Profile of Greatness: Secretariat
Profile of Greatness: Secretariat

Secretariat aka "Big Red" (1970-1989), was an American Thoroughbred racehorse who, in 1973, became the first horse since 1948 to win the Triple Crown of horse racing, with victories in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. In my humble opinion he was the greatest horse to ever come along.

Secretariat was put on two "Athletes of the Century" lists. He came in at #35 on ESPN's list, and he was placed in the Top Ten of Time magazine's list. There are detractors who argue only humans belong on those lists...I disagree. Herein you'll find my humble tribute to a true champion. The wonderful thing about this horse was his disposition. Yes, he had supreme power and speed, but his drive to win was proved by the simple fact his jocky, Ron Turcotte, never had to whip him with the crop or goad him on in any fashion. That horse ran his heart out all on his own. Turcotte remarked on several occasions that he was just along for the ride.

Marlboro Cup Invitational, 1973

Secretariat sets a track record at Belmont Park in the inaugural running of the Marlboro Cup Invitational. Credit: Photo by Jerry Cooke.

Secretariat's Statistics:

Birthdate: March 30, 1970
Birthplace: Meadow Stable in Virginia

Date of Death: October 4, 1989
Place of Death: Claiborne Farm Paris, Kentucky
Cause: Euthanized in 1989 because of complications from laminitis

Sire: Bold Ruler
Dam: Somethingroyal out of Princequillo

Owner: Penny Tweedy Chenery
Trainer: Lucien Lauren
Jockey: Ron Turcotte
Groom: Eddie Sweat
Exercise riders: Jim Gaffney and Charlie Davis

This photo shows his amazing stride length...this horse dominated the track
1973 Kentucky Derby: Secretariat gallops into the record books in the 1973 Kentucky Derby
(His track record 1:59.2 stll stands today)
Credit: Photo by Jerry Cooke for Sports Illustrated

His Race Record:

As a Two Year Old:

He won the Sanford Stakes
He won the Hopeful Stakes
He won the Belmont Futurity
He won the Laurel Futurity
He won The Graden State Stakes
He came in 2nd at the Champagne Stakes (He was disqualified from 1st)
He was "Champion 2 year-old Colt"
He was "Horse of the Year"

Secretariat Prior to the Preakness Stakes, 1973
Secretariat Prior to the Preakness Stakes, 1973

As a Three Year Old:

He won the Kentucky Derby (He set a *new track record*)
He won the Preakness Stakes (He set the *new track record*)
He won the Belmont Stakes (He set a *new WORLD record*!!)
He won the Bay Shore Stakes
He won the Gotham Stakes (He tied the track record)
He won the Arlington Invitational
He won the Man O'War Stakes (He set a *new course record*)
He won the Canadian International
He came in 2nd at the Woodward Stakes
He came in 2nd at the Whitney Stakes
He came in 3rd at the Wood Memorial
He was "Champion 3 year-old Colt"
He was "Champion Grass Horse"
He was "Horse of the Year"

Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes paddock
Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes paddock

Those who worked with or visited Secretariat often remarked he had "an eye"...He'd look right at you, not much missed his attention

His History:

Secretariat was born at Meadow Stud in Doswell, Virginia. He was owned and bred by the Chenery family, who got Lucien Laurin to come out of recent retirement to train him. Other than his first disasterous race and the race following, he was ridden by jockey Ron Turcotte. (From the rough treatment he experienced during that first race he learned to break slowly from the gate to avoid trouble).

During a two-year career (1972-1973), Secretariat won 16 of 21 starts (races) and won the "Eclipse Award" as "Horse of the Year" in both years. In 1973 Secretariat set records in both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. He ran the 1 1/4-mile (about 2km) Kentucky Derby in 1 minute 59 2/5 seconds. At the Belmont Stakes, he finished the 1 1/2-mi (2.4km) race in a time of 2 minutes 24 seconds, winning by 31 lengths! A record finish that will doubtfully *never* be duplicated. Secretariat appeared simultaneously on the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated magazines in 1973, and he was often called "the Horse of the Century" by his fans.

Before the 1973 racing season, Secretariat was sold to a syndicate of investors for $6,080,000.00 with the stipulated condition that the colt would only race though his three-year-old season. After that season, he was retired to stud at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky, where thousands of people visited him each year. Before his retirement he was paraded under tack at the Aqueduct before a crowd of 6,000 admirers who longed for one more glimpse of their Champion. That crowd of 6,000 was the largest ever to gather at Aqueduct on a non-racing day. They came to see a Profile of Greatness.

In 16 years he sired 663 foals, including "Lady's Secret". Secretariat was euthanized in 1989 because of complications from laminitis, an incurable hoof disease, and he is buried at the farm. Secretariat was honored with his own postage stamp which was released on November 16, 1999.

A bronze statue of Secretariat stands in the center of the paddock at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York (See photos Below).

Belmont Statue Another View

Remarks from his jocky, Ron Turcotte:

On His First Race:

"In his first race Secretariat got knocked down leaving the gate and got knocked into the fence. Paul Feliciano was on him that day. (I had a previous commitment to ride Summer Guest in the Monmouth Oaks that day for Mr. Paul Mellon and trainer Elliot Burch. They were regular clients of mine). At the time, Paul was only an apprentice Jockey with very little experience. God Bless his soul, for Paul is not with us anymore, but it was really a miracle how that kid brought that horse back without as much as a scratch. He had no place to go and was pulling him up all the way when a small space opened up 70 yards from the wire and he got a chance to let him run a few yards. He then had to pull him up again when he got boxed in behind the winner and still only got beat by a length while finishing 4th. Mr. Laurin was not too happy at me and let me know it when I returned to the barn the next morning.

So after I finished all my work around 10 am I rushed to Aqueduct to view the film of the race. I then reported to Mr. Laurin that we were lucky to have Big Red back alive and unhurt. Paul had done such a good job under bad circumstances that I was really amazed at the coolness the kid displayed. I was also unable to ride Secretariat the next time because I was in the hospital recuperating from injuries suffered in a spill a few days earlier. A horse named "Overproof" died of a heart attack under me during the running of a race and I got trampled by the horse behind me as I went down. I was very happy that Mr. Laurin gave Paul another chance to ride him, this time he kept Big Red in the middle of the track to break his maiden winning by eight lengths."

Secretariat Voicing His Opinion

Ron on Folks Bad Mouthing "Big Red":

"When they say that Secretariat couldn't run in the mud, I guess they forget that, as a two year old, he won the Laurel Futurity by 13 lengths and only one fifth of the track record while being eased up on a very sloppy track!"

Ron Speaking Out About the Blood Infection:

"Mr. Laurin put me on him for his next start and we finished first in all his races the rest of the year. He received the "Eclipse Award" for "Horse of the Year" in 1972, the first two year old to receive that award. In 1973, he won his first two starts as a 3 year old, and then came the infamous Wood Memorial when he had that slight blood infection according to Dr. Gilman and a large abscess under his upper lip. That was the reason I could not tighten up on the reins, or in other words, touch his mouth. Had I known about the abscess beforehand I would have loose reined him all the way instead of trying to ride him on a tight rein as I had been doing ever since I started riding him. I am absolutely sure that, had I loose reined him, he would have won but because it hurt him so much when the reins were tight, he kept throwing his head up in the air. In retrospect, it was stupid of me not to have given him his head and left him alone..."

Tribute to a Champion:

Tribute in bronze to a Champion

In 1998, a prestigious national committee was formed to raise money for a life-size bronze of Secretariat done by Ed Bogucki. The bronze will show Secretariat as he danced to the winner's circle at Churchill Downs on May 5, 1973, lead by his longtime groom Eddie Sweat with jockey Ron Turcotte in the irons. It will be placed at the Kentucky Horse Park so that generations to come will be able to see the legendary Secretariat at his athletic peak as he stirred the nation with his incredible feats on the racetrack.

Sweat was leading Secretariat to the winner's circle and he was on his muscle, dancing on his toes and pulling on the lead strap. It was at that moment, with all its power, emotions spirit, and tension, that Bogucki captured in the bronze. Looking at it, every horseman recognizes that moment when a horse is so full of himself that he can barely be restrained. Both Turcotte and Sweat had told Bogucki how Secretariat had come off the track at Churchill Downs after the Derby and lunged against their restraints repeatedly, almost dragging Sweat all the way to the winner's circle.

His Bloodline Endures:

After Secretariat was retired to Claiborne Farm he sired Horse Of The Year: "Lady's Secret" and champions "Medaille d'Or" and "Risen Star". Other offspring include "General Assembly", who was a Travers winner, "Image of Greatness", "Fiesta Lady", "Pancho Villa", "Terlingua", "Athyka", "Clever Secret", and "Tinners Way".

His daughters' produced... Champions such as: "Chief's Crown", "A.P. Indy", "Dehere", "Born Wild", "Mizoram", "Corregio", and "Istabraaq", along with stakes winners: "Lacovia", "Storm Cat", "Classic Crown", "Secreto", "Al Mamoon", "Gone West", "Summer Squall", "Honor Grades", "La Gueriere", "Heart of Joy", "Captive Miss", "Cherokee Rose", "Ta Rib", "Spinning Round", "Irgun", "Dare and Go", "Atticus", "Heart of Oak", "Listening", and "Well Chosen".

Charismatic, the winner of the 1999 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, is a great-grandson of Secretariat.

Rest in Peace
Rest in Peace, Beloved Champion

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