06/20/2012 4:21PM

Hovdey: Maryland has opportunity to further revise history


Well, that’s a relief.

For far too long the legend of Secretariat has been smudged by the failure of official history to bestow upon Big Red the all-time fastest clocking in the Preakness to go along with his records in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. This has been more of a problem for some than others, depending upon how the numbers on a clock impact one’s enjoyment of a horse race. Secretariat’s loss to Onion always seemed far more troubling than a couple ticks of the timer in an otherwise majestic 1973 Preakness performance. But then, there was nothing anyone could do about the scoreboard at the end of the Whitney.

As for the Preakness, Secretariat had barely cooled out after breaking Sham’s heart on that May afternoon in Baltimore before it became clear the automated Pimlico timer got it wrong. The CBS telecast of the race flashed a shot of the tote board and the “1:55” displayed as the final time, whereupon Chic Anderson, who called the race for the TV audience, noted that it was not a new track record, being one second away from Canonero’s Preakness mark set in 1971.

Having just watched Secretariat become the first horse to break the two-minute barrier in the Derby, there was palpable disappointment in Anderson’s voice. At that point anything less than a record-setting performance tended to sully the Secretariat brand. The controversy occupied nearly as much time over the subsequent weeks than the overriding issue of Secretariat’s attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. When he shattered the Belmont record to win the Crown, the final Preakness clocking was further discredited, even when shaved to 1:54 2/5 based on a hand-timed number from the official Pimlico timekeeper.

Now it’s fixed, 39 years later, through the persistence of owner Penny Chenery and the efforts of a collection of chronometry experts who apparently had nothing but time on their hands. A revised 1973 Preakness clocking of 1:53 flat sounded good to them and to the Maryland Racing Commission, which gives Secretariat the Preakness record.

This is not the first time the Maryland commission has found itself in the center of a racing hurricane. As long as the commissioners are erasing the mistakes of 1973, I would like to suggest they might want to revisit a couple of other decisions that could have sent racing history in very different directions.

For starters, they ought to take a look at that 1980 Preakness again, specifically the head of the stretch, where Angel Cordero straightened the turn with Codex and packed Genuine Risk and Jacinto Vasquez past the middle of the track. The stewards ruled there was no offense, and the Maryland Racing Commission let the order of finish stand.

The Pimlico stewards maintained no contact was made between Codex and Genuine Risk, as if that was the only measure by which interference could have been called. In fact, the stewards were acting out of custom, practically handcuffed by history. To that point, in 104 runnings of the Preakness, 105 runnings of the Derby and 111 versions of the Belmont Stakes, there had never been a single winner disqualified for a racing infraction. And there hasn’t been since.

Such a footnote flies in the face of statistical probability. Many major races with nearly the historical clout of the Triple Crown events have had winners taken down, including the Travers, the Hollywood Gold Cup, the Arlington Million, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Spinster, the Woodward, the Whitney, the Champagne, the Blue Grass, the Beverly D., the Alabama, the Yellow Ribbon, the Sword Dancer, the Florida Derby, the Strub Stakes, the Wood Memorial, and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

But never a Kentucky Derby, a Preakness or a Belmont? Had the Maryland Racing Commission done its job in 1980, bravely setting precedent in what should have been in any other case an easy stewards’ call, the cynically dangerous atmosphere of “anything goes” in trying to win a Triple Crown event would not be quite so deeply ingrained.

Then again, custom dies hard. Ask Kathy Kusner, who at age 27 in 1967 was denied a jockey’s license by the Maryland Racing Commission. Officials maintained it was not because she was a woman – to that point only a handful of unlicensed woman had managed to compete in North America, primarily at non-sanctioned meets – but because Kusner failed to impress stewards with her ability on a horse.

At the time, Kusner had represented the United States on its equestrian team at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. She also was riding work for Mikey Smithwick, the respected trainer of both jump and flat horses, and had the endorsement of many more horsemen familiar with her talents.

With the aide of attorney Audrey Melbourne, who had been married to Hall of Fame jump jockey Joe Aitcheson, Kusner sued the commission and won the right to be licensed. In his ruling, circuit court judge Ernest A. Loveless declared that “no reasonable mind could have reasonably reached the factual conclusion the commission reached.”

That was Sept. 27, 1968. Two weeks later Kusner was at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City competing with an American equestrian team that won three medals. On Nov. 10, jumping in the Nationals at Madison Square Garden, she fractured her leg in a fall. The injury delayed her debut as a jockey, but the movement was launched –– in spite of the Maryland Racing Commission.


Bsb Jaws More than 1 year ago
Maybe we should revise Colonial Affairs Belmont ? Watch the tape . Seems like it might have been a boat race . ;-)
Bsb Jaws More than 1 year ago
DW Lukas once said that his entry forms arrived late at CD or Codex would have won the Derby. GR fans should feel thankful that Codex was not allowed to participate in the Derby . If he had been than GR would have been just another good filly.
jim samson More than 1 year ago
Looks like Codex was taking the high road long before the filly got to him. If the rider on GR was paying attention he would have gone inside. She never wins this no matter what. Yes, there was some float, but he was already in the 5 path and it came before the straight. Its a bogus call. I see worse EVERY DAY and they don't come down.
Byron Chapin More than 1 year ago
I can tell you that two weeks ago I was wishing Cordero was riding Paynter.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
NOOoooo Byron, He was on the Winner!
Willian J. Brune More than 1 year ago
And what about was done to Lookin At Luck being knocked into the rail at the start of the Derby in which the winner was involv ed? And this year with Union Rags being forced to pull up when pinched comiing out of the gate by colts on either side of him?
Pamela More than 1 year ago
Having been close to the careers of both Secretariat and Genuine Risk, I agree with Jay that Secretariat's Preakness time has now quite rightly finally been corrected, giving him the Preakness Record; and that it is high time to take Codex down retroactively for interference in the stretch. I attended the trial at Laurel after the FIrestone's sued the MD Racing Commission for not disqualifying Codex as a result of jockey (Angel Cordero) having slashed Genuine Risk across the face (the whip mark remained there after the race) and carrying her wide. And I remember hearing Jacinto Vasquez's reply when asked, "where would the filly have ended up if she had continued on the same trajectory - after having been carried wide?" "In zee parking lot!"
Charlie More than 1 year ago
Pamela- If you read the article again I think you'll find that Jay is not particularly happy about the clocking change, and he has a valid point. I happen to think Secretariat is " the greatest horse of all time" (my quotes) and if someone disagrees, that's fine, but if we are going to arbitrarily try to make things right so far after the fact then there are other possible injustices that would need to be addressed, and do we really want to go down that road?
mrm More than 1 year ago
Look at the replay. Watch closely and you will see there was no whip incident. The filly doesn't shy away, swerve or check in any way. Did you see the mark? Why aren't there any close up pictures? As an owner and breeder I can tell you from personal experience that there are a million excuses that are given by riders,trainers and mostly owners. Most of the time the only reason for not winning is the horse just wasn't good enough on that day.
deborah More than 1 year ago
i have no doubt that had it been a race other than a tc race, codex would definitely have been brought down and risk made the winner. the wash post picture from the race showed the stick right in the fillies face, that and being carried wide would have resulted in a dq in any race not called the preakness. that call is why i said no way real quiet would have been dq'd in the belmont had he managed to out finish victory gallop. witness secretariats dq at two, promoting angle light to the win. altho the stewards conceded secretariat would have won the race and was much the best, and that angle light had no shot-they still promoted him to first-another travesty by the stewards. they certainly do not always get it right.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There's also a picture of Codero throwing a lasso around The filly as she try to go by.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Secretariat has become the "Liberty Valance of racing" When confronted with the legend or the facts, print the legend. There's absolutely no doubt that Secretariat is one of the greatest horses of all times, but his many many backers seem to gloss over the fact that he lost five times (to some rather ordinary horses.) If you dare bring up the likes of Seattle Slew, Native Dancer, or even Zenyatta as being the equal of Big Red, his supporters feel you should be fitted for a straight jacket. Great great horse, I would have loved to see him run against the likes of Slew. Randy
Thomas Barr More than 1 year ago
I'm a Secretariat fan, but I realize no one can ever win a horse-comparison argument, and to be fair, the above-mentioned great horses were also non-winners, 8 times. However, given his times in the biggest races, I'd like to not only see Secretariat run against the all-timers -- but also Sham. who probably would have beaten some of the all-time greats. http://www.kyforward.com/2012/06/robert-treadway-making-history-by-changing-history-affirms-greatness-of-runner-up-sham/
Willian J. Brune More than 1 year ago
You got it right
Kalar Walters More than 1 year ago
I watched the clip 3 times full screen. I don't see a thing. No flinching...which she surely would have done if hit in the face. I really tried to see it...but I don't.
mrm More than 1 year ago
That's because it didn't happen.
Ryan Soriano More than 1 year ago
Really..... Jay..... I am not seeing it.... She was under a ride the whole way. Cordero was race riding... Sure it was a "float job" but regardless of same, Codex ran past her as many others below indicated, she was flat out soundly beaten to the wire w/o a hint of menace The Triple Crown races are just like the World Series, Stanley Cup and Super Bowl...absent an egregious violation, sometimes, you JUST GOT TO LET THEM PLAY...