When we speak about sports miracles, most everyone thinks of the U.S. Hockey team wrapped up in that American flag, or that voice screaming: “The Giants Win The Pennant!” But once upon a time – and only once – an athlete came along that was beyond miraculous. In fact, he was truly stunning. He was of the most gorgeous color and shape, and even though this red chestnut-colored athlete did not look like the ultimate athlete – he brought about a miracle in the sports world that will never be matched!
It was on June 9, 1973 when a colt by the name of Secretariat accomplished the extraordinary and the unthinkable by winning horse racing’s Triple Crown. In the Kentucky Derby, this amazing athlete had run a quarter mile faster than the race before, and in the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat pulled away from the field as if he were actually flying. Honestly. It would come as no surprise to find out that this horse had wings, seeing as that his strides were beyond breathtaking. Secretariat crossed the wire thirty-one lengths in front of the next horse and shaved four full seconds off the previous record – leaving no one with any measurable comparison when it came to the ultimate horse.
Born in 1970, Secretariat became the first U.S. Triple crown champion in twenty-five years in 1973, setting new race records in two of the three events – records that still stand to this day. Like his famous predecessor, Man o’ War, this colt was given the exact same nickname, “Big Red.”
This truly famous third-year of Secretariat’s life went down in history, even though the first win was quite an easy one in the Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct. In his next start, Secretariat led from beginning to end for the first time in his career, and tied the track record for time. Oddly enough, his short ‘winning streak’ came to an end in his third start, when he finished third in the Wood Memorial, losing to one of his own stable mates named Sham. Because of the results, some actually considered Sham to be the top pick to win the Kentucky Derby, but it seemed that Secretariat was the horse who wanted to prove that all the bettors were wrong!
As the crowd filled Churchill Downs for the Derby, Secretariat and another of his stable mates, Angle Light, were the 3–2 favorites (Sham was 5-2). Secretariat actually was dead last when he broke, but gradually he moved up the field in the backstretch overtaking Sham at the top of the stretch, to pull ahead and win by 2 ½ lengths. Unlike most horses who slow as they go, Secretariat was extremely unique – running each quarter-mile segment faster than the one before – which means he was still accelerating in the final quarter-mile of the race.
Again, in the Preakness Stakes, Secretariat broke dead last, but then made another extraordinary ‘last-to-first’ move on the first turn. After reaching the lead with 51/2 furlongs to go, Secretariat was never once challenged, and won by the same 2½ lengths with his pal, Sham, once again finishing second.
Secretariat was getting more press than Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt out house-hunting. While preparing to take on the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat was seen on the covers of Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, and millions of other newspapers and television shows across the country. It seemed that overnight, Secretariat had become a national celebrity.
Only four horses competed against Secretariat on June 9, 1973, including Sham. The bettors at the Belmont Stakes pretty much decided that it was a two-horse race – with the three other horses having little chance of beating the top two in racing. With so few horses, and with Secretariat expected to win, no “show” bets were actually taken. Before an excited crowd of over sixty-seven thousand, Secretariat and Sham began as quick as lightning – opening ten lengths on the rest of the field. After the six-furlong mark, Sham began to grow tired – which is something that no one watching the race expected – finishing dead last. But Secretariat continued his exceptional and truly thrilling work as he mesmerized everyone by continuing to go super-sonic and opening up even a larger margin on the field.
CBS Television announcer, Chic Anderson’s, words will always be remembered in the annals of history as he watched in awe: “Secretariat is widening now! He is moving like a tremendous machine!” And the race went down in history, with Secretariat breaking the margin-of-victory record set by Triple Crown winner, Count Fleet, in 1943.
Secretariat was not done when he took away that Triple Crown; he continued over the years to prove that he was a top Thoroughbred. Yes, there finally came some losses for Secretariat, and his owner even entered into a syndication deal that prohibited the horse racing past age three. Secretariat’s final race was once again a truly impressive performance in the Canadian International Stakes held in Toronto, Canada. After the race, this stunning athlete that had no equal was brought back to Aqueduct Racetrack where he was paraded before screaming, loving fans in his final public appearance.
The statistics for Secretariat were phenomenal – winning sixteen of his twenty-one career races and earning a total of over $1.3 million dollars. Even as a father Secretariat brought in the money, as he sired Canadian Bound - the youngest racehorse to ever be sold for more that one million dollars. Oddly enough, the son was nothing like the father when it came to racing, but eventually a number of Secretariat’s offspring became major stakes winners, including 1986 Horse of the Year, Lady’s Secret, and the 1988 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner, Risen Star. One of his most amazing ‘children’ was General Assembly, who he sired in 1979, and set a still-standing race record of two minutes flat at the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
When Secretariat became afflicted with a seriously painful and often incurable hoof condition in 1989, he was put to rest at the age of nineteen. This incredible athlete was so beloved by the world that Secretariat was mourned by millions, and was given the rare honor of being buried whole, so that he could head into Heaven and run soundly and strongly beside the ultimate animal lover, St. Francis. One of the oddest things was that Secretariat’s heart weighed twenty-two pounds and was in perfect working order when he passed – two-and-three-quarters larger than that of the average horse. Secretariat had certainly proved in death that he was filled with love, strength and unbelievable power all wrapped up in that super-sized heart.
A one-of-a-kind sports miracle!
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