'Course the question of The Greatest Racehorse can't really be answered. How do ya' judge? Number of races won? Number of records set? Amount of money won? Undefeated in six races over two years or victorious 27 out of 29 over two years? Or is it the legacy he or she passes on in their bloodlines?
AHM has a soft spot for Secretariat 'cause he's the first Triple Crown winner she got to see. A lot of people probably feel that way 'cause it had been 25 years since Citation pulled off the hat trick. But it was worth the wait—even I can tell that from seein' the old videos.
Secretariat (1970-1989) was born just after midnight at the Chenery's Meadow Farm in Doswell, Virginia. By all accounts everyone agreed he was a handsome one from the start. His trainer, Lucien Laurin was impressed with him as a yearling even though he said the colt was probably too good lookin' to be successful. Mrs. Helen "Penny" Chenery liked him so much that when he arrived at Hialeah at age two all she could managed was "Wow!" Later she would call him sexy. (We handsome great ones have that sorta' effect on women, ya' know.)
The big red chestnut didn't start out well, though, losin' his very first race. He then reeled off five wins in a row—six if ya' count the Champagne Stakes where he finished first but was disqualified and placed second. He rounded out his first season by winnin' two more and bein' named Horse of the Year at 2.
After seein' Secretariat race, Charles Hatton, writer for the Daily Racing Form, said: "The cognoscenti give Mrs. Helen Tweedy's Secretariat a nod for potentiality. He has electrifying acceleration, duende, charisma, and starfire raised to the steenth power. He is also pretty good."
After winnin' his first two races as a three-year-old in impressive fashion, Secretariat was the odds-on favorite to win the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown. Then he barely managed a third spot in the Wood Memorial, stunning everyone. His loss was later attributed to an abscess under his lip, but whatever the reason, the fickle, long-disappointed racin' public wasn't quite so sure about him any longer.
But they were sure enough to make him the favorite in the Derby. Big Red broke last but gradually moved up on the field in the backstretch, then overtook his rival Sham at the top of the stretch and pulled away to win the Derby by 2 1/2 lengths. The most amazin' part of his win, though, was that he ran each quarter mile of the race faster than the one before. The successive quarter-mile times were: 25 1/5, 24, 23 4/5, 23 2/5 and 23. This means he was still accelerating in the final quarter-mile of the race. That's not the way it's usually done. No wonder Secretariat set the still-unbroken record of 1:59 2/5.
In the Preakness, Secretariat broke last, then made huge, last-to-first move on the first turn. After reaching the lead, Big Red was never challenged and won by 2 1/2 lengths. The time of the race was controversial. The infield teletimer displayed a time of 1:55. The track's electronic timer had malfunctioned because of damage caused by members of the crowd crossing the track to reach the infield. Daily Racing Form disagreed. According to their watches, Secretariat had run the mile and three-sixteenths in 1:53 2/5. Videotape evidence seemed to show Secretariat set a new record and was denied the credit. The Daily Racing Form, however, entered the time of 1:53 2/5 in their permanent records. (Good thing no one ever located the drunken fe-lyin' who wrecked that timer.)
Only four horses joined Secretariat for the June 9, 1973 running of the Belmont Stakes, mostly runnin' for the chance at place and show money no doubt. 67,605 watched as Secretariat and Sham set a fast early pace, opening ten lengths on the rest of the field. Unable to match Secretariat's speed, Sham gave up, ultimately finishing last. Big Red just kept goin', openin' up a larger and larger margin. He did the 1 1/4 mile Derby distance at 1:59 flat, 2/5 faster than his winnin' time. In the stretch, Secretariat opened a 1/16 mile lead on the rest of the field. He crossed the finish line 31 lengths in front, breakin' the margin-of-victory record set by Triple Crown winner Count Fleet thirty years before. (Wonder if the old guy was watchin'?) Secretariat ran the fastest 1 1/2 miles on dirt in racin' history, 2:24 flat, which broke the stakes record by more than 2 seconds. His world record still stands, and no other horse has even come close. 5,617 winning mutuel tickets on Secretariat were never redeemed, presumably bein' kept as souvenirs—or sold on EBay.
Secretariat never duplicated his Belmont Stakes performance, but he kept runnin'. He wasn't undefeated, winnin' the Arlingon Invitational then losin' the Whitney at Saratoga. He came back to win the first Marlboro Cup over his stablemate and 1972 Derby/Belmont winner Riva Ridge. He suffered another loss in the Woodward Stakes in the mud, then tried grass for the first time in the Man o' War Stakes and won, setting a still standing track record time of 2:24 4/5.
As would become the fashion in years to come, Secretariat's owner entered into a syndication deal that precluded the horse racing past age 3. His last race was the Canadian International Stakes against older horses. Big Red won by an impressive 6 1/2 lengths.
Altogether, Secretariat won 16 of his 21 career races and finished in the money in 20 of 21 starts. He became a beloved figure with fans and non-fans of horse racing coming to see him at Claiborne Farm in Paris, KY.
In 1989, Secretariat was afflicted with laminitis, a painful hoof condition. When he failed to respond to treatment, he was euthanized. He is buried at Claiborne. Before his burial, he was necropsied at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Thomas Swerczek, the veterinarian who performed the necropsy, found that Big Red had the biggest he had ever seen in a horse—approximately twice the size of a normal horse's heart. Racin' fans already knew that.
So what is Secretariat's living legacy? His bloodlines flow through General Assembly, Lady's Secret, Risen Star, A.P. Indy, Storm Cat, Smarty Jones*, and Rags to Riches**, the first filly to win the Belmont Stakes in 102 years.
In my business, that's the truest test of a champion.
*After the Belmont,… [a] jockey wrote, " [Jerry Bailey]'s ride in the Belmont Stakes...was a disgrace to horse racing. Bailey sacrificed himself only to beat Smarty Jones and jockey Stewart Elliott." Although not against the rules, this kind of racing is considered highly unethical, and bad for the sport, since Triple Crown winners are so rare.
**The call of the race by Belmont Park track announcer Tom Durkin did much to capture the excitement of the scene, as Curlin and Rags to Riches dueled it out in the home stretch. "And at the top of the stretch, a filly is in front at the Belmont! But Curlin is right there with her! These two, in a battle of the sexes at the Belmont Stakes! It is Curlin on the inside—Rags to Riches on the outside. A desperate finish: Rags to Riches and Curlin! They're coming down to the wire. It's gonna be very close! And it's gonna be.... a filly in the Belmont! Rags to Riches has beaten Curlin and a hundred years of Belmont history! The first filly to win it in over a century!"
posted by Harrison at 10:25 PM