Secretariat in training.
Cynthia Foley, Editor-in-Chief of Horse Journal, was especially pleased to hear that the Maryland Racing Commision gave Secretariat the Preakness record time, even if it took them almost 40 years to do it. If you’re a Secretariat fan, I know you’ll enjoy reading her thoughts on this monumental decision.
I know I don’t have to tell you this, but I will anyway. When Secretariat raced in 1973, he set the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes record times (videos can be found on YouTube, including that jaw-dropping run in the Belmont). Secretariat had the Preakness record, too, but it couldn’t go in the record books, as the official timers malfunctioned.
Now, 39 years later, that’s changed, and Secretariat offically holds the record times for all three legs of the Triple Crown. It’s about time!
I was aware that the Maryland Racing Commission was re-considering the decision, with appeals headed by then-owner Penny Chenery. But I never believed it would happen. Records are records, and they simply aren’t normally changed.
According to the book Secretariat, by Raymond G. Woolfe, Jr., considered “the” biographer of Secretariat, when the official timer broke, the time from offical track clocker (E.T. McClean, Jr.) had to be used, and McLean had the time at 1:55, which was a second off of Canonero II’s 1971 time of 1:54.
Clockers from the Daily Racing Form and others all agreed within a fifth of a second that Secretariat’s time was the new record. The officials did revise the time two days later to 1:54 2/5, but of course, this was not enough for a new record.
Thanks to the Maryland Racing Commission, Secretariat’s official time for the Preakness is now 1:53, which gives him his just due and he holds the record for all three legs.
In researching this, I came across some fascinating facts. Perhaps you have to be of a certain age to be impressed by all this, but I found them fascinating.
Secretariat retired in 1973, the same year he won the Triple Crown. We all know Secretariat’s syndation was a record-breaker, too, but his performance as a sire failed to meet expectations – expectations that were too high! He sired over 40 stakes winners, which makes him a top sire in any realistic book, and his son was the first yearling to sell for over $1,00,000. Secretariat was also known as a great broodmare sire, meaning that his daughters produced strong racehorses.
Secretariat lost four of his 21 races, one as a 2-year-old (his very first race) and three at age 3 (to Prove Out, Onion and Angle Light). His contenders in 1973 included Sham, who finished second in the Derby and Preakness, and last in the Belmont. He was found to have suffered a fracture during the Belmont and retired. Had he been born in any other year, it’s believed Sham would have had a Triple Crown. Remember this.
Besides Angle Light and Sham, other 1973 three-year-olds included My Gallant, who went on to be an outstanding sire, and Forego, the gelding who earned eight Eclipse Horse-of-the-Year awards. And, although they never direct competitors nor the same age, the great steeplechaser Red Rum won his first Grand National in 1973.
Secretariat was born March 29, 1970, and was euthanized on October 4, 1989, due to laminitis. He had suffered with the disease for a month and appeared to be improving until a major setback on October 3. The decision was made to end his intense pain. The exact cause of the laminitis was never fully determined or released, to my knowledge, although there was speculation that he was ill with a high fever that caused the laminits.
Although Secretariat’s heart was not weighed at the time of his quick necropsy (animal autopsy), Dr. Thomas Swerczek, the chief pathologist at the University of Kentucky, estimated it at 22 lbs. The average horse heart is 8 to 9 lbs. Upon his death, Sham’s heart was weighed by the same pathologist. It was 18 lbs. . . .
Secretariat was buried in an oak casket near Bold Ruler (his sire) and Nasrullah (his grandsire) on Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. Due to their size, many horses have only their head, heart and hooves buried, but Secretariat’s entire body was buried.
For me, and millions of others, there will never be another Secretariat.