01/15/2013 4:25PM

Greatness in 1972


I noticed today (Tuesday) that sportsillustrated.com posted a feature story about the merits of 1972 being one of the greatest years in sports history. I doubt any specific year can be identified as the best year in sport to any degree of satisfaction, but there can’t be too much argument that 1972 belongs in the discussion.

That was the year of the 17-0 Miami Dolphins, and of the USC Trojans, with the 1972 edition of that team considered one of the very best college football teams of all time. And that year saw three additional dominating champions: a pair of Bruins – Boston in hockey, and UCLA in college basketball, as well as the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA.

But there was one dominating champion of 1972, a champion who forever altered his sport and changed the way comparisons were made within it, that the si.com piece (perhaps not surprisingly) overlooked. And though I am biased, of course, I believe that champion deserves inclusion in even a mainstream discussion of 1972's place in the history of sports. That champion is Secretariat.

Yes, I am an unabashed Secretariat fan, and always will be. He was the greatest racehorse of my racing lifetime (which dates to 1968), and for me, it isn’t even close. And I say that not as a knock on some of the other truly fantastic horses I have seen, but to convey how other-worldly I thought Secretariat was. I know I have a lot of company on this, but I’m not sure everyone who agrees has a full appreciation of the pre-Triple Crown Secretariat, the 2-year-old Secretariat of 1972.

Secretariat made the first of nine 2-year-old starts in 1972 on the Fourth of July at Aqueduct (yes, folks, Aqueduct on July 4th), was mugged under a bug rider, and finished fourth. He went on to finish first in his remaining eight juvenile starts, six of them stakes, but was disqualified and placed second in the Champagne Stakes for a legitimate infraction, but one that had absolutely zero impact on the outcome.

Secretariat’s dominance at 2 was so overwhelming that he was voted Horse of the Year, making him the first since Colin 65 years earlier to earn that title outright. Secretariat was so awesome at 2 that he was syndicated for stud duty before he even made one start at 3 for a record $6.08 million. That record surpassed the previous mark of $5.44 million established two years earlier by the great Nijinsky II, after he became the first in 35 years, and last, to sweep the English Triple Crown.

Greatness in 1972? Dominance? Here it is, Secretariat in the 1972 Hopeful (by the way, he’s the one who is last early):



Mauricio Samuel Farias Gomez More than 1 year ago
Mike you are absolute right about Secretariat and 1972 Nick Arden mention La Provoyante one of my all time favorites whit no dout am going to mention a truly champion filly, a two year old of 72 but as a 3 year old she became best mare in the USA.perhaps in the world Desert Vixen.Back to Secretariat he was truly a champion.A.H. Jerkens beat him twice whit two diferent horses Onion and Prove Out that why he is The Chief best who ever made it.
Nick Arden More than 1 year ago
1972 was also the year of La Prevoyante. 2-year-old filly of the year with a record of 12-0 and champion male turf horse and west coast star Cougar II.
Greg Rouch More than 1 year ago
As to the argument about Secretariat as a sire vs. Seattle Slew, Secretariat contributed his best as a broodmare sire.
Mark Stulga More than 1 year ago
Great to see; It would be great to have that type of class back in racing. Although racing has probably not really changed in real terms; that era just seemed to feel more grand and inspiring. Now we have too many trainers under too many clouds and with horses who's achievements have too many questions. But lets have hope!
Jim Fields More than 1 year ago
Secretariat was great, but he was beatable on several occasions, by more than one horse. Seattle Slew was unbeatable, even when they teamed two great horses against him. Slew was surely better as a reproducing sire. So when you define greatness, SS was the better of the two horses. You also can't leave the great Swaps out of the greatest contest. Look at his times. World and track records abound. I say in the last 50 years of the twentieth century there are 4 greats; Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Swaps, and Spectacular Bid
Bellwether4U More than 1 year ago
By the trainer & owners own addmission they ran BIG RED when he was WORN DOWN (right after the TC with no break @ all) & down right SICK (huge mistake)...the BIG HEARTED SOB still showed up!!!...Slew was a great one but He damn sure was not a SECRETARIAT!!!...ty...
Old timer More than 1 year ago
no doubt the horses mentioned were greats. Plus these discussions are a big part of what make this sport interesting and enjoyable. However I won't argue about the merits of Secretariat vs. Slew as sires. I will say that on the race track Secretariat was tons better than Seattle Slew. All one need do is look at the times of the three triple crown races for each. Secretariat's Belmont was the greatest tour de force by a race horse EVER. It was world record for 1 1/2 miles and I dare say it won't be broken in my lifetime and perhaps ever. Secretariat ran the first half of that race in less than 1:10 for six furlongs. That is insane for a mile and half race. Most horses would have been cooked by a mile... but he ran off by 31 lengths.
Jim Tully More than 1 year ago
I contend Secretariat's Preakness as tour de force as his Belmont. My reason is this: I have seen many a horse open up on the lead to draw off by widening margins. Sure, not 31 lengths in a Triple Crown race, but the fact is sometimes horses wake up feeling good, the stars align, the conditions are perfect and they give the peak performance of a lifetime. But I have still yet to see another race--and I have seen tens of thousands-- where a horse goes last to first around the first turn, passing the entire field while 4 or 5 wide, takes the lead and wins. Not at any any level at any track.
Greg Rouch More than 1 year ago
Secretariat in this video looks like a three year old that got into a two year old race by mistake. Is it possible that he could have gotten even BETTER at four than anything we saw?! Or did he reach the peak of his potential? Some are as good at three as they will ever be, some continue to improve.
John Nicoletti More than 1 year ago
As usual, Mike watchmaker, does an outstanding, and accurate, article, on the greatest thoroughbred in racing history. I do not mean to demean or knock, so many great horses, but, Big Red, in my opinion, was simply the best. I was an owner, and was always in awe of this magnificent animal, when I had ti opportunity to see him race. We shall not see the likes of him again. Memories, that will live forever.
Ken Wiener More than 1 year ago
A great memory I have is visiting Claiborne Farm in May, 1976 and seeing the glorious Secretariat at stud along with Riva Ridge, Round Table, Buckpasser, Damascus, the amazing Nijinsky II and others. What a stallion roster that was! But the king of them all in my (North American) eyes was Secretariat. Who doesn't still get goosebumps watching replays of his Belmont Stakes?
BrandonLayer More than 1 year ago
I have a picture of Secretariat and myself at Claiborne Farm just months before he died. He definitely knows all about having his picture taken. My late Grandma is in the picture too. She is looking at Secretariat while Secretariat is looking at the camera!
John Nicoletti More than 1 year ago
Totally agree,Ken.
James More than 1 year ago
I was there at the 73 Derby with a horse from Cal. named Gold Bag...Alot of good memories...But I will never forget the morning a huge horse came around the corner and I just said WOW!!...It was Forego and he ran 4th in the Derby and went on to bigger and better things!
BrandonLayer More than 1 year ago
According to the DRF book Champions Forego girthed 77 inches, was 31 inches from withers to shoulder, 74 inches from shoulder to buttocks and weighted 1,225 pounds. Absolutely huge! He was great too.
Dale Tillotson More than 1 year ago
Secretariat was the greatest athlete of all time. Coming in second is the first human on the greatest athlete list, Jack Nicklaus. Both had the fight, grit determination and the greatest mind of all athletes. Lets not forget that super sized heart in Secretariat as well.