Triple Crown profile: Secretariat

April 29th, 2020

The Kentucky Derby has been postponed until September, but Churchill Downs will still celebrate the first Saturday in May with a nationwide virtual "Kentucky Derby at Home" party. This special, day-long event will aim to raise $2 million for COVID-19 emergency relief efforts and will feature a thrilling simulated race that includes the 13 Triple Crown winners.

To get you ready for the virtual race, BetAmerica is publishing a profile on each Triple Crown winner leading up to the big day. Get ready to travel back in time to some of the greatest moments in Thoroughbred racing history.

Secretariat (1973)

Owner: Meadow Stable

Trainer: Lucien Laurin

Jockey: Ron Turcotte

Before the Derby

From the moment the son of Bold Ruler was born at Christopher Chenery’s Meadow Stud, Secretariat looked special. The bright-red chestnut entered the world on March 30, 1970 and quickly developed into a large, powerful colt, with near-perfect conformation and a massive stride.

The Lucien Laurin-trained colt finished fourth in his 2-year-old debut in 1972, after he got bumped at the start with jockey Paul Feliciano aboard. The horse-jockey pair won its next race at Aqueduct, then Ron Turcotte took over as Secretariat’s permanent rider, before an allowance race at Saratoga.

Turcotte led Secretariat to victories in all but one of his seven remaining starts in 1972. The colt’s lone loss occurred in the Champagne S., in which he finished first but was disqualified to second for interference.

Secretariat was named champion 2-year-old male, and in a rare feat for juvenile, he won the 1972 Horse of the Year. Just one 2-year-old has won Horse of the Year since — Favorite Trick in 1997.

Secretariat continued his dominance as a 3-year-old. He won the Bay Shore S. at Aqueduct and followed that up with a win in the one-mile Gotham S. He faltered in a third-place finish at the Wood Memorial, behind the Laurin-trained Angle Light and Sham, before he made history with his next set of races in the Triple Crown.

The Derby

In front of a then-record crowd of 134,476 at Churchill Downs on May 5, 1973, Secretariat began his push toward the Triple Crown, which was last accomplished in 1948 by Citation.

As a coupled entry, Secretariat and Angle Light were the 3-2 favorite, with Claiborne Farm’s Sham a 5-2 second choice. Before the start, longshot Twice a Prince reared in his stall, then hit Our Native in post 7, which caused Sham to slam his head against the gate. Sham broke poorly and bumped Navajo, while Secretariat, in post 10, broke last and cut over to the rail.

Shecky Greene led until Sham moved ahead. Secretariat had only passed two horses in the first turn, but in the next quarter-mile, he galloped into sixth.

With the final furlong to go, Sham held the lead, as Secretariat came up the outside. "Big Red" and Turcotte overtook their rival to finish first, 2 1/2 lengths ahead, and with a record time of 1:59 2/5.

Only one other Derby winner (Monarchos, 2001) has broken the two-minute barrier at the Kentucky Derby. Though, Sham, in second behind Secretariat, also crossed the finish line in less than two minutes (1:59 4/5).

Completing the Triple Crown

On May 19, Secretariat entered the Preakness as the heavy favorite in a field of six horses that included Sham and Our Native.

Secretariat broke last again but moved up on the outside heading into the first turn, then gained the lead as the horses approached the backstretch. Only Sham could keep close with Secretariat and again finished 2 1/2 lengths behind. Our Native came in third, just as he did in the Derby. It was the first time the top three Derby and Preakness finishers were the same.

Secretariat set a Preakness record with a 1:53 time for 1 3/16 miles, which was initially disputed but made official in 2012.

No one imagined what would happen next.

On June 9, Secretariat ended the Triple Crown’s 25-year drought with an epic triumph at Belmont Park. Racing against four other horses, he went off as the 1-10 favorite in front of a crowd of 69,138.

Secretariat battled fiercely with Sham early. The two completed the fastest opening half-mile in the history of the Belmont Stakes, which left the remaining field 10 lengths behind. Unfortunately for Sham, he began to tire, while Secretariat maintained his pace and opened up an even larger lead.

He crossed the finish line in 2:24, the American record for a mile and a half on dirt, and beat second-place finisher Twice a Prince by an astounding 31 lengths. As for Sham, he ended up in last and never raced again.

After the Triple Crown

Three weeks after he secured the Triple Crown, Secretariat claimed the Arlington Invitational, then came in second in the Whitney S., while he was allegedly fighting a viral infection. He rebounded with a record-setting win in the Marlboro Cup, then again finished second in the Woodward S., after he replaced stablemate Riva Ridge, who couldn’t handle the sloppy track at Saratoga.

Secretariat won his final two races, the Man o’ War and Canadian International, before he retired to stud.

He won his second Horse of the Year honor in 1973, along with championships in the turf and 3-year-old divisions.

He died at 19 in 1989, after he contracted laminitis. An autopsy determined his heart was more than twice the average size for a Thoroughbred. Arguably the greatest racehorse, Secretariat was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.