03/08/2012 1:10PM

Secretariat: Hatton on the 1972 season

Bob Coglianese
Secretariat, outrun at the start, rallied to win the 1972 Hopeful Stakes under Ron Turcotte.

From the 1973 American Racing Manual:

Secretariat was 1972’s most exceptional and exciting performer and was the Horse of the Year by popular acclaim.

Uniquely, he is the first 2-year-old to be awarded this title in balloting that involved Daily Racing Form since this publication inaugurated the annual polls in 1936.

As the smashing chestnut entered winter quarters, the Chenery estate heirs who own him hoped he would become the first horse since Citation, 25 years ago, to win the American Triple Crown, as an encore.

The presence of a Horse of the Year in 3-year-old classics undeniably would give them an extraordinary cachet of interest. But his Eclipse Awards were in acknowledgement of his tremendously impressive form at 2, rather than some quixotic attempt to horoscope his future. That is “On the knees of the Gods.”

Whatever his future – a tour de force or vile luck – Secretariat has begun his career as a champion among champions.

There was an unwritten guarantee of high drama whenever he sported the blue and white Chenery blocks. His incredible bursts of speed, transforming imminent defeat into triumph, were quite the hit of the ’72 season on our turf.

He did not smother his rivals with speed at the start, as our old friends Man o’ War, Count Fleet, and Old Rosebud did at 2; on the contrary he was often lengths last with only four furlongs to go.

During the early stages of his races, crowds of 30,000 or 40,000 stood silent as so many ghosts. The tension mounted as he waited for the instant to strike. Suddenly, he swooped down on hapless foes with a paralyzing burst, like a hawk scattering a barnyard of chickens, and pandemonium rocked the stands.

A Thoroughbred’s class may not be reduced to something one feeds a computer, but the record shows Secretariat won seven of nine starts, was placed second once on disqualification in the Champagne, and earned $456,404.

The Garden State Stakes, Futurity, Pimlico-Laurel Futurity, Hopeful, and Sanford all fell before the Virginian’s passionate stretch drives.

He was indubitably best in the Champagne as well. But after looping the field on the turn, and recovering from a bump that virtually turned him sidewise, he dropped in toward the rails slightly as horses will in changing stride upon entering the straight.

In the process, he brushed Greentree’s stout colt Stop the Music. After some tedium, the stewards transposed the order of finish between Secretariat and Stop the Music, confirming the excruciating fears of those who had suffered so beautifully in mute silence during the delay.

It has been complained that the application of the Rules of Racing generally in America is often reminiscent of the infinite convolutions of bureaucracy, marked by inconsistency, obfuscation, and ambiguity.

But the New York officials had no alternative under the rules. They saw their duty, and they did it.

Returning to Secretariat, one finds it difficult to explain a phenomenon of energy, when the system of energy is not at all understood by science itself.

The entire proposition of horses’ breeding and racing capacities is predicated upon what one reads into the results. “You get what you see,” and fortunately not everyone sees alike. Thus the essential difference of opinion.

When Secretariat appeared in Saratoga’s paddock for the Sanford Stakes, oldest inhabitants could recall few such visual treats, and when he exploded through the field minutes later, they were prepared to believe what they saw.

They might have recalled The Druid’s lines:

“Though he’s over three hundred yards astern,
Our bets are not yet secure;
Nor ne’er will be till Regalia beats
The Long stride of Gladiateur.”

In considering the components of the high-class racer, S.D. Bruce wrote, in 1883:

“The chief points are pure blood, conformation, constitution, racing lineage, and hereditary soundness. The nearer we get to true shape with the other points combined, the more certainly we will arrive at excellence. . . .

“Size with constitution, soundness, and symmetry constitutes the height of perfection.

“We are convinced that very often pedigree is the only point at which some breeders look, ignoring altogether shape and action; hence failures.”

Secretariat very speedily demonstrated the implications of his homogenous physical organization were not misleading. During Saratoga, he behaved with charm in the paddock, and in competition his extended action had floating power, while any track met his conditions.

Rigorous campaigning naturally attenuated his curvaceous lines, and fall muted the sheen of his lustrous coat. But he converted mutton into muscle, and he became more disciplined and professional.

Knocked back and defeated in his first start, he always thereafter walked out of the gate, and it was theorized his hazing made him timid. On the contrary, he lusted for conflict, according to trainer Lucien Laurin and jockey Ron Turcotte. He ran in blinkers, but his developer explained they were psychotherapeutic. In training, the colt had come to identify them with strenuous work. At least he is not speed crazy.

Whistling in the dark, some of Laurin’s contemporaries questioned if the colt would get a mile, a mile and a sixteenth. But the farther they went, the more compelling they found his run.

At the outset of his campaign, horsemen studied Secretariat’s running gait in the paddock and conjectured: “You couldn’t break him down with an axe.” And yet he concluded the season with a splint, compliments of our hard tracks. Literally hundreds of horses suffer broken bones with each season. The adamant surfaces, together with the tax structure and stable costs, impel many racing men to make extensive use of horses.

Few are prepared, like Greentree, Rokeby, and the late Capt. Harry F. Guggenheim, to give 2-year-olds the season. It becomes a question if the horses’ durability grows with the exigencies of their owners.

Secretariat represents the Nearco type. They are heavily bodied and heavily muscled, like Sayajirao, Dante, Nasrullah, and to a lesser degree the colt’s sire, Bold Ruler. Some have been indulged in gluttony, become too gross, and expired of heart attacks in consequence.

Big horses of the type of Secretariat, Majestic Prince, Whopper, and Burgomaster are not every horseman’s taste, though they fill the eye. Old time racing men include those who prefer them hard and wiry, or modeled on a smaller scale.

A scarlet colt, star and narrow stripe, and three white stockings are Secretariat’s rather exotic color scheme. He looked to be coming up the stretch with flags flying. He grew to 16.1 hands before turning 3, and is quite the most seductive individual to have appeared in his male line since Royal Charger.

That is, unless one finds white legs objectionable, as Hal Price Headley and others have, or share Mrs. C.S. Payson’s dim view and are turned off by all chestnuts. They are distressing to her esthetic sense. White legs usually are associated with white feet, and black are supposedly less porous. Arresting white markings are identified in some quarters with washiness and an atavistic throwback to obscene cold blood.

One of Secretariat’s white stockings is in front, which dismays the color theorists even more. Notable exceptions to this superstition include Salvator, Hanover, Nasturtium, McChesney, Proctor Knott, even Flying Childers. This baroque marking is uncommon, however, and people tend to distrust the unfamiliar. All gray horses once were anathema, then along came The Tetrarch, a gray with red, white, and black spots.

At any rate, Secretariat’s coloration is something the average fan finds quite striking, and it gives him a certain subliminal appeal.

Secretariat’s head is neither coarse nor vulgar as many Bold Rulers’ nor yet has the cameo refinement of Eight Thirty’s, Omar Khayyam’s or Ballot’s.

Atty Persse [trainer of The Tetrarch] said: “In selecting yearlings, the first thing one should look at is the head. I never like to buy one with a bad head, and especially one with small prick ears. By a bad head, I mean one with a small pig-eye or receding forehead, the kind of characteristic you dislike in a man.

“I prefer a wide forehead, a good large, bold, even bad, eye and good long ears; anyway they should not be short. I have never yet trained a horse with short prick ears and a pig-eye that was not a rogue.

“The next point I look at is the hind legs, which I like to see good and strong, and the straighter it is the better. I should never buy a yearling with a weak hind leg, or sickle hock.

“If satisfied with the head and the hind leg you can forgive a multitude of sins elsewhere. Yet I look for a horse with a good sloping shoulder and with fore legs that are not back of the knee, as such a one is generally difficult to train, the strain on his tendons being too severe. But a horse that stands over on one that is known as baker-kneed very seldom breaks down.

“These, I think, are the main points.”

The delightful Persse added as a postscript: “It has got to be understood that the man who buys yearlings must be on good terms with his bank manager.”

Our late fellow member of London’s Saints & Sinners would have fancied Secretariat’s head. Though the ears are of medium length only, it passes muster in all other particulars. He could not fail of being downright enthusiastic about the set of the colt’s limbs, which is simply perfection.

Secretariat has a strong, masculine neck of proportionate length, though it inclines to be straight and heavy. An ample throatlatch, width between the jowl plates, and large nostrils facilitate the intake of oxygen. Parenthetically Man o’ War had the most flaring nostrils ever seen, while Mr. Fitz [trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons] said the only flaw in Gallant Fox’s physiology was that one nostril was a bit smaller than the other, bizarre as it may seem.

M. Arpad Plesch is a stickler for rein length, contending not illogically that in thrusting the head it inclines to lengthen the stride.

John Davis, author of that invaluable collectors’ item “The American Turf,” saw much of Boston and his scions in the heat days and wrote that:

“Boston had a beautiful way of going, always running close to the ground, with a smooth, frictionless stride in which there was no climbing nor lost effort. He carried his head rather low when he was running well extended, but he did not reach out with his nose, as his famous son, Lexington, used to do. He carried his tail down, but slightly curled upward at the lower end, and this came to be taken as a likeness of the sire in nearly all his best get.”

Davis could have been describing our present subject’s manner of going.

With reference to the ears, old Billy Walker, who was J.E. Madden’s advisor and rode Ten Broeck, said these semaphored many things about the horse; his alertness, interests, reactions, nervous system, and sense of hearing.

Ears carried indifferently may mark an impossibly phlegmatic animal or perhaps deafness. Conversely, the horse whose ears tremble in the saddling paddock is either green or cowardly, and probably the latter if he perspires about the testicles. A horse running with his ears pricked is not extended, and one who pins his ears may also wring his tail and sulk.

Secretariat is cooperative and contained. He runs from the whip, though Turcotte rarely has taken recourse to this agency, and his mount certainly is no such masochist as Alsab or Equipoise.

Secretariat has good bone throughout, particularly about the legs and spinal column. A large spinal column suggests a good nervous system, broad cannons and correspondingly broad, stout tendons.

His scapula is well placed, though some might consider it a trifle too extensive to accommodate a humerus of approximately equal length, or one upright as desired.

Bear in mind that the longer and more upright humerus and femur, and the shorter the cannons, in relation to the other locomotive parts, the greater the implementation of speed and the ability to carry it a route. Ormonde and Colin had in common not only that they were unbeaten, but boasted a humerus almost perfectly upright and closely approximating the length of the scapula.

The cheetah, leopard, and others of the fastest animals are remarkable for the length and perpendicularity of the femur and humerus.

Secretariat’s elbow and shoulder are liberally muscled, indeed some might construe the point of the shoulder loaded. Obviously, he has the strength to implement these parts, and will unless the muscle thickens with age, which he could find tiresome.

A yearling buyer might look askance at his knees, though they are reputed never to have given concern. Here again there is a compensatory point, for he is slightly over them, which reduces the concussion from impact with the racing surface.

Secretariat stands with all his legs well beneath himself while the knees and hocks are set relatively low, affording leverage and liberty of motion. The pasterns are of medium length and the right angulation. The wither is smooth, extending well into the back, which is quite short and inclines toward the coupling. This height over the coupling is another desirable point in the mechanics of propulsion, affording thrust and impetus.

The bottom line is longer than the top line, and he is neither hollow flanked nor lacking a rib. His quarters are enormous, only slightly less developed than those of Majestic Prince. He is fairly broad across the hips, the muscle rising above the spinal column and ilium on either side. The pelvis has commensurate length.

The pelvis is exceedingly sloping however, giving him a vaguely goose-rumped aspect at first glance. This is a characteristic of the Nearcos, including his classicists, though horsemen used to consider it the mark of a sprinter. The flag is set on low, accentuating the precipitate droop of the quarters.

Here again, as in the shoulder, a particularly desirable point rescues him, for below the pelvis is a massive  and very low stifle joint, extending into the gaskins muscled right into the hock in the straightest hind legs seen in years.

The construction comes to a sort of scooting action behind. He gets his hind parts far under himself in action, and the drive of his hind legs is tremendous, as he follows through like a golfer.

Ribot went in this fashion, and that wire-hung filly Top Flight, whose stifles were set on singularly low, rather long, springy pasterns and legs like a deer’s combined with a gorgeous forehand to give her stealthy action.

Walking off after a race, Secretariat divulges nothing of his extended action. He goes frightfully short behind, like so many Princequillos, and wide in front, like most of the Bold Rulers. At a glance, one might suspect he had bucked.

Not surprisingly, in a horse of his lumber, Secretariat’s extended action is inclined to be less light and airy than Riva Ridge’s, as Turcotte has noted. He digs in and handles mud with more facility than his stablemate.

Assuming a more detached view, many horsemen describe Secretariat’s conformation as that commonly identifying the sprinter. This is a little facile and simplistic, remembering horsemen said the same thing of Man o’ War, and usually apply it categorically to any large, muscular individual.

In view of the colt’s considerable embonpoint and the swashbuckling vigor he puts into his work, it is conceivably just as well he makes no attempt to win distance races from end to end. He has the heart, lungs, and adrenals to crack up oxygen and convert this into energy at an astonishing rate. We venture to doubt if Laurin cares to determine precisely how long he can sustain this.

Turcotte has remarked upon Secretariat’s immense chest and enormous lung capacity. Consequently, much oxygen is pumped through his heart, and Laurin hopes it proves, as happens in leading human distance runners, the heart beat is low.

Ribot was subjected to a minute physical examination, in which the Milan doctor Leopoldo Pagliano determined his heartbeat was 35 to the minute, 85-90 after a nine-furlong run. The pulse and blood pressure returned to normal in two hours. Ribot reached a fatigue point considerably later than most of his species.

Sr. Tesio used to say, “A good horse walks with his legs, gallops with his lungs, resists with his heart, but wins only on his spirit and character.”

It may be of interest to quote here Dr. M.A. Gilman’s measurements of Secretariat, taken Sept. 6:

Height 16 hands 3/4 inch
Point of shoulder to point of shoulder 16 inches
Girth 74 inches
Withers to point of shoulder 28 inches
Elbow to ground 37 1/2 inches
Point of shoulder to point of hip 46 inches
Point of hip to point of hock 40 inches
Point of hip to buttock 24 inches
Poll to withers 40 inches
Buttock to ground 53 1/2 inches
Point of shoulder to buttock 68 inches
Circumference of cannon under knee 8 1/4 inches
Point of hip to point of hip 25 inches

One might say flippantly this is the anatomy of speed, something to bemuse the sticklers for details, and mystify those who translate them into the abstract.

Secretariat is genealogically equally exceptional, especially in this era of mass-produced horses, when their very pedigrees are a handwriting on the wall. He is by the late champion progenitor Bold Ruler out of Sir Gaylord’s dam Somethingroyal, by Princequillo, the next dam Imperatrice.

This is class on class, conforming also to the precept “breed the best to the best, and hope for the best.”

It is unsupportable, but turfmen generally long have had the Bold Rulers on probation as staying propositions. Most of his progeny, like himself, were trained for 2-year-old speed, and yet the son of Nasrullah won the Suburban and downed both Gallant Man and Round Table at a mile and a quarter. He had no mouth, in consequence of almost biting off his tongue as a youngster, which with the Nasrullahs’ impetuosity complicated rating him.

Somethingroyal was pledged two seasons to Bold Ruler, in compliance with the Phippses’ stud terms, and her son Secretariat came to the Chenerys when Ogden Phipps lost the toss of a coin with Mrs. John (Penny) Tweedy, daughter of the late master of Meadow Stable.

It is a paradox the other product of the union, called The Bridge, was never better than sixth in four starts in ’71. Not because of her breeding.

Somethingroyal started only once, and that unsuccessfully. Her value was at stud. Apart from Secretariat, she has foaled the stakes winner Sir Gaylord (sire of Sir Ivor), First Family, and Syrian Sea, who won the Selima.

The Horse of the Year’s granddam, Imperatrice, was a barrel-chested bay mare on short legs. She had long, loose ears, like Handy Mandy, who beat the colts in a Latonia Derby run in American record time for a mile and a half. Giving Protean expositions of versatility, Imperatrice won the New England Oaks, Fall Highweight, and Test, and stretched Fairy Chant’s neck in the Beldame.

Imperatrice was by the blocky little Polymelian sprinter Caruso, out of Cinquepace by the staying sire Brown Bud. In stud, Imperatice produced the crack sprinter Squared Away, the Coaching Club Oaks winner Scattered, and four other stakes winners.

This is a prolific family, redundant in stakes winners. It goes back through Assignation, by Teddy to imported Cinq  a Sept, by Roi Herode, thence to Tasmania, by the lop-eared Melbourne, a vulgar uncultivated animal who sired classic stamina. From this tribe came Audley Farm’s Gallant Knight, who gave Gallant Fox a jolly afternoon beating him for the Arlington Classic.

Secretariat comes of the fashionable Nasrullah and Princequillo cross, and his nonstop pedigree is a series of strengthening outcrosses in the first four removes. His dosage diagram is construed to have classic balance, 3-4-7-6-2, with the emphasis on class.