Secretariat may just be the most famous horse in the world. He graced covers of magazines, captured the hearts of horse lovers worldwide, and set track records that still stand decades later. His campaign to 1973 Triple Crown glory created one of the most memorable years in the history of Throughbred racing.
Secretariat was born on March 30, 1970 in Virginia, and was the son of leading sire Bold Ruler out of Somethingroyal. He fell into the hands of owners Christopher and Penny Chenery as a result of a coin toss arrangement between them and their breeding partner, Ogden Phipps. The chestnut colt grew into a powerful horse with incredible build and conformation. His massive stride helped him move even faster.
Paired with trainer Lucien Lauren and jockey Ron Turcotte, Secretariat quickly proved himself as a worthy opponent in his debut 2-year-old season. He received not only the Eclipse Award for American Champion Two-Year-Old Horse, but also Horse of the Year – an honor rarely bestowed upon a horse that young.
In 1973, the Triple Crown was in the sights of Secretariat's family. He pulled away easy wins in the Bay Shore and Gotham Stakes, but came in a surprising third in the Wood Memorial – his final race before the Kentucky Derby a few weeks later. By now, the American public was starting to take notice of the speedy chestnut colt, and there was much speculation on where he would finish in the Derby. The largest crowd in American racing history – over 130,000 people – descended upon Churchill Downs on May 5th to see for themselves.
Secretariat came out victorious, setting a still-standing track record of 1:59 2⁄5. He also became the first-ever horse to finish the Derby in less than two minutes.
© Jerry Cooke
Two weeks later, Secretariat headed to Maryland for the second jewel in the crown: the Preakness Stakes. He once again bested his opponents and won the race by 2 ½ lengths. His winning time, however, was disputed – the track timer read 1:55, but had malfunctioned due to people crossing the track to reach the infield.
Pimlico Racetrack’s clocker had a hand time of 1:542⁄5, but clockers from the Daily Racing Forum had a time of 1:532⁄5. In the end it was Pimlico’s time that was published, which was 2⁄5 shy of the 1:54 record set by Cañonero II. In 2012, the score was finally settled when a special meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission was requested by Penny Chenery. Taking into account forensic reviews of video footage of the race, the commission unanimously voted to change the official time from 1:542⁄5 to 1:53, setting yet another record.
Only four other horses ran against Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. At 1 ½ miles, this would be his longest and most demanding race to Triple Crown glory. Up against his longtime rival Sham, he moved even faster as Sham began to tire at the 6-furlong mark. Accelerating down the stretch, he crossed the finish line 31 lengths ahead of second-place finisher Twice a Prince and straight into the history books. In that moment he not only set another track record of 2:24, but also became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years.
After securing wins later in 1973 in the Arlington Invitational, Marlboro Cup, Man o' War Stakes, and the Canadian International, Secretariat was officially retired to stud. His final public appearance was a parade at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, NY with Turcotte aboard, sporting the iconic blue and white checkered silks of Meadow Stable. Over 30,000 people showed up to say farewell to "Big Red."
In total, Secretariat won 16 of his 21 starts and had earnings of $1,316,808. To wrap up the year, he was once again named the Eclipse Awards' American Champion Three-Year-Old Horse and Horse of the Year.
Secretariat spent his stud career at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky – his legacy was best-preserved through his quality daughters, many of which became leading broodmares. He can be found in the pedigrees of many champion racehorses today, including 2015 and 2018 Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify.
Secretariat succumbed to laminitis in October 1989, at the age of 19. Today he is remembered as one of the greatest racehorses to ever grace the track, and there are numerous statues and monuments in his honor across the country. His final resting place is on the grounds of Claiborne Farm, where fans can still pay their respects to this day.
Models of Secretariat have been a constant member of the Breyer lineup since 1987. His current iteration has been part of the Traditional line since 2009.