run.” The race was run at 1 1⁄8 miles with a purse of $125,000. The challengers were grouped as a single betting entry at 6–1: Secretariat was 1–20 (the legal minimum) and created a minus pool of $17,941.
Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago declared that the Saturday of the race was Secretariat Day. A crowd of 41,223 (the largest at Arlington in three decades) greeted his arrival on the track with sustained applause. Secretariat broke poorly but soon went to the lead, setting slow early fractions. He gathered momentum on the final turn and eventually won by nine lengths in 1:47 flat, just 1⁄5 off the track record set by Damascus. George Plimpton commented, “With a better start, a horse to press him and less bow to his turns, Secretariat might have posted a time that would have stood a century.”
Secretariat next went to Saratoga, popularly nicknamed “the graveyard of champions”, in preparation for the Whitney Stakes on August 4, where he would face older horses the first time. On July 27, he put in a stunning workout of 1:34 for a mile on a sloppy track, a time that would have broken Saratoga’s track record. On race day though, he was beaten by the Allen Jerkens-trained Onion, a four-year-old gelding who had set a track record at 6 1⁄2furlongs in his previous start. The track condition for the Whitney was labeled fast but was running slow, especially along the inside rail. Secretariat broke poorly and Onion led from the start, setting a slow pace running well off the rail. Down the backstretch, Turcotte chose to make his move along the rail rather than sweeping wide. Secretariat responded more sluggishly than usual and Turcotte went to the whip. Secretariat closed to within a head on the final turn before Onion pulled ahead in the straight to win by a length. A record crowd of more than 30,000 witnessed what was described as an “astonishing” upset.
Despite Jerkins’ reputation as the “Giant Killer,” Secretariat’s stunning loss can possibly be attributed to a viral infection, which caused a low-grade fever and diarrhea. “I was learning then that anything could happen in horse racing”, said Chenery. “We knew he had a low-grade infection. But we decided he was strong enough to win anyway, and we were wrong.”
Secretariat lost his appetite and acted sluggishly for several days. Charles Hatton wrote: “He seemed distressingly ill walking off, and he missed the Travers. Returned to Belmont to point for the $250,000 Marlboro, the sport’s pin-up horse looked bloody awful, rather like one of those sick paintings which betoken an inner theatre of the macabre. It required supernatural recuperative powers to recover as he did. He was subjected to four severe preps in two weeks. Astonishingly, he gained weight and blossomed with every trial.”
On September 15, Secretariat returned to Belmont Park in the inaugural Marlboro Cup, which was originally intended to be a match race with stable mate Riva Ridge, the 1972 Derby and Belmont Stakes winner. After Secretariat’s loss in the Whitney, the field was expanded to invite top horses from across the country. Entries included 1972 turf champion and top California stakes winner Cougar II, Canadian champion Kennedy Road, 1972 American champion three-year-old colt Key to the Mint, Travers winner Annihilate ‘Em (the only other three-year-old in the race), and Onion. Riva Ridge was assigned top weight of 127 pounds (one pound over the weight-for-age scale), Key to the Mint and Cougar II were at 126 pounds, scale weight, while Secretariat was at 124, three pounds over scale for his age. The field included five champions, and the seven starters had won 63 stakes races between them.
It rained the night before, but the track dried out by race time. Secretariat stalked a fast pace in fifth, while Riva Ridge rated just behind Onion and Kennedy Road. Around the turn, Secretariat raced wide and started to make up ground. Coming into the stretch, Secretariat overtook Riva Ridge, while the other early leaders dropped back. Secretariat drew away to win, completing 1 1⁄8 miles in 1:45 2⁄5, then a world record on the dirt for the distance. Riva Ridge ran second with Cougar II in third and Onion in fourth. Turcotte said, “Today he was the old Secretariat and he did it on his own.” The purse for the Marlboro Cup was $250,000, then the highest prize money offered: the win made Secretariat the 13th Thoroughbred millionaire in history.
After the Marlboro Cup, the original plan was to enter Riva Ridge in the 1 1⁄2 mile Woodward Stakes, just two weeks later, while Secretariat put in some slow workouts on the turf in preparation for the Man o’ War Stakes in October. It rained before the Woodward and the track was sloppy, which Riva Ridge could not handle, so Secretariat was entered in his place. Secretariat led into the straight but was overtaken by the Allen Jerkens-trained four-year-old Prove Out, who pulled clear to win by 4 1⁄2 lengths. Prove Out ran the race of his life that day: his time was the second-fastest mile-and-a-half on the dirt in Belmont history despite the sloppy conditions. Prove Out went on to beat Riva Ridge in that year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Man o’ War Stakes
On October 8, just nine days after the Woodward, Secretariat was moved to turf for the Man O’ War Stakes at a distance of 1 1⁄2 miles. He faced Tentam, who had set a world record for 1 1⁄8 miles on the turf earlier that summer, and five others. Secretariat went to the lead early, followed by Tentam, who gradually closed the gap down the backstretch. Tentam got to within a half-length before Secretariat responded, pulling away by three lengths. Tentam made another run around the far turn, but Secretariat again drew away, eventually winning by five lengths over Tentam, with Big Spruce seven and a half lengths further back in third. Secretariat set a course record time of 2:24 4⁄5. After the race, Ron Turcotte explained that “when Tentam came up to him in the backstretch I just chirped to him and he pulled away”.
Canadian International Stakes
The syndication deal for Secretariat precluded the horse racing past age three. Accordingly, Secretariat’s last race was against older horses in the Canadian International Stakes over one and five-eighths miles on the turf at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on October 28, 1973. The race was chosen in part because of long-time ties between E.P. Taylor and the Chenery family, and partly to honor Secretariat’s Canadian connections, Laurin and Turcotte. Unfortunately, Turcotte missed the race with a five-day suspension: Eddie Maple got the mount.
The day of the race was cold, windy and wet, but the Marshall turf course was firm. Despite the weather, some 35,000 people turned out to greet Secretariat in a “virtual hysteria” that Secretariat seemed not to notice. His biggest opponents were Kennedy Road, who he had already beaten in the Marlboro Cup, and Big Spruce, who had finished third in the Man o’ War. Kennedy Road went to the early lead, while Secretariat moved to second after breaking from an outside post. On the backstretch, Secretariat made his move and forged to the lead. “Snorting steam in the raw twilight”, he rounded the far turn with a 12-length lead before gearing down in the final furlong, ultimately winning by 6 1⁄2 lengths. Once again, many winning tickets went uncashed by souvenir hunters.
After the race, Secretariat was brought to Aqueduct Racetrack where he was paraded with Turcotte dressed in the Meadow silks before a crowd of 32,990 in his final public appearance. “It’s a sad day, and yet it’s a great day”, said Laurin. “I certainly wish he could run as a 4-year-old. He’s a great horse and he loves to run.”
Altogether, Secretariat won 16 of his 21 career races, with three seconds and one third, and total earnings of $1,316,808.
For 1973, Secretariat was again named Horse of the Year, and won Eclipse Awards as the American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse and the American Champion Male Turf Horse.