Secretariat, 1973

I continue with Charles Hatton’s description of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat from the 1974 American Racing Manual.


Secretariat, first two-year-old Horse of the Year, won the honors again at three, when he became the first Triple Crown winner in a quarter-century and set a new season’s earnings record of $860,404.

Going from riches, his career total of $1,316,808 placed him fourth among all-time leading money winners, in only two campaigns during which he won 16 of 21 races, beating the best of 50,000 horses in training and assorted world, American and track time marks.

Called “Horse of the Century” by Many

That is his arithmetic. But a horse’s class is not subject to mathematics. Secretariat was a Superhorse, rather than a transient Horse of the Year. Veteran turfmen, sophisticates of deep experience and broad, informed tastes, pronounced him the “Horse of the Century.” He is the only thoroughbred ever given this identity on an official program.

Secretariat appealed to all levels of the sporting society, professional and public alike. His distinction is based on the awareness and judgment of the former rather than the idolatry of the latter.

Most Capable Performer Seen by Writer

Orientals refer to these appraisals as “facts of the mind.” Exterminator and Man o’ War have come and gone since the present writer’s first acquaintance with the sport. Impressions of long standing tend to become fixed and assume a prescriptive right not to be questioned. But Secretariat is the most capable horse we ever saw, and geriatrics defeat any thought of seeing his like again.

He was said to be “the best thing that has happened to racing since the innovation of the ‘tote.’ ”

He was in great request by tracks all about North America. Belmont’s and Philip Morris’ $250,000 Marlboro Cup Invitational evolved on his presence, as also did the Arlington Invitational and the purse increase in the Canadian International.

As he was not ubiquitous, Secretariat was obliged to send several clubs his regrets. It may amuse you that these included an Oklahoma halfer which invited him to race for $100 and a blanket. There were also bids to appear on T.V. shows, while a Las Vegas nightclub offered $15,000 a performance merely to walk on. Remarkably, in this age of the rather tiresome anti-hero cult, his fan mail became so voluminous that Mrs. “Penny” Tweedy engaged three secretaries to answer his correspondence.

He was a Pied Piper who toppled turnstile and tote as well as time records. Pimlico’s management estimated, “His appearance is worth at least $25,000.”

If the Chenery homebred’s racing record is less than perfect, no three-year-old within memory was tried in so stern a crucible. His final five starts were against all comers in a vintage year for handicap horses, at classic routes on both turf and loam. Napoleon’s question was ever, “Who did he beat?”

“It is as one conquers adversity he succeeds.”

Sports aficionados’ egos are a charming and fascinating narcissism. If any is agonizing over Secretariat’s stunning reversals at the heels of Onion and Prove Out, it may be reflected:

There Were Reasons When He Lost

Spendthrift had his Falsetto, Hanover his Laggard, Man o’ War his Upset. Two fillies beat Sysonby; Occupation outran Count Fleet. Citation was beaten 13 times, and Exterminator lost five straight immediately after he won the Derby.

Excuses are not considered good form, indeed downright ordinary. But there is a reason for everything, and it has been urged Secretariat had an abscess on his lip and a blood condition in the Wood, a recurrent temperature for days before the Whitney, and simply was unprepared for the Woodward.

It has been lamented he ceased running amok among the records at three. He was syndicated to begin stud duty in ’74 before coming to the races at that age, in settlement of the Chenery estate. The sum was a stupefying $6,080,000, several times his weight in gold.

It took 32 sportsmen and women in the United States, Canada, the British Isles, France, Switzerland and Japan to buy him. Breeders in Ireland belatedly bid $6,500,000 for him. By season’s end it was estimated the contract could conceivably be renegotiated for $10,000,000. Actually, $500,000 was offered for a share in him, and $125,000 for a single season’s service.

Then came reports, shocking in various quarters of the media, he had failed to pass a stringent criteria for fertility. The prognosis is for a normal stud career, however, and there is a waiting list for any shares syndicate members may turn back.

A number of stallions retired during the past year were suspect owing to spermatogonia. This has been related to steroids, anti-inflammations drugs administered in training, but the premise is scientifically insupportable to date.

Under the Irish breeders’ proposal, Secretariat was to remain in America, at liberty to race at four, unless his form lapsed. But even as a three-year-old, he was threatened by NYRA Handicapper Ken Noe Jr. with a diabolical 138 pounds at a mile and half in open competition.

For openers for his campaign, Secretariat crushed the Bay Shore and Gotham fields. There was nothing episodic about either, except he overran both finishes and tied Aqueduct’s 1:33 2/5 mile mark in the Gotham.

Frightfully keen in the Gotham, it required two lead ponies and an outrider to pull him up. Clockers timed him a mile and a quarter under 126 in 1:59 2/5, which he duplicated in the Derby.

He constantly overran his finishes and wags were fond of saying, “He pulls up going faster than former champions ran.” In the mile and a furlong Marlboro, he pulled up a mile and a quarter in 1:57 4/5. In the mile and a half Belmont, he pulled up a mile and five furlongs in 2:37 2/5. Both better world marks.

Time of 1:59 2/5 Derby’s Fastest

His tour de force of the Triple Crown now is part of racing’s folklore. Millions watched the drama unfold. Indeed, thousands hitchhiked hundreds of miles, sleeping at the entrances. Thousands more motored to the tracks in darkness to see him work at dawn. His 1:59 2/5 was the fastest of 99 Derbys. Daily Racing Form clockers timed him in 1:53 2/5 in the Preakness, which would have been a record but the official time was 1:54 2/5. In the Belmont, he set an American dirt mark of 2:24 by 31 hysterical lengths, the most overwhelming margin in the long annals of all Triple Crown events.

Freshened after the Belmont, Secretariat reappeared for Arlington’s nine-furlong Invitational, winning consummately by nine lengths in 1:47, a fifth behind the track mark, breezing on the crown of the track throughout.

Plane Lacked Head Room

His junket to Chicago was tedious, delayed en route by detouring a storm. There was insufficient head room in the plane, and he fitted into it comfortably as an elephant in a shoe box, crouching down the whole way.

Thereafter, Secretariat stalked bigger game, confronting older rivals.

In pointing for Saratoga’s Whitney, he bettered the century-old course’s mile mark working in 1:34 immediately after a cloudburst. But before race day he picked up the dread coughing virus and, as in the Wood, missed his essential final blowout. Onion beat him a length in a rough race, getting weight on the scale. 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 theater 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.

He had to work in time approximating track records just to keep fit, and trainer Lucien Laurin never got to the bottom of him actually. The colt had a most accommodating appetite. Not to be vulgar, but one of Laurin’s contemporaries quipped, “Either he is a good doer, or he’s got a tapeworm.”

Gave Weight on Scale in Marlboro

In the Marlboro, Secretariat looped most of the field, roaring past the older champions Riva Ridge, Cougar II, Kennedy Road and Key to the Mint like the Super Chief passing a hobo jungle. And in world-record time. This was a handicap and Secretariat conceded weight on the scale. In passing, he took his revenge on Onion.

Secretariat was in light training on the turf, with the Man o’ War in view, when the rains came and he was substituted for Riva Ridge in the intervening Woodward. He attempted to advance from nine furlongs to a mile and a half in two weeks going on dirt, off two casual works to acquaint him with the turf, and there was no time for his essential blowout.

Consequently, Prove Out was able to beat him four and a half lengths. Secretariat led two furlongs out, but appeared palpably short. The pace was slow, as in his other losing ventures, but one would think he might advantage from this quite as much as his rivals.

Secretariat concluded his career with two smashing victories on the turf. The Woodward was seasoning and in the weight-for-age Man o’ War at a mile and a half on firm ground nine days later, he towroped valorous little Tentam in 2:24 4/5, course-record time.

Equally delicious was his finale, in Woodbine’s Canadian International of a mile and five furlongs. Eddie Maple was the spur of the moment, with Ron Turcotte grounded. Shaking off Kennedy Road, who attempted intimidating him, he opened up 15 then sauntered home through the raw, wet weather by six and a half lengths in 2:41 4/5.

Only Carried 117 Under European Scale

The European scale let him in under 117. Eddie Maple conjectured, “He could carry a house.”

A more detailed account of his campaign will be written by future generations, we are sure. The 1973 season certainly demonstrated the implications of his action, temperament, soundness and impossibly homogenous physical organization.

“Action follows line, and action makes the race horse.” Before the Preakness, Secretariat’s stride measured 25 feet, and Turcotte was impressed he could adapt it to turf effectively as loam, adding, incidentally, “He is the kindest horse I was ever around, and smart as paint.”

Medical tests indicated his heart weighs from 14 to 17 pounds, perhaps the largest among champions examined. His pulse is that of a horse physiologically well suited to cracking up oxygen into energy and staying big distances.

Never Wore Bandages at Any Time

He wore blinkers only to alert him, though at times he displayed a slight tendency to bear in. Never did he wear bandages.

Secretariat was a March 30 foal. Always an arresting and very decorative specimen, he attracted a huge throng to the Spa paddock in his first start there at two. He developed in all the approved directions from two to three and emerged in the Bay Shore a gorgeous chestnut verging on 16.2 hands.

His knees were less coarse than at two, and there was more refinement from his smooth wither to the elbow. The scapula angled in a fashion to accommodate a more upright humerus, which could explain his improved action at three.

When first he entered public life Secretariat inclined to pound with his forefeet when extended, occasioning some apprehension he would damage his legs or fail to stay. Last season, his action was a buoyant, kinetic pleasure, and it was remarked, “He wouldn’t break an egg.” The Jockey Club indeed made a filmed slow-motion analysis of his stride.

Secretariat’s girth was so immense he required a custom made saddle girth. He was almost two horses wide over the loins and hips, the muscle arching gracefully on either side of the spinal column. In fact his breadth of beam was perhaps his most striking feature.

High Appraisal From Aussie Trainer

Tom Smith, for many years Australia’s leading conditioner, exclaimed: “He is incredible, and absolutely perfect horse. I never saw anything like him.”

The NYRA’s Dr. M. A. Giulman measured his development from two to three as follows:

Height                                                        16 hands, 3/4 inch     16 hands, 1 1/2 inch

Point of shoulder to point of shoulder            16 inches                  16 1/2 inches

Girth                                                                    74 inches                 76 inches

Withers to point of shoulder                            28 inches                 28 1/2 inches

Elbow to ground                                                37 1/2 inches          38 1/2 inches

Point of shoulder to point of hip                      46 inches                 49 inches

Point of hip to point of hip                               25 inches                  26 inches

Point of hip to hock                                           40 inches                 40 inches

Point of hip to buttock                                      24 inches                 24 inches

Poll to withers                                                   40 inches                 40 inches

Buttock to ground                                             53 1/2 inches          55 1/2 inches

Point of shoulder to buttock                            68 inches                 69 1/2 inches

Circumference of cannon under knee            8 1/4 inches            8 1/2 inches

His weight March 29, before the Triple Crown series, was 1,055 pounds. Weighed June 15 after these events, he tipped the beam at 1,131 pounds. His weight October 22, just previous to his farewell to colors, was 1,154 pounds.

The colt’s pedigree has a ring. He is by Nasrullah’s son Bold Ruler out of Princequillo’s daughter, Somethingroyal, dam also of the stakes winners Syrian Sea, First Family and Sir Gaylord, the sire of Sir Ivor.

The second dam, Imperatrice, a lop eared, underslung bay mare who won the New England Oaks, was by the sprinter Caruso out of Cinquepace, by Brown Bud, a reliable source of stamina.

This is a good family, stemming as it does from the chestnut Roi Herode mare Cinq a Sept, who won the Irish Oaks and Park Hill. Somethingroyal ran but once, unplaced, and yet her stakes-winning half-brother Imperium occurs in the pedigree of Mysterious, winner of the ’73 One Thousand Guineas and Epsom Oaks, while her half-sister Scattered was rescued from an early grave to win the CCA Oaks.

Secretariat’s pedigree is a strengthening synthesis of outcrosses. It is the peril of consanguinity the offspring will derive two recessive genes, thus in the end inbreeding will result in feeble specimens. Practical breeders spend millions annually to avoid it.

Greatness Explained in Different Ways

As one of the most famous quadrupeds to have emerged from the primordial soup, explaining Secretariat tempts students of divergent interests. Physicists today are in a flap to find there are more things ‘twixt heaven and earth than ever breeders dreamed in their philosophies.

Pasteur held a cosmic influence constantly controls all organization. This sounds a pleasantly mad idea. It will be objected that to absorb the dimension of equines into astrology is crude charlatanism, but Federico Tesio was convinced astral rhythms programmed the genes. If you are curious to know, Secretariat is an Aries with the dynamism of Mars. Perhaps he should thank his lucky stars.

Even more mystic is the kabalistic hypothesis assigning numerical values to letters in the Hebrew alphabet. “I’ve got your number” derives from this superstition. Four is the number corresponding to Secretariat’s name. This is the square number of the Pythagorians, indicating endurance, firmness of purpose and calmness. Four also is the number of Earth, indicating powerful underground fires that become earthquakes and volcanoes.

Secretariat not only implanted himself in the national consciousness, he became truly Big Business, with a T. V. rating to prove it.

His Derby claimed a 16.5 rating, or 50 percent of the national audience, his Preakness a 14.9 rating, his Belmont a Nielsen of 17.5. . . .

Fans retained a fortune in uncashed tote tickets on him as souvenirs. On the Belmont alone, their face value is $14,597.70, including 5,354 tickets worth $2.20 at the windows before April 1, 1974. As a novelty, uncashed win tickets on him in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont were framed and advertised at $325 a set.

Mrs. Tweedy employed the William Morris Agency to represent him, in order to exercise some control over the use of his name. . . .

Obviously, all this popularity must be deserved. “Richly” is the word, we think.

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2 Responses to Secretariat, 1973

  1. Pingback: Bloodstock links, blogs, posts, people you may have missed « Sid Fernando + Observations

  2. T. J. Cassidy says:

    An eloquence not seen in today’s generation. For something similar for television I recommend Jack Whitaker’s and Heywood Hale Broun’s commentaries in the CBS telecast of the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

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