The 10 best horses beaten by Secretariat

September 8th, 2021

"Yeah, but who did he beat?" is a common retort when arguing the merit of horses, whether it be in day-to-day handicapping or comparing champions past and present.

Secretariat is generally acknowledged the most capable Thoroughbred ever to grace the American turf, but who exactly were the best horses "Big Red" ever beat in his two-season career?

Here are the top 10 horses to beaten by Secretariat.


Hardly a refined product when a distant fourth to Secretariat in the 1973 Kentucky Derby (G1) (he was still more than six months away from winning his first stakes), Forego ultimately picked up the baton following Big Red's retirement and ran with it — for a very long time.

Acknowledged as one of the greatest geldings (and weight carriers) in American racing history, the gigantic bay with tender ankles wound up with five division championships (four straight as champion older male and one as champion sprinter) and three consecutive Horse of the Year titles, from 1974 through 1976.

Riva Ridge

Secretariat's one-year-older stablemate, Riva Ridge was voted champion juvenile in 1971 and champion older horse in 1973, the year he finished a clear but distant second to Secretariat in the inaugural Marlboro Cup.

If not for a lackluster second half of 1972, after he had registered wins in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, Riva Ridge would have been a champion three-year-old, too.

Cougar II

Third behind Secretariat in the Marlboro Cup, was this California-based, Chilean import, who for four seasons was a monster over dirt and turf on both coasts.

Voted champion turf horse of 1972, Cougar II won or placed in 34 of 36 stakes appearances in the U.S. and only faltered when he encountered soft turf.

He later sired 1982 Kentucky Derby winner Gato del Sol.

Key to the Mint

Although his last-place finish in the Marlboro Cup was an uncharacteristically poor effort, Key to the Mint enjoyed a prominent rivalry with Riva Ridge for three seasons.

While Riva Ridge wound up with more accolades and a spot in the Hall of Fame, Key to the Mint beat his rival in three of their four 1972 meetings and snatched champion three-year-old honors, even though he did not win any of the Triple Crown races.

He was a decent four-year-old, too, with wins in the Suburban H. (G1) and Excelsior H. (G2) prior to the Marlboro.


There are many who believe that, if not for the presence of Secretariat, Sham would have been immortalized as a Triple Crown winner.

Two and a half lengths behind to Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby, he also covered the legendary 1 1/4 miles at Churchill Downs in less than two minutes.

However, after he futilely chased Secretariat in another track-record performance in the Preakness S. (G1), a heartbroken Sham proved a shell of himself in the Belmont S. (G1). He weakened halfway through the 1 1/2-mile trip at Belmont Park and trailed the field of five by more than 45 lengths.

He never raced again. Sham's signature victory occurred in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), and he outfinished Secretariat for second in the Wood Memorial S. (G1).


A clear second to Secretariat in the legend's course-record performance in the 1973 Man o' War S. (G1) on turf, Tentam was a versatile horse that season, winning five graded stakes from six furlongs on dirt to 1 3/16 miles on the grass.

His signature victories included the Metropolitan H. (G1), in which he beat Key to the Mint and Riva Ridge; the United Nations H. (G1) on turf; and the Bernard Baruch H. (G3), in which he set a Saratoga turf course record of 1:45 2/5 for 1 1/8 miles.

True Knight

A less decorated member of the same crop as Riva Ridge and Key to the Mint, True Knight was an also-ran in the 1973 Whitney S. (G2), where Secretariat shockingly lost to Onion.

However, True Knight developed into a much better horse the following season, in a slightly lopsided rivalry with Forego. Although Forego had his measure most of the time, True Knight scored one significant triumph over the gelding in the 1974 Suburban, one of two Grade 1s True Knight won that season.

Kennedy Road

Up the track behind Secretariat in the Marlboro Cup and Canadian International Championship S. (G2), Kennedy Road nonetheless was one of the more decorated horses in Canadian racing history.

Voted champion of his division in Canada at ages two, three (when he won the Queen's Plate), and four, he finally earned his native land's top prize, Horse of the Year, as a five-year-old in 1973. Earlier that season, he captured the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) and San Antonio S. (G1) while with trainer Charlie Whittingham.

Big Spruce

Like Cougar II, Big Spruce was a multi-surface talent. Like True Knight, he enjoyed his greatest success after Secretariat went to the breeding shed.

Third in the Man o' War and second in the Canadian International to Secretariat, Big Spruce earned acclaim in 1974, when he defeated Forego in both the Governor S. (G1) and in the second Marlboro Cup, albeit in receipt of a significant weight advantage.

Linda's Chief

Although a bust as an older horse, Linda's Chief was among his generation's most prolific winners at ages two and three, with 15 wins from his first 22 starts.

Already a three-time stakes winner before he met Secretariat for the only time, in the 1972 Sanford S. at Saratoga, Linda's Chief went favored that day (the only time Secretariat didn't start as the post-time choice). Linda's Chief lost to Big Red by three lengths.

Linda's Chief won seven graded stakes in 1973 and bypassed the entire Triple Crown series.