One of the heroes I admire most was very quiet and unassuming. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Whatever he did, he gave his all and more. His life was a classic sample of synergy, where things merge and create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. All his efforts were dedicated to achieving excellence in sport. Upon his death, he was hailed as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century.
Secretariat (Bold Ruler – Somethingroyal) was a chestnut colt whose career in racing lasted only 15 months. But the victories he notched enshrine him forever as one of racing’s greatest legends.
Born in 1970 at Meadow Stud in Virginia, his debut race was at 2 years old. He came in fourth. It was the worst placing of his career.
He won his next race by six furlongs (2400 meters) at Aqueduct in July 1972. After that it was one victory after another, only marred by a disqualification in the Champagne Stakes in October 1972 at Saratoga Park. He had come in first but was relegated to second for bearing in on Stop The Music, who was declared the official winner.
In January 1973, his owner Penny Chenery accept the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year in behalf of Secretariat, who was also voted Champion Two-Year Old of 1972. Now a 3-year old, his handlers prepared him to compete in the prestigious Triple Crown.
On 5 May 1973, Secretariat became the first horse to complete the 1 1/4-mile course for the 99th Kentucky Derby (first leg of the Triple Crown) in less than two minutes.
He ran it in 1:59 2/5, which was 3/5 faster than Northern Dancer’s 1964 mark of 2:00, to set a track and stakes record that still holds. He ran each successive quarter-mile of the race faster than the previous one, with split times of : 25 1/5, :24, :23 4/5, :23 2/5 and :23.
He won the second leg of the TC, the Preakness Stakes, on 19 May 1973, and entered the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, as the odds-on favorite.
On 9 June 1973, Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths – the longest winning margin in the race’s history – while setting a track record of 2:24, which has not been surpassed. The time was 2 3/5 seconds faster than the mark set by Gallant Man in 1957.
Secretariat’s victory made him the ninth Triple Crown winner and first since Citation had swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1948. Later he ran two races on turf and won them both. In November 1973, he was retired to stud at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky.
In 1989, he was euthanized at Claiborne after suffering from severe laminitis. He was 19.
In May 1999, Secretariat was honored as the 35th greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN’S SportsCentury, a series of shows profiling the top athletes of the past 100 years. Secretariat was the only non-human to make the top 50.
His necropsy showed an oddity that may or may not have been a factor in his success – his heart was found to have been twice as large as that of an ordinary horse. This trait, called the “X-factor”, is now considered to be crucial for extraordinary success in thoroughbreds.
While his physical heart was larger than normal, his spirit, courage, and passion gave him the edge that made him a true champion and racing legend.
Secretariat – my hero. ***