Secretariat (March 30, 1970 – October 4, 1989) was an American Thoroughbred racehorse considered by many to be the greatest racehorse of all time: Secretariat not only won the 1973 Triple Crown but set still standing track records in two of the three races in the Series, the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. Secretariat was affectionately nicknamed "Big Red" by his owner because of his size and brilliant chestnut color, or, perhaps, in an attempt to draw comparisons to the great Man o' War.
Sired by Bold Ruler out of the dam Somethingroyal, Secretariat was born at Meadow Farm in Caroline County, Virginia. Owned by Penny Chenery, he was trained by Canadian Lucien Laurin and ridden by fellow Canadian jockey Ron Turcotte. Secretariat won the 1973 Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, making him the first Triple Crown winner in a quarter of a century.
Secretariat's famed career began with the toss of a coin in 1968 between Christopher Chenery of Meadow Stables and Ogden Phipps of Wheatley Stable. The idea of a coin toss came from Phipps, the owner of Bold Ruler, and Bull Hancock of Claiborne Farms as a way to get the very best mares for Bold Ruler. Bold Ruler was considered one of the premier stallions of his time. He had a fine balance between speed and stamina. After his racing career, Bold Ruler was sent to the Claiborne Farms but still was controlled by the Phipps family. This meant he would be bred to mainly Phipps' mares and not many of his offspring would find their way to the auction ring. Phipps and Hancock agreed to forgo a stud fee for Bold Ruler in exchange for getting to keep one of two foals produced by the mare he bred in successive seasons or two mares he bred in the same season. Who obtained which foal or even received first pick would be decided by a flip of a coin.
In 1968, Chenery sent two mares named Hasty Matelda and Somethingroyal to Bold Ruler, and in 1969, a colt and filly were the result. In 1969, Hasty Matelda was replaced by Cicada, but she did not conceive. Only one foal resulted between Bold Ruler and Somethingroyal. As stated in the original agreement, the winner of the coin toss could pick the foal he wanted but could only take one, while the loser would get the other two. Both parties assumed Somethingroyal would deliver a healthy foal in the spring of 1970. The coin toss between Penny Chenery and Ogden Phipps was set for the fall of 1969 in the office of New York Racing Association Chairman Alfred Vanderbilt II, with Hancock as witness. As Vanderbilt flipped the coin, Phipps called "Tails!" The coin landed tails up. Phipps decided to take the weanling filly out of Somethingroyal, leaving Chenery with the colt out of Hasty Matelda and the unborn foal of Somethingroyal.
On March 30, just ten minutes past midnight, Somethingroyal foaled a bright red chestnut colt with three white socks and a star with a narrow blaze. Almost immediately, the colt was thought to be too beautiful, a title that would haunt him early in his racing career and then earn him fame for his beauty as a Triple Crown winner. By the time the colt was a yearling, he still was without a name. Meadow's secretary, Elizabeth Ham, had submitted ten names to the Jockey Club, and all ten were denied for one reason or another. Approval finally came with the eleventh submission, a name Ham herself picked from a previous career association, Secretariat.
The Triple Crown
The Kentucky Derby
Nicknamed Big Red (as he was a large chestnut horse like Man o' War), he won the Kentucky Derby by gradually moving up on the field in the backstretch, then overtaking rival Sham in the middle of the dash for home. Making Secretariat's Derby win more impressive was the fact that Sham's time of 1:59 4/5 equaled Monarchos' 2001 Derby time, the second fastest in history.
A lesser-known but perhaps more amazing accomplishment of his, took place in that year's Derby. On his way to a still-standing record time in that race (1:59 2/5), he achieved the unheard-of feat of "negative splitting," running each quarter-mile (402 m) 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.
The Preakness Stakes
Secretariat did not wait long to make his presence known in the Preakness. In last place as the horses moved past the stands, Big Red made a big leap forward on the first turn. CBS Television sportscaster Chic Anderson:
- But HERE comes Secretariat, he's moving fast, and he's going to the outside—he's going for the lead and it's right NOW he's looking for it!
Despite constant left-handed whipping by jockey Laffit Pincay, Jr., Sham could not overtake Secretariat, who won by two and a half lengths. The main controversy of the race was its time. The infield totalisator board flashed a time of 1:55. The track's electronic timer malfunctioned because of damage from the huge crowd crossing the track to reach the infield. The Pimlico clocker, E.T. McLean Jr., who sheepishly admitted years later that he had in fact delayed clicking his stopwatch accurately as he too was transfixed on Secretariat's amazing performance (Source: Secretariat - Raymond G. Woolfe), had informed them that he had clocked a time of 1:54 2/5, while at the same time two Daily Racing Form clockers claimed the time was 1:53 2/5 which would have been faster than the track record (1:54 by Cañonero II). Two tapes of the horses were played side by side and were reclocked and slowly examined and Secretariat got to the finish line first on tape, though this is not a reliable method of timing a horse race. The Maryland Jockey Club, which managed the Pimlico racetrack and is responsible for maintaining Preakness records, discarded both electronic and The DRF time and recognized 1:54 2/5 as the official time. In some programs, both DRF and official time are printed. The official Preakness record book maintains that the time was 1:54 2/5, and Pimlico officials have chosen not to revisit this issue. Meanwhile, Tank's Prospect (1985), Louis Quatorze (1996), and Curlin (2007) have all run 1:53 2/5, equaling the time attributed to Secretariat by the Racing Form. Farma Way won the 1991 Pimlico Special in 1:52 2/5, setting the current track record. Oddly enough, Secretariat's stablemate Riva Ridge also ran the same distance in 1:52 2/5 in the 1973 Brooklyn Handicap at Aqueduct, sharing the current American dirt record at that distance with Farma Way. The issue of Secretariat's time in the Preakness may never be fully resolved.
The Belmont Stakes
Only four horses joined Secretariat for the June 9, 1973, running of the Belmont Stakes, including Sham, who had finished second in both the Derby and Preakness. With so few horses in the race, and with Secretariat expected to win, no "show" bets were taken. Before a crowd of 67,605, Secretariat and Sham set a blistering early pace, opening a 10-length cushion on the others. But while Sham faded after the halfway mark (ultimately finishing last), Secretariat astonished spectators by picking up the killing pace–eventually straining the television cameras' wide-angle capability as they struggled to keep the distant challengers in the same frame. Turcotte has said in documentaries that he could sense the horse wanted to be let loose, and he did so, letting the horse shift into "high gear" and run his own race.
In one of the best-known of American sports calls, Anderson—later Belmont Park's track announcer—punctuated Secretariat's powerful move on the final turn of the Belmont this way:
…Secretariat is blazing along! The first three-quarters of a mile in 1:09 and four fifths. Secretariat is widening now! He is moving like a TREMENDOUS machine! Secretariat by 12, Secretariat by 14 lengths on the turn! Sham is dropping back. It looks like they'll catch him today, as My Gallant and Twice a Prince are both coming up to him now. But Secretariat is all alone! He's out there almost a 16th of a mile away from the rest of the horses! Secretariat is in a position that seems impossible to catch. He's into the stretch. Secretariat leads this field by 18 lengths, and now Twice a Prince has taken second and My Gallant has moved back to third. They're in the stretch. Secretariat has opened a 22-length lead! He is going to be the Triple Crown winner! Here comes Secretariat to the wire. An unbelievable, an amazing performance! He hits the finish 25 lengths in front!"
In fact, the champion's winning margin was 31 lengths–a distance it took careful examination of videotape and trackside photographs to measure, although veteran Daily Racing Form trackman Jack Wilson accurately recorded it as Secretariat hit the wire. Secretariat's time of 2 minutes and 24 seconds flat has remained the world record on dirt at that distance; no horse has come within 1 2/5 seconds of the time. During Anderson's call of the stretch run, the CBS camera had to pull back to keep both Big Red and his opponents in the frame, and as a result caught a poignant image in TV sports history–the backs of tens of thousands of cheering Belmont Park spectators cheering and applauding as Secretariat neared the wire. Almost as iconic as the still and video images of Secretariat blowing away the competition was the scene of owner Penny Chenery Tweedy waving her arms in exultation (and relief) in the Belmont owners' boxes. Anderson:
- An amazing, unbelievable performance by this miracle horse—and look at Mrs. Tweedy! (laughing) She's having the time of her life!
Secretariat's stride at the finish was so powerful that it took jockey Ron Turcotte nearly two furlongs to pull him up. In fact, after Secretariat galloped out for 1/8 mile after the race his time for 1 and 5/8 miles including the cool down is alleged to be 2 minutes 37.6 seconds, which would have broken a world record set by the great Swaps in 1956 by three lengths. At the mile and 3/8 point, Secretariat had run faster than Man o' War's record from when the Belmont was run at that length. Secretariat's winning margin of 31 lengths in the long and grueling Belmont Stakes is remembered as one of the most dramatic events in thoroughbred racing history. TIME Magazine, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated] featured Secretariat on their covers on June 11, 1973, the first to be featured on all three magazines' covers in the same week, though no journalists or racing experts had expected the pure and absolute domination that Secretariat exhibited. If the Beyer Speed Figure calculation had been developed during that time, Secretariat would have earned a figure of 139, one of the highest figures ever assigned.  Bettors, awed by the performance, held onto the 5,617 winning on-course Tote tickets yet never redeemed them.
After the Triple Crown
Secretariat never duplicated his Belmont Stakes performance, but continued to run impressively after the Triple Crown. He shipped to Chicago and won at Arlington Park, won the inaugural Marlboro Cup against a fantastic field that included 1972 Derby and Belmont winner, Secretariat's stablemate Riva Ridge, top California stakes winner Cougar II, Canadian champion Kennedy Road, and Onion, who had upset Secretariat in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. Secretariat stopped the clock in 1:45 2/5 for 1 1/8 miles, at the time, a world record on any surface (according to "railbirds" who claimed to have timed Secretariat galloping past the wire at the track, Secretariat galloped out an extra furlong in 1:57 4/5, which would have broken the world record at that time).
He also won his first start on grass in the Man o' War Stakes in a still standing track record time of 2:24 4/5, without being touched by the whip. Secretariat is claimed to have galloped out an extra furlong in 2:37 4/5, which would have equaled the world record at that distance on any surface (Source: Secretariat, Raymond G. Woolfe Jr.).
But Secretariat did not always fire. His fans argue that there were extenuating circumstances for each of those defeats. In his final preparation race for the Kentucky Derby, he had lost to an ordinary horse named Angle Light as well as his nemesis Sham. Secretariat's trainer Lucien Lauren withheld knowledge of a bad abscess on his horse's upper lip from owner Tweedy and jockey Turcotte. (Source: Secretariat - The Making Of A Champion, William Nack). Similarly, after the Triple Crown, he lost to two horses trained by "giant killer" Allen Jerkens (who also beat five-time Horse of the Year, Kelso, with Beau Purple)–Onion and Prove Out. Trainer Lauren oddly allowed Secretariat to run against Onion in the Whitney even though his horse allegedly had a low grade fever, and entered Secretariat to compete against Prove Out in the Woodward, when he allegedly had inadequate training (1 1/8 mile Marlboro Cup) and was originally being pointed toward the 1973 Man o' War Stakes on grass, thus running 1 1/2 miles much earlier than scheduled. (Source: Secretariat - The Making Of A Champion, William Nack)
It should be noted that, like all racetrack excuses, there are reasons to doubt the explanations offered for Secretariat's losses. There is a saying that "around the racetrack, excuses are for losers and sore bettors" because they are always offered by owners, trainers, and riders to deflect the blame when what was thought to be the best horse loses a race.  And William Nack, who was Secretariat's hagiographer, has a great incentive not to write anything negative about the horse—he was given "unprecedented access" to the horse and his connections. 
After three more victories and two second-place finishes in 1973, Secretariat won his last race with another impressive performance. With jockey Ron Turcotte out with a five-day suspension, Eddie Maple rode Secretariat to victory in the Canadian International Stakes on grass and against older horses. He won the race by an impressive 6 1/2 lengths, a tremendous accomplishment on grass where large winning margins are much less common than they are in the Belmont Stakes on dirt.
Altogether, Secretariat won 16 of his 21 career races and finished out of the money just once–in his debut as a 2-year-old, when he was jostled coming out of the gate and finished fourth.
In the fall of 1989, Secretariat was afflicted with laminitis, a painful and often incurable hoof condition. His condition failed to improve, and he was euthanized on October 4. He is buried at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky. In death, he received the ultimate honor for a horse—he was buried whole. By tradition, the only parts of a Thoroughbred buried at a gravesite are their head (to symbolize intelligence), heart (to symbolize strength), and legs (to symbolize power). Other parts are disposed of by other means.
Secretariat was known in life as a horse with a large "heart." However, before his burial, he was necropsied at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Thomas Swerczek, the veterinarian who performed the necropsy, claims that he found that Secretariat's heart was the largest he had ever seen in a horse—approximately twice the size of a normal horse's heart. Dr. Swerczek states in correspondence:
"Certainly, after performing autopsies on several thousand thoroughbred horses, including mares and stallions, no other horse came close to Secretariat’s heart size. The second largest heart I found was the heart of Sham, who actually broke the Kentucky derby record, but still lost to Secretariat. Sham’s heart weighed 19 pounds. The third largest heart I found was stallion Key to the Mint, which was 16 pounds. The majority of all others were smaller, in the range of 10 to 12 pounds. Bold Ruler, the sire of Secretariat had an average size heart. The heart size seemingly is inherited from the female side of the pedigree. When I performed the autopsy on Secretariat, which was necessary because of insurance and we needed to determine the cause of the laminitis, the cause of destruction, I did a cosmetic autopsy. The reason being I did not want to dismantle such a remarkable specimen and the farm personnel and handlers were present to immediately collect all organs in large plastic bags which were immediately returned to the farm to be buried with the body. Normally, with other horses we can keep all organs and the body for further study, or to preserve large specimens, like the heart, but I was not allowed to do this with Secretariat. For this reason, all specimens were immediately collected and returned to the farm, and I did not get a chance to weigh the heart. However, by comparing it to numerous other hearts I got actual weights on, I am certain the weight was between 21 to 22 pounds. So I considered the heart weight officially as 21 pounds. The heart was in perfect shape, not diseased in any way, but just considerably larger than any other horses I autopsied." (see reference below)
A normal heart size for a thoroughbred is 8½ pounds. This information on heart size led the way for new research to be conducted on factors leading up to great thoroughbreds and the size of their hearts. The hypothesis known as the Circulatory system of the horse ("X factor") claims that an enlarged heart size is given by the dam to her foal, even as she acquired it from her sire. Devotees of this theory claim that Secretariat was a successful broodmare sire because his heart size genetics might be passed on to fillies he sired, who in turn would pass it on to their foals. However, it should be noted that this research is still preliminary and that there is still much work left to do before the hypothesis can be confirmed. 
While there is now an extensive literature debating whether the X factor and heart size has a connection to athletic performance in racehorses, there is nonetheless reason to doubt the veracity of Dr. Swerczek's particular story about Secretariat. The story of Phar Lap's enlarged heart, which was detected after an autopsy performed after that horse's mysterious death, was well publicized (it appears in the Encyclopedia of American Racing, published in 1959), and would have been known by any important equine veterinarian who worked with racehorses. Further, Dr. Swerczek admits that he did not actually weigh the heart, and no pictures exist of the alleged organ. Also, what are the odds that the horse with the alleged second largest heart would be another 1970 foal who was Secretariat's chief rival in the Triple Crown races? As Secretariat is a popular horse, the desire to say that he had "heart" in the metaphorical sense is understandable; whether he had "heart" in the literal sense is unproven.
Yet there is evidence supporting Dr. Swerzcek's professional assessments. In 1973, 16 years before he performed the autopsy, according to the 1974 Edition of the American Racing Manual, medical tests were performed on Secretariat's circulatory system in an effort to determine the parameters of his stamina and heart capacities. At that time, given his pedigree, there was discussion and concern in some circles regarding his ability to run the longer classic distances. In a similar vein, tests had been administered to Ribot, the great European champion of 1950s vintage that retired undefeated after 16 starts. Those tests revealed a very strong heart giving extra stamina to extended distances. Secretariat's test results indicated a heart of unusual dimension weighing at least 1.65 times to twice the weight of the average Thoroughbred heart. What Dr. Swerczek did 16 years later was to get a visual of this heart and give his best professional assessment of its size and weight. His observations based on experience confirmed what those medical examinations revealed more than a decade and a half earlier, that Secretariat's heart was of exceptional size and weight. Adjustments to the initial estimates followed after obtaining weights and measurements taken from other heart specimens. In retrospect there does exist empirical evidence giving 'weight' to Dr. Swerzcek's assertions as well as to the declaration that Secretariat had 'heart' in both the poetic and literal sense.
However, Dr. Swerczek's claims, importantly, were not consistent with the circulatory tests performed on Secretariat. Those tests indicated a heart size substantially smaller than that claimed by Dr. Swerczek. Dr. Swerczek's claims therefore seem to have all the elements of a "fish story," i.e., a tale that might have had some kernel of truth but which was greatly exaggerated. In any event, the fact that he never photographed the organ nor allowed anyone else to verify his story would seem damning to any objective observer.
Secretariat was awarded the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year, the most prestigious honor in racing, both as a two-year-old (the first horse so honored at that age) and as a three-year-old. Secretariat demonstrated his superiority on grass with wins in the Canadian International Stakes and the Man o' War Stakes against older horses. His performance on grass earned him the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Male Turf Horse.
His race records in the Derby and the Belmont stand to this day; his run in the Belmont is not only a race record but still the fastest time ever run at the distance of a mile and a half (2.4 km) on a dirt track. Indeed, no horse has ever come within 1 2/5 seconds (approximately 5-6 lengths at 1 1/2 miles) of Secretariat's time, and the second fastest Belmont Stakes time is a full 2 seconds slower. Were the official Preakness time disregarded, and the word of the Daily Racing Form clockers accepted, it could be said that he set a new speed record in each of the Triple Crown races, and he would have been the only horse in history to do so.
ESPN listed Secretariat 35th of the 100 greatest athletes of the 20th century, one of three non-humans on the list. In 1974, Secretariat was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
Secretariat became a beloved figure with fans and non-fans of horse racing as they came to see Big Red at Claiborne farm, where he stayed from 1974 through 1989, living in the same stall which was once home to his sire, Bold Ruler. Secretariat sired a substantial number of major stakes winners, including 1986 Horse of the Year Lady's Secret, 1988 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes winner Risen Star, and the 1990 Melbourne Cup winner Kingston Rule, who still holds the race record. He also sired General Assembly, who won the 1979 Travers Stakes at Saratoga while setting a still-standing race record of 2:00 flat; Andrew Beyer has said that General Assembly's speed figure in that race was one of the fastest in history. Like Secretariat in the Belmont, General Assembly never duplicated that performance in another race. Secretariat's unfair criticism as a stallion was mostly due to his inability to produce offspring as great as he was—(and perhaps due to his expensive syndication deal); expectations were clearly unrealistic, and when viewed objectively, Secretariat was a very successful stallion. He sired as many as 600 foals during his retirement.
In contrast to most other great racehorses, with the notable exception of Man o' War, Secretariat never raced past age 3. His owner had promised breeding syndicators that he would retire after his 3 year old season. Unfortunately, this decision denied racing fans the opportunity to see him compete through a full season against open competition in handicap races under heavier weights and take on challengers on the harder tracks in the western United States. This comparatively early retirement is often cited by those who advocate other racehorses for the mythical "greatest ever" label.
His blood flows through many other notable racehorses, including 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, and he is most noted as a broodmare sire, being the broodmare sire of 1992 Horse of the Year and successful sire A.P. Indy, Secretariat's grandson through his daughter Weekend Surprise, who was sired by another Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew. AP Indy is the sire of 2007 Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches, the first filly to win at Belmont since 1905. Secretariat is also the dam-sire of the great stallions Storm Cat (by Storm Bird), through his daughter Terlingua, herself an excellent racemare, and of Gone West, through his daughter Secrettame.
On October 16, 1999, in the winner's circle at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, the United States Postal Service honored the great horse, unveiling a 33-cent postage stamp with his image.
In 2005, Secretariat appeared once more in ESPN Classic's show Who's No. 1?. In the list of "Greatest Sports Performances" (by individual athletes), the horse was the only non-human on the list, his run at Belmont ranking second behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game.
The horse was named the greatest athlete wearing #2 by Sports Illustrated.
Race record at age 2:
- Sanford Stakes
- Hopeful Stakes (USA)
- Belmont Futurity
- Laurel Futurity
- Garden State Stakes
- Champagne Stakes (disqualified for interference)
Race record at age 3:
- Kentucky Derby (new track record, still standing)
- Preakness Stakes (Daily Racing Form clockers claimed he established a new track record, but a malfunctioning official timer did not, and the clockers' time has not been officially recognized)
- Belmont Stakes (still stands fastest time in history on a dirt track)
- Bay Shore Stakes
- Gotham Stakes (tied track record)
- Arlington Invitational
- Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap (new world record)
- Man o' War Stakes (new course record, still standing)
- Canadian International Stakes
- Woodward Stakes
- Whitney Stakes
- Wood Memorial Stakes
|Mumtaz Begum (horse)||Blenheim II|
|Mumtaz Mahal (horse)|
|Discovery (horse)||Display (horse)|
|Prince Rose||Rose Prince (horse)|
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Correspondence with Dr. Thomas Swerczek 05/30/2006
- The official Secretariat website Retrieved December 22, 2007.
- Capps, T. Timothy. Secretariat. Lexington, KY: Eclipse Press, 2003. ISBN 1581500912
- Scanlan, Lawrence. The horse God built: the untold story of Secretariat, the world's greatest racehorse. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2007. ISBN 9780312367244
- Woolfe, G. Raymond. Secretariat. Radnor, PA: Chilton Book Co., 1974. ISBN 0801961564
- Woolfe, Raymond G. Secretariat. The Derrydale Press, 2001. ISBN 1586670670
All links retrieved November 2, 2019.
- SECRETARIAT - 1973 Kentucky Derby (Alternate Footage)
- SECRETARIAT - 1973 Preakness Stakes (Alternate Footage)
- SECRETARIAT - 1973 Belmont Stakes (Alternate Footage)
- Secretariat at the Notable Names Database
- Secretariat Memorial at Find A Grave
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