"Secretariat is one of the prettiest horses I ever saw," veteran retired jockey Eddie Arcaro said to Secretariat's trainer, Lucien Laurin, in 1973 weeks before the colt became the first to win the Thoroughbred American Triple Crown since Citation in 1948 (as quoted in Secretariat biographer William Nack's book entitled "Secretariat: The Making of a Champion"). Arcaro was Citation's jockey. And he is the only rider to win two Triple Crown titles. His first Triple victory came in 1941 aboard the headstrong speedster Whirlaway.
By the time Secretariat's short career ended later in 1973, Nack reported Arcaro saying of the colt, "He's the fastest horse I've ever seen." And long-time horsemen Charles Hatton and Hollie Hughes called Secretariat "the greatest" and "the horse of the century", respectively.
Regarded as having the consummate conformation of a Thoroughbred racehorse, Secretariat is rated No.2 on the all time list of greats compiled by "Blood-Horse" magazine.
The Triple Crown of Thoroughbred racing is considered one of the most difficult athletic feats to conquer. It consists of three races staged specifically for three-year-olds: the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky, 1- 1/4 miles; the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore, Maryland, 1-3/16 miles; and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, Elmont, New York, 1-1/2 miles. The difficulty of winning all three of these races is easily demonstrated by the fact that only eleven Thoroughbreds in the long and storied history of the Sport of Kings have managed to do it.
Secretariat was groomed and ready for greatness as he began his three-year-old campaign. In 1972, he had become one of few two-year-olds to be named Horse of the Year. His trainer; his owner, Helen (Penny) Chenery Tweedy; and his jockey, Ron Turcotte, were all certain Secretariat would live up to his three-year-old billing.
Their faith was proven well-placed, as the speedy, beautiful chestnut with three long white stockings was again voted Horse of the Year after the 1973 season.
Secretariat's Kentucky Derby was phenomenal. He ran every quarter mile of the race faster than the quarter before, so that he actually gained speed as the race went on, rather than losing a step as he got closer to the finish line. That performance left every old-time track expert gasping, but Secretariat was just getting started. After achieving his Derby record speed win of 1:59.2, Secretariat blazed through the Preakness with another speed record, but the effort was lost in a faulty clocking of his time. The Preakness win put him in a tiny elite group of horses ever to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
Still, no one could have predicted what would come next in the final jewel of the Crown series. Secretariat and Sham, his chief rival, led the field by ten lengths in the Belmont Stakes as they approached the final turn of the race. And then it was suddenly over. Secretariat surged powerfully to the front, "moving like a tremendous machine," as track announcer Chick Anderson called it. Big Red won going away by 31 lengths, an utterly astounding performance in a track, race, and world record time of 2:24.
Secretariat's records in the Derby and the Belmont still stand today. His jockey said Secretariat was the greatest racehorse who ever lived, and that he was retired before his true greatness could be tapped. In October of 1973, the big red racing machine competed for the final time, putting a triumphant exclamation point on his career in the Canadian International Stakes with Eddie Maple in the stirrups. The son of Bold Ruler was sold into syndication for a then record $6 million with career marks of sixteen wins, three seconds, and one third from twenty-one starts, plus track earnings of $1,316,808.
In the breeding shed, Secretariat sired several champions of note, including Lady's Secret, 1986 Horse of the Year; Risen Star, 1988 winner of the Preakness and the Belmont; his spiting image, General Assembly; great grandson 1999 Horse of the Year Charismatic, as well as numerous daughters who later foaled more champions. In particular, daughter Terlingua birthed Storm Cat from a mating with Storm Bird. Storm Cat later commanded one of the highest stud fees ever at $500,000 as he produced stakes winner after stakes winner.
Big Red met his match at the modest age of nineteen when he contracted laminitis. Unable to watch her beloved champion continue to suffer from the painful, incurable hoof disease, Chenery agreed to Secretariat's euthanasia on October 4, 1989.
Was Secretariat the greatest Thoroughbred ever? Man o' War, "The Blood-Horse's" No.1, won twenty of twenty-one races before retiring, but he did not participate in all of the Triple Crown races. His owner refused to race him at Kentucky's Churchill Downs. Man o' War ran his races prior to the formal naming of the Triple Crown.
Secretariat didn't run as many races as Citation, who won thirty-two of forty-five posts and was the last Triple hero of the pre-(1950)modern era. "Blood-Horse" magazine lists Citation as the No.3 best ever. Only two Thoroughbreds have followed Secretariat to the Triple Crown winner's circle, Seattle Slew in 1977, and Affirmed in 1978.
In many hearts and minds, Chick Anderson's "moving like a tremendous machine" will live forever as the greatest call of the greatest Thoroughbred champion of all time.