03/08/2012 12:11PM

Secretariat: Hatton on the 1973 season

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Sames/Livingston collection
Secretariat, winning the 1973 Kentucky Derby, brought out some of Hatton’s best work and was the subject of his last piece in the American Racing Manual.

From the 1974 American Racing Manual:

“Weave for the mighty chestnut
A tributary crown
Of autumn flowers, the brightest then
When autumn leaves are brown
Hang up his bridle on the wall,
His saddle on the tree,
Til time shall bring some racing king
Worthy to wear as he!”

Secretariat, first 2-year-old Horse of the Year, won the honors again at 3, when he became the first Triple Crown winner in a quarter-century and set a season’s earnings record of $860,404.

Going from riches to riches, his career total of $1,316,808 placed him fourth among all-time leading money winners, in only two campaigns during which he won 16 of 21 races, beating the best of 50,000 horses in training and assorted world, American, and track time marks.

This is his arithmetic. But a horse’s class is not subject to mathematics. Secretariat was a Superhorse, rather than a transient Horse of the Year. Veteran turfmen, sophisticates of deep experience and broad, informed tastes, pronounced him “The Horse of the Century.” He is the only Thoroughbred ever given this identity on an official program.

Secretariat appealed to all levels of the sporting society, professional and public alike. His distinction is based on the awareness and judgment of the former rather than the idolatry of the latter.

Orientals refer to these appraisals as “facts of the mind.” Exterminator and Man o’ War have come and gone since the present writer’s first acquaintance with the sport. Impressions of long standing tend to become fixed and assume a prescriptive right not to be questioned. But Secretariat is the most capable horse we ever saw, and geriatrics defeat any thought of seeing his like again.

He was said to be “The best thing that has happened to racing since the innovation of the ‘tote.’ ”

He was in great request by tracks all about North America. Belmont’s and Philip Morris’s $250,000 Marlboro Cup Invitational revolved on his presence, as also did the Arlington Invitational and the purse increase in the Canadian International.

As he was not ubiquitous, Secretariat was obliged to send several clubs his regrets. It may amuse you that these included an Oklahoma halfer which invited him to race for $100 and a blanket. There were also bids to appear on television shows, while a Las Vegas nightclub offered $15,000 a performance merely to walk on. Remarkable, in the age of the rather tiresome anti-hero cult, his fan mail became so voluminous that Mrs. “Penny” Tweedy engaged three secretaries to answer his correspondence.

He was a Pied Piper who toppled turnstile and tote as well as time records. Pimlico’s management estimated, “His appearance is worth at least $25,000.”

If the Chenery homebred’s racing record is less than perfect, no 3-year-old within memory was tried in so stern a crucible. His final five starts were against all comers in a vintage year for handicap horses, at classic routes on both turf and loam. Napoleon’s question was ever, “Who did he beat?

“It is as one conquers adversity he succeeds.”

Sports aficionados’ egos are a charming and fascinating narcissism. If any is agonizing over Secretariat’s stunning reversals at the heels of Onion and Prove Out, it may be reflected:

Spendthrift had his Falsetto, Hanover his Laggard, Man o’ War his Upset. Two fillies beat Sysonby; Occupation outran Count Fleet. Citation was beaten 13 times, and Exterminator lost five straight immediately after he won the Derby.

Excuses are not considered good form, indeed downright ordinary. But there is a reason for everything, and it has been urged Secretariat had an abscess on his lip and a blood condition in the Wood, a recurrent temperature for days before the Whitney, and simply was unprepared for the Woodward.

It has been lamented he ceased running amok among the records at 3. He was syndicated to begin stud duty in ’74 before coming to the races at that age, in settlement of the Chenery estate. The sum was a stupefying $6,080,000, several times his weight in gold.

It took 32 sportsmen and women in the United States, Canada, the British Isles, France, Switzerland, and Japan to buy him. Breeders in Ireland belatedly bid $6,500,000 for him. By season’s end it was estimated the contract could conceivably be renegotiated for $10,000,000. Actually, $500,000 was offered for a share in him, and $125,000 for a single season’s service.

Then came reports, shocking in various quarters of the media, he had failed to pass a stringent criteria for fertility. The prognosis is for a normal stud career, however, and there is a waiting list for any shares syndicate members may turn back.

A number of stallions retired during the past year were suspect owing to spermatogonia [cells that can give rise to immature sperm]. This has been related to steroids, anti-inflammation drugs administered in training, but the premise is scientifically insupportable to date.

Under the Irish breeders’ proposal, Secretariat was to remain in America, at liberty to race at 4, unless his form lapsed. But even as a 3-year-old, he was threatened by New York Racing Association handicapper Ken Noe Jr. with a diabolical 138 pounds at a mile and a half in open competition.

For openers for his 1973 campaign, Secretariat crushed the Bay Shore and Gotham fields. There was nothing episodic about either, except he overran both finishes and tied Aqueduct’s 1:33 2/5 mile mark in the Gotham.

Frightfully keen in the Gotham, it required two lead ponies and an outrider to pull him up. Clockers timed him a mile and a quarter under 126 in 1:59 2/5, which he duplicated in the Derby.

He constantly overran his finishes and wags were fond of saying, “He pulls up going faster than former champions ran.” In the mile and a furlong Marlboro, he pulled up a mile and a quarter in 1:57 4/5. In the mile and a half Belmont, he pulled up a mile and five furlongs in 2:37 2/5. Both bettered world marks.

Secretariat was climbing, understandably, in the Wood, declining to get up on the bit for the only time in his life.

His tour de force of the Triple Crown now is part of racing’s folklore. Millions watched the drama unfold. Indeed, thousands hitchhiked hundreds of miles, sleeping at the entrances. Thousands more motored to the tracks in darkness to see him work at dawn. His 1:59 2/5 was the fastest of 99 Derbys. Daily Racing Form clockers timed him in 1:53 2/5 in the Preakness, which would have been a record, but the official time was 1:54 2/5. In the Belmont, he set an American dirt mark of 2:24 by 31 hysterical lengths, the most overwhelming margin in the long annals of all Triple Crown events.

The nine Triple Crown winners and their times follow:

YEAR WINNER DERBY PREAKNESS BELMONT
1973 Secretariat 1:59 2/5 1:54 2/5 2:24
1948 Citation 2:05 2/5 2:02 2/5 2:28 1/5
1946 Assault 2:06 3/5 2:01 2/5 2:30 4/5
1943 Count Fleet 2:04 1:57 2/5 2:28 1/5
1941 Whirlaway 2:01 2/5 1:58 4/5 2:31
1937 War Admiral 2:02 2/5 1:58 2/5 2:28 3/5
1935 Omaha 2:05 1:58 2/5 2:30 3/5
1930 Gallant Fox 2:07 3/5 2:00 3/5 2:31 3/5
1919 Sir Barton 2:09 4/5 1:53* 2:17 2/5**

* This is not a record. The Preakness was nine furlongs until 1925.
** The Belmont was a mile and three furlongs until 1926.

Freshened after the Belmont, Secretariat reappeared for Arlington’s nine-furlong Invitational, winning consummately by nine lengths in 1:47, a fifth behind the track mark, breezing on the crown of the track throughout.

His junket to Chicago was tedious, delayed en route by detouring a storm. There was insufficient headroom in the plane, and he fitted into it comfortably as an elephant in a shoe box, crouching down the whole way.

Thereafter, Secretariat stalked bigger game, confronting older rivals.

In pointing for Saratoga’s Whitney, he bettered the century-old course’s mile mark working in 1:34 immediately after a cloudburst. But before race day he picked up the dread coughing virus and, as in the Wood, missed his essential final blowout. Onion beat him a length in a rough race, getting weight on the scale. He seemed distressingly ill walking off, and he missed the Travers.

Returned to Belmont to point for the $250,000 Marlboro, the sport’s pin-up horse looked bloody awful, rather like one of those sick paintings which betoken an inner theatre of the macabre. It required supernatural recuperative powers to recover as he did. He was subjected to four severe preps in two weeks. Astonishingly, he gained weight and blossomed with every trial.

He had to work in time approximating track records just to keep fit, and trainer Lucien Laurin never got to the bottom of him actually. The colt had a most accommodating appetite. Not to be vulgar, but one of Laurin’s contemporaries quipped, “Either he is a good doer, or he’s got a tapeworm.”

In the Marlboro, Secretariat looped most of the field, roaring past the older champions Riva Ridge, Cougar II, Kennedy Road, and Key to the Mint like the Super Chief passing a hobo jungle. And in world record time. This was a handicap and Secretariat conceded weight on the scale. In passing, he took his revenge on Onion.

Secretariat was in light training on the turf, with the Man o’ War in view, when the rains came and he was substituted without notice for Riva Ridge in the intervening Woodward. He attempted to advance from nine furlongs to a mile and a half in two weeks going on dirt, off two casual works to acquaint him with the turf, and there was no time for his essential blowout.

Consequently, Prove Out was able to beat him four and a half lengths. Secretariat led two furlongs out, but appeared palpably short. The pace was slow, as in his other losing ventures, but one would think he might advantage from this quite as much as his rivals.

Secretariat concluded his career with two smashing victories on the turf. The Woodward was seasoning and in the weight-for-age Man o’ War at a mile and a half on firm ground nine days later, he tow-roped valorous little Tentam in 2:24 4/5, course record time.

Equally delicious was his finale, in Woodbine’s Canadian International at a mile and five furlongs. Eddie Maple was the spur of the moment, with Ron Turcotte grounded. Shaking off Kennedy Road, who attempted intimidating him, he opened up 15 then sauntered home through the raw, wet weather by six and a half lengths in 2:41 4/5.

The European scale let him in under 117. Eddie Maple conjectured, “He could carry a house.”

A more detailed account of his campaign will be written by future generations, we are sure. The 1973 season certainly demonstrated the implications of his action, temperament, soundness, and impossibly homogenous physical organization.

“Action follows line, and action makes the race horse.” Before the Preakness, Secretariat’s stride measured 25 feet, and Turcotte was impressed he could adapt it to turf effectively as loam, adding, incidentally, “He is the kindest horse I was ever around, and smart as paint.”

Medical tests indicated his heart weighs from 14 to 17 pounds, perhaps the largest among champions examined. His pulse is that of a horse physiologically well suited to cracking up oxygen into energy and staying big distances.

He wore blinkers only to alert him, though at times he displayed a slight tendency to bear in. Never did he wear bandages.

Secretariat was a March 30 foal. Always an arresting and very decorative specimen, he attracted a huge throng to the Spa paddock in his first start there at 2. He developed in all the approved directions from 2 to 3 and emerged in the Bay Shore a gorgeous chestnut verging on 16.2 hands.

His knees were less coarse than at 2, and there was more refinement from his smooth wither to the elbow. The scapula angled in a fashion to accommodate a more upright humerus, which could explain his improved action at 3.

When first he entered public life Secretariat inclined to pound with his forefeet when extended, occasioning some apprehension he would damage his legs or fail to stay. Last season, his action was a buoyant, kinetic pleasure, and it was remarked, “He wouldn’t break an egg.” The Jockey Club indeed made a filmed slow-motion analysis of his stride.

Secretariat’s girth was so immense he required a custom made saddle girth. He was almost two horses wide over the loins and hips, the muscle arching gracefully on either side of the spinal column. In fact his breadth of beam was perhaps his most striking feature.

Tom Smith, for many years Australia’s leading conditioner, exclaimed: “He is incredible, an absolutely perfect horse. I never saw anything like him.”

The New York Racing Association’s Dr. M.A. Gilman measured his development from 2 to 3 as follows:

MEASURE OCT. AT 2 OCT. AT 3
Height 16 hands 3/4 inch 16 hands 1 1/2 inches
Point of shoulder 16 inches 16 1/2 inches
Girth 74 inches 76 inches
Withers to point of shoulder 28 inches 28 1/2 inches
Elbow to ground 37 1/2 inches 38 1/2 inches
Point of shoulder to point of hip 46 inches 49 inches
Point of hip to point of hip 25 inches 26 inches
Point of hip to hock 40 inches 40 inches
Point of hip to buttock 24 inches 24 inches
Poll to withers 40 inches 40 inches
Buttock to ground 53 1/2 inches 55 1/2 inches
Point of shoulder to buttock 68 inches 69 1/2 inches
Circumference of cannon under knee 8 1/4 inches 8 1/2 inches

His weight March 29, before the Triple Crown series, was 1,155 pounds. Weighed June 15 after these events, he tipped the beam at 1,131 pounds. His weight Oct. 22, just previous to his farewell to colors, was 1,154 pounds.

The colt’s pedigree has a ring. He is by Nasrullah’s son Bold Ruler out of Princequillo’s daughter Somethingroyal, dam also of the stakes winners Syrian Sea, First Family, and Sir Gaylord, the sire of Sir Ivor.

The second dam, Imperatrice, a lop eared, underslung bay mare who won the New England Oaks, was by the sprinter Daruso out of Cinquepace, by Brown Bud, a reliable source of stamina.

This is a good family, stemming as it does from the chestnut Roi Herode mare Cinq a Sept, who won the Irish Oaks and Park Hill. Somethingroyal ran but once, unplaced, and yet her stakes-winning half-brother Imperium occurs in the pedigree of Mysterious, winner of the ’73 1000 Guineas and Epsom Oaks, while her half-sister Scattered was rescued from an early grave to win the Coaching Club American Oaks.

Secretariat’s pedigree is a strengthening synthesis of outcrosses. It is the peril of consanguinity the offspring will derive two recessive genes, thus in the end inbreeding will result in feeble specimens. Practical breeders spend millions annually to avoid it.

As one of the most famous quadrupeds to have emerged from the primordial soup, explaining Secretariat tempts students of divergent interests. Physicists today are in a flap to find there are more things ’twit heaven and earth than ever breeders dreamed in their philosophies.

Pasteur held a cosmic influence that constantly controls all organization. This sounds a pleasantly mad idea. It will be objected that to absorb the dimension of equines into astrology is crude charlatanism, but Federico Tesio was convinced astral rhythms programmed the genes. If you are curious to know, Secretariat is an Aries with the dynamism of Mars. Perhaps he should thank his lucky stars.

Even more mystic is the Kabbalistic hypothesis assigning numerical values to letters in the Hebrew alphabet. “I’ve got your number” derives from this superstition. Four is the number corresponding to Secretariat’s name. This is the square number of the Pythagorians, indicating endurance, firmness of purpose, and calmness. Four also is the number of Earth, indicating powerful underground fires that become earthquakes and volcanoes.

Secretariat not only implanted himself in the national consciousness, he became truly Big Business, with a television rating to prove it.

His Derby claimed a 16.5 rating or 50 percent of the national audience, his Preakness a 14.9 rating, his Belmont a Nielsen of 17.5.

This last is to say television sets in 11,340,000 homes were attuned to the Belmont. In the New York area, world’s greatest television market, he claimed a 60 percent share of the audience, or at least 3,700,800 viewers Belmont Day.

Fans retained a fortune in uncashed tote tickets on him as souvenirs. On the Belmont alone, their face value is $14,597.70, including 5,354 tickets worth $2.20 at the windows before April 1, 1974. As a novelty, uncashed tickets on him in the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont were framed and advertised at $325 a set.

Mrs. Tweedy employed the William Morris Agency to represent him, in order to exercise some control over the use of his name. This firm’s clients include 1,500 theatrical directors, producers, stars, authors, etc. Among them Carol Channing, Kate Hepburn, Elvis Presley, Danny Thomas, Jack Lemmon, Sophia Loren, and Ray Bolger.

Artists LeRoy Neiman and Richard Stone Reeves were among his many portraitists, making prints available at $200 and $325 respectively. A color film of his Triple Crown retails for $49.95. A feature film sells for $150. A gold Triple Crown medallion is available for $283.

The commercial output includes also sundry items such as Secretariat T-shirts, Sports Illustrated’s poster, car stickers, full color photos, and a phonograph recording of the race calls during his career.

Obviously, all this popularity must be deserved. And it is. “Richly” is the word, we think.

Ann Maree Matthews More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful gift to be able to go back in time with this great and wonderful writer. I devoured every word and will go back and re-read these pieces again and again. Thank you so very much.