01/15/2013 3:25PM

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):