The history of Secretariat, the beloved, unstoppable racehorse that dominated the Triple Crown races

 

Secretariat, also known as Big Red, is easily one of the most famous racehorses of all time. 

The racehorse won almost every race he ran by large margins leading up to winning the coveted Triple Crown. Secretariat not only won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes but set records in all three Triple Crown races that are yet to be broken.

Here is more sports history about the beloved racehorse of the 1970s and 1980s.

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Where was Secretariat born?When was Secretariat’s first race?What was Secretariat’s Kentucky Derby time?Why was Secretariat put down?

1. Where was Secretariat born?

Secretariat was born at Meadow Farm in Virginia in March 1970. 

His racing career started early. At 2 years old, he began racing in his first events. Penny Chenery was the owner of the famous horse. She was prideful of her horse and the work he put in long after he passed.

“I didn’t race this horse to win any bets,” Chenery said during a 2010 press conference. “He ran because he loved to run, and I maintained the stable because my father loved horses. It was a passion that I got caught up in.”

2. When was Secretariat’s first race?

His very first race was on July 4, 1972, at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York City.

Big Red got off to a rocky start after being bumped at the beginning of the race. He finished in fourth place.

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Although his racing career did not start off with a win, there would be many triumphs to come for Big Red.

The horse’s second race was the first win for Secretariat. The next race was on July 31, and he won again. This race was won with Ron Turcotte on his back, the man who would become Secretariat’s main jockey.

During the 1972 season, he won seven out of nine races he competed in. He was also named Horse of the Year. This was a huge title for Secretariat to hold, especially considering how young he was at the time.

In 1973, Secretariat started the racing season off on a high, winning his first race at the Aqueduct racetrack and his second at Gotham Stakes.

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The third race of the year, the race that happened to be right before the Kentucky Derby, was a bit troublesome for the horse, and he ended up finishing third. Secretariat also suffered from a painful abscess on the top of his mouth prior to the race.

Secretariat placed first in the Kentucky Derby in 1973 with a time of under two minutes, a feat that only one other horse has accomplished since. Secretariat won the Derby with a time of 1:59.40, a record that’s yet to be beaten.

“Secretariat comes to take the lead away,” the announcer said during the record-breaking 1973 Derby race. “This was a very fast Kentucky Derby, and the horse showed remarkable staying power in the stretch.”

“I watch it and I kind of choke up even today,” Chenery said of Secretariat’s win in 1973 during an interview with America’s Best Racing. “He was a beautiful horse.”

Two weeks later, at the Preakness Stakes, he won again with a time of 1:53, another record that still stands today.

Much anticipation was built up as Secretariat was set to compete in the last leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.

The Belmont Stakes, also known as the “Test of the Champion,” is the longest of the Triple Crown races with a distance of 1 ½ miles, or 12 furlongs.

On June 9, 1973, Secretariat, the overwhelming favorite, went up against four other horses on the track, including the horse Sham, who was the second-place finisher at the other two Triple Crown races, according to the Belmont Stakes website.  

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During the Belmont Stakes, the horse swept the competition and won by an exceptional 31 lengths. Secretariat became the first Triple Crown winner since 1948, when Citation won the title.

4. Why was Secretariat put down?

In October 1989, Secretariat was put down due to an incurable hoof condition called laminitis, but he would be remembered as arguably the greatest racehorse in history.

Throughout his life, Secretariat raced with heart – literally. After he was put down, a necropsy was done by Dr. Thomas Swerczek, who discovered that Secretariat’s heart was bigger than any other he had ever seen. 

An average heart is about 9 pounds, according to the doctor, but Secretariat’s was nearly double that size. Many believe this led him to his many victories throughout his career.

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Before his death, Secretariat was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. He is still frequently talked about today, especially during the Triple Crown racing season.

In 2010, the film “Secretariat” was released and starred big names, including Diane Lane, John Malkovich and Kevin Connelly. Also, a number of books have been written about the horse. In 2019, a statue of Secretariat was built in Lexington, Kentucky.

Secretariat set records that are still in place today. Though other horses have been compared to Secretariat, none have beaten the times set by the remarkable racehorse.