“Nearly 50 years after winning the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat remains the most recognized and beloved name in horse racing.”
Claiming horse racings’ Triple Crown, June 9, 1973, Secretariat’s time remains the fastest ever recorded at Belmont, said Kent Stolt.
The Kentucky Derby (first run 1875), the Preakness Stakes (1873) and the Belmont Stakes (1867) make up the Triple Crown. It is a racing series for three-year-old Thoroughbreds
Born March 30, 1970, Secretariat, set and still holds the fastest time in all three races, said Stolt, racehorse historian-writer.
“Sometimes referred to as ‘Big Red,’ Secretariat is regarded as one of the greatest racehorses of all time,” Stolt reiterated. “He was the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. His record-breaking victory in the Belmont Stakes, won by 31 lengths, is regarded one of the greatest races in history.”
Sired by Bold Ruler, Secretariat was out of Somethingroyal. Bold Ruler, owned by the Phipps Family, was the leading sire in North America, 1963 through 1969 and in 1973. He possessed both speed and stamina winning the 1957 Horse of the Year honors.
To bring new blood into their breeding program, the Phipps family sometimes negotiated a foal-sharing agreement with other mare owners. Under such an arrangement, Penny Chenery sent mares to be bred to Bold Ruler. She received the 1970 foal of Somethingroyal, which turned out to be Secretariat.
Secretariat grew into a massive, powerful horse said to resemble his sire's maternal grandsire, Discovery. Standing 16.2-hands, 66-inches tall, Secretariat was noted for being exceptionally well-balanced, described as having "nearly perfect" conformation and stride.
“It is said Secretariat’s chest was so large that he required a custom-made girth,” according to Stolt. “He was noted for his large, powerful, well-muscled hindquarters.
“The way Secretariat's body parts fit together determined efficiency of his stride, enhancing acceleration and endurance.”
At age two, Secretariat finished fourth in his 1972 debut maiden race. He then won seven of his remaining eight starts, including five stakes’ victories.
“Secretariat’s only loss during this period was in the Champagne Stakes. He finished first but was disqualified to second for interference,” Stolt said.
Secretariat received the Eclipse Award for champion two-year-old colt. He also was the 1972 Horse of the Year, a rare honor for a horse so young.
“At age three, Secretariat not only won the Triple Crown, but set speed records in all three races,” Stole reiterated.
His time in the Kentucky Derby still stands as the Churchill Downs track record for one-and-quarter miles. Likewise, Secretariat’s time in the Belmont Stakes stands as the American record for one-and-half miles on the dirt.
World record was set in the Marlboro Cup at one-and-one-eighth miles. Secretariat further proved his versatility by winning two major stakes races on turf.
“A turf course is simply a racing surface comprised of grass, as opposed to dirt or synthetic materials,” Stolt clarified.
“Losing three times that year, Secretariat’s brilliance of his nine wins made him an American icon,” Stolt said. He won his second Horse of the Year title, plus Eclipse Awards for champion three-year-old colt and champion turf horse.
At the beginning of his three-year-old year, Secretariat was syndicated for a record-breaking $6.08 million. That’s equivalent to about $37.1 million today.
“The syndication was on the condition that Secretariat be retired from racing by the end of the year,” Stolt said.
Altogether, Secretariat won 16 of his 21 career races, with three seconds, one third, and more than $1.6 million.
Retired to Claiborne Farm, Secretariat’s sperm showed immaturity, so he was bred to three test mares verifying fertility. Secretariat's first official foal crop, arriving in 1975, consisted of 28 foals.
Ultimately, Secretariat officially sired 663 named foals, including 341 winners, 51.4-percent, and 54 stakes winners, 8.1-percent
“There has been some criticism of Secretariat as a stallion,” Stolt said. “He did not produce male offspring of his own ability and did not leave a leading sire son behind.”
But his legacy was assured through the quality of his daughters, including several excellent racers and more outstanding producers. In 1992, Secretariat was the leading broodmare sire in North America. Overall, Secretariat's daughters produced 24 Grade/Group 1 winners.
His daughters produced several notable sires including Storm Cat, Gone West, Chief’s Crown, and more. “Through those sons, Secretariat appears in the pedigree of many modern champions,” Stolt pointed out.
In the fall of 1989, Secretariat became afflicted with laminitis, a painful and debilitating hoof condition. He was euthanized on October 4, 1989, at the age of 19, and is buried at Claiborne Farm.
Dr. Thomas Swerczek at the University of Kentucky did not weigh Secretariat's heart when performing post-mortem examination. However, the veterinarian stated, "We just stood there in stunned silence. We couldn't believe it. The heart was perfect. There were no problems with it. It was just this huge engine.”
Secretariat was inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame in 1974, He is second only to Man o’ War in the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century.
Controversy continues who really was faster Secretariat or Man o’ War?