Secretariat was foaled ten minutes after midnight, on the morning of March 30, 1970, at Chris T. Chenery's Meadow Farm in Doswell, Virginia. He was an impressively large and strikingly attractive chestnut colt, with three white stockings and a white star and stripe. His sire, Bold Ruler, was a champion on the racetrack and boasted an outstanding stud career, leading the American Sires List eight times. His dam, Somethingroyal, by *Princequillo, was also the dam of the stakes winner Sir Gaylord, who had been favored to win the 1962 Kentucky Derby before lameness forced him to remain in the barn.
Secretariat was bred by Chris T. Chenery, but it was Mrs. Helen Chenery Tweedy, usually called Penny, who became famous as the owner of the great colt when she took over her ailing father's stable in the early 1970's. Her charm, together with the deeds of Secretariat and his stablemate Riva Ridge, prompted the press to declare Penny Chenery the "First Lady of American Racing."
Had it not been for the flip of a coin, Secretariat could have raced in the silks of the Phipps family. Chris Chenery had a foal sharing agreement with Gladys Phipps, and sent two broodmares to her stallion, Bold Ruler, each to be bred twice. If all went well, both mares would produce two foals in two consecutive years. After the first pair was born, a coin was flipped. The winner got the first choice of foals from the first pair, and the loser got the first choice of foals from the second pair. Somethingroyal was one of the mares involved in the 1969-1970 arrangement. The other mare, however, went barren in the second season. Therefore, when it came time for the coin flip, the winner would get only one foal, since it was the loser who chose first the second time. Ogden Phipps won the toss, choosing the Somethingroyal filly, named The Bride. The Meadow kept both Secretariat and the third foal.
Elizabeth Ham, Chris Chenery's secretary, was instantly impressed by Secretariat's good looks. She kept the farm journal, and the entries she made on July 28, 1970, included:
"Ch.C. Bold Ruler - Somethingroyal. Three white stockings - well made colt - might be a little light under the knees. Stands well on pasterns -Good straight hind leg-Good shoulders and hindquarters -You would have to like him."
Shortly after he was weaned, she was again inspecting the horses on the farm, and in reference to the chestnut son of Bold Ruler, Mrs. Ham once again recorded a compliment, this time writing, "Three white feet - A lovely colt." The word lovely was underlined twice. Elizabeth Ham was not alone in noticing Secretariat's good looks. Penny Chenery liked Secretariat when she first saw him, and when he arrived at Hialeah at the age of two, all she could say was "Wow!" A year later she called him sexy. Even the Meadow's trainer, Lucien Laurin, was impressed by the horse's appearance when he looked at the yearlings in the fall of 1971, although he commented that Secretariat was probably too good looking to be a success on the racetrack.
The name "Secretariat" had actually been the sixth name choice submitted to the Jockey Club for the colt. Penny Tweedy's first suggestion had been Scepter, and the other rejected names included Royal Line, SomethingSpecial, Games of Chance, and Deo Volente. In the end, it was Elizabeth Ham's suggestion that was finally judged to be acceptable by the Jockey Club, and the chestnut son of Bold Ruler and Somethingroyal was christened Secretariat.
Secretariat's formal training began when he was broken to saddle by Meredith Bales and Charlie Ross at the Meadow, and he then headed to Florida to begin his racing career. He was trained by Lucien Laurin, who had conditioned the 1966 Belmont Stakes winner Amberoid, as well as the champion filly Quill, and put under the care of Eddie Sweat, who groomed Riva Ridge. Exercise rider Jimmy Gaffney became Secretariat's first fan. He nicknamed the tall chestnut "Big Red" and spoke excitedly about the horse to his wife, Mary, and his mother, who knitted a pommel pad for the colt. Gaffney even went so far as to buy a pair of blue saddlecloths, having the name Secretariat stitched on each.
On July 4, 1972, Secretariat made his first start in an $8000 maiden race, run over 5 1/2 furlongs at Aqueduct. The chestnut colt went off as the favorite, but was bumped badly at the start by a horse named Quebec and barely avoided going down. Penny Chenery later described the break as a "mugging." Caught in traffic, Secretariat ran fourth behind Calumet Farm's Herbull. Despite the loss, his performance had been admirable. He had made three separate runs for the lead, and each time was gaining impressively before being blocked again.
In his next start, Secretariat broke his maiden by six lengths, beginning his campaign for championship honors and earning the praise of Charles Hatton, who as a writer for the Daily Racing Form had seen numerous champions on the racetrack, including Bold Ruler, Miss Disco, and Imperatrice. Watching the promising colt who carried their blood, he wrote:
"The cognoscenti give Mrs. Helen Tweedy's Secretariat a nod for potentiality. He has electrifying acceleration, duende, charisma, and starfire raised to the steenth power. He is also pretty good."
On July 31 he won again, this time at Saratoga. Charles Hatton commented that Secretariat fulfilled his mental ideal as no horse ever had, and Taylor Hardin asked to apply for breeding rights, adding that he had been the first to ask for breeding rights to Native Dancer in 1952. Bull Hancock was also enthusiastic about Secretariat's potential, although he didn't live to see him race again.
Secretariat's first stakes race came in his fourth start. He met the highly regarded and previously undefeated Linda's Chief in the Sanford Memorial at Saratoga, winning in a sharp 1:10. On August 22, he took the Hopeful Stakes by five lengths. Next he won the Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park by three quarters of a length over Stop the Music, and from there it was on to what seemed like a sure win in the Champagne Stakes.
In the Champagne, Secretariat was first under the wire, as expected, but was disqualified and placed second for bumping Stop the Music. The decision shocked the crowd, as well as Secretariat's connections, who felt that he hadn't bothered the other colt enough to warrant the ruling, especially since Secretariat had seemingly won with such authority. The red colt redeemed himself by winning the mile and one sixteenth Laurel Futurity in 1:42 4/5, despite a sloppy track. He then topped off the season with a win in New Jersey's Garden State Stakes, easily beating his stablemate Angle Light. For his efforts, he was voted not only Champion Two Year Old Colt, but Horse of the Year as well.
As a three-year-old, Secretariat was asked to overcome the myth that Bold Ruler's sons couldn't run the Kentucky Derby distance of a mile and a quarter so early in their three-year-old campaigns. Secretariat began the road to the spring classics in New York, making his three-year-old debut in the Bay Shore Stakes and winning despite being bumped and suffering traffic problems. He then won the Gotham Stakes by three lengths from Champagne Charlie.
After the Gotham, Secretariat was the odds-on favorite to win the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown. Then the Super Horse ran a dull third behind Angle Light and Sham in the Wood Memorial, stunning everyone, including the owner of Angle Light. Secretariat's loss was later blamed on an abscess under his lip, but no matter what the excuse, the Kentucky Derby picture was no longer clear.
Now, as the top three year olds in America gathered at Churchill Downs for the 1973 Kentucky Derby, Secretariat's ability to run the Derby distance was once again questioned. Secretariat was no longer considered to be an unbeatable super horse, and rumors about his soundness spread rapidly. CBS Television's Jimmy the Greek claimed "they" were "putting ice on his knees."
Finally, the first Saturday in May came, and Secretariat proved all the rumors to be false, running the mile and a quarter in 1:59 2/5, breaking Northern Dancer's previous Derby record, and beating Sham, who was also under the wire in less than two minutes, by 2 1/2 lengths.
Next, he won the Preakness, with Sham, who had been on bottled water since Churchill Downs, once again running second. Although the teletimer at Pimlico clocked Secretariat at 1:55, the Daily Racing Form disagreed. According to their watches, Secretariat had run the mile and three-sixteenths in 1:53 2/5. Therefore, according to the Form, Secretariat had broken the stakes record. CBS television agreed, and at a Maryland State Racing Commission hearing, CBS played the videotapes of Secretariat's Preakness and Canonero II's Preakness simultaneously, proving Secretariat's was faster. Despite the evidence, the time recorded by Pimlico's faulty teletimer was allowed to stand, but the Daily Racing Form boldly entered the time of 1:53 2/5 in their permanent records.
Having won two legs of the Triple Crown, Secretariat was declared a Super Horse, and his picture adorned the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated. In the 1973 Belmont Stakes Secretariat amazed the nation, winning by over 31 lengths in the new world record time of 2:24 for the mile and a half. With his Belmont win, Secretariat became the ninth winner of the American Triple Crown, the first since Citation in 1948.
After the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat raced six more times. Following a win at Arlington Park, he lost the Whitney Stakes to Onion, trained by the "Giant Killer" H. Allen Jerkens, and it was discovered that the Triple Crown winner was coming down with a virus. After a short break he won the first running of the Marlboro Cup from his stablemate, Riva Ridge, who had won the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. Eclipse Award winning champion Cougar II, who later sired Gato Del Sol, ran third, with Key to the Mint, Kennedy Road, and Onion behind him.
Bad luck struck the red horse one more time. Entered in the Woodward Stakes to replace Riva Ridge, who would have disliked the sloppy track, a slightly out of condition Secretariat tired and finished second to another horse from the barn of Allen Jerkens. This time the victory went to Prove Out, a four year old by Graustark and out of Equal Venture, a full sister to 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault. Secretariat then went on to win the final two races of his career, the Man o' War Stakes and the Canadian International, which were his only two races on the grass.
Secretariat had earned $1,316,808 in his twenty-one career starts, visiting the winner's circle on sixteen occasions. He had won the Triple Crown, two consecutive Horse of the Year awards, and three additional Eclipse Awards. It is interesting to note that Secretariat's three major losses, in the Wood Memorial, Whitney Stakes, and Woodward Stakes, all occurred in races with names beginning with the letter W. His other two losses came in the Champagne Stakes, by disqualification, and in the maiden race at Aqueduct, through no fault of his own and with no major consequence.
The American public adored Secretariat, affectionately calling him Big Red, and even Super Red. It was said that he could have run for President and won. He was certainly more popular than was Richard Nixon in the summer of 1973. Between the Vietnam War and the Watergate Scandal, Americans had lost confidence in their political leaders, but the mighty red Secretariat, in his blue and white silks, provided the world with a much needed true American Hero. Secretariat brought fame to all those associated with him. Even Billy Silver, the stable pony, became a household name. When he retired to Claiborne Farm, where his sire and grandsire had spent their stud careers, thousands of visitors flocked to Paris, Kentucky, to see the hero. At first, Secretariat, as well as farm manager Seth Hancock, seemed to enjoy the admiring guests.
Then, when a demanding visitor scolded Seth for not setting up enough picnic tables, he decided to close the farm to tourists. The decision came none to soon, for Secretariat, like many human celebrities, had lost interest in his constantly present fans and now obviously preferred to be left alone.
As a sire, Secretariat was successful but not phenomenal, siring his best runners later in his stud career. The 1979 Travers Stakes winner and successful sire General Assembly; 1986 Horse of the Year Lady's Secret; 1992 and the 1988 Belmont and Preakness Stakes winner Risen Star are among his best offspring. His daughters have produced the champion Chief's Crown and the classic winning half brothers A.P. Indy and Summer Squall.
Secretariat died of the complications of laminitis in October of 1989, and is buried at Claiborne Farm, near the graves of his sire Bold Ruler, grandsire Nasrullah, and broodmare sire Princequillo.
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Video by Carly Kaiser
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