In Honor of Secretariat

By Marissa Wetterau, Contributing Writer

There have been many great sports legends of all types that have shaped sports and our lives but there is one that is still on everyone’s mind even 26 years after his death. That athlete is the great thoroughbred race horse Secretariat also known as “Big Red” or “Red”.

 Secretariat was born on March 30th, 1970 in Caroline County, Virginia at The Meadow. He was sired the great Bold Ruler out of Somethingroyal, by Princequillo. Secretariat’s grandsire, Nasrullah, is also the great-great-grandsire of the 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.

He was owned by Penny Chenery, also known as Penny Tweedy. He was trained by Lucien Laurin, and was mainly ridden by Canadian jockey Ron Turcotte, along with apprentice jockey Paul Feliciano(who rode him during his first two races) and veteran Eddie Maple(Secretariat’s last race). Secretariat raced in Chenery’s Meadow Farm Stable’s blue-and-white-checkered colors.

 Secretariat was an American Thoroughbred racehorse who in 1973 became the first U.S Triple Crown winner in 25 years at the time. He set records in all three events in the series – Kentucky Derby    (1:59 2/5), the Preakness Stakes  (1:53), and the Belmont Stakes  (2:24) – records that still stand today. He is considered one of the greatest Thoroughbreds that ever lived.

 In 1999, ESPN ranked Secretariat the 35th -best athlete of the 20th century, the highest-ranking racehorse on the list. He ranked behind Man o’ War in The Blood-Horse‘s List of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th century. Secretariat was also ranked second behind Man o’ War by a six-member panel of experts assembled by the Associated Press. He was once again ranked second behind Man o’ War by a Sports Illustrated panel of seven experts.

 In a racing career that only lasted 16 months, Secretariat started 21 times and 16 of those races and had finished in the money in all but his very first race. He was an odds-on favorite about 17 times and winning 13 during his entire career. By the time he went to stud, Secretariat had won back-to-back Horse Of the Year titles. As a stud horse, Secretariat sired over 600 foals including champions1988 Preakness and Belmont winner Risen Star and 1986 Horse of the Year Lady’s Secret. However, none of his offspring came close to matching the standard he had set during his time.

Secretariat remained a popular figure in the horse racing and sports world even after Secretariat Mania ended. A local high school in Steubenville, Ohio, even named their football team and school after him. His life ended on a tragic note. After suffering from laminitis– a painful hoof disease– the 19 year old racing superstar was put down via a lethal injection on October 4th, 1989, at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky.

On October 8th, 2010, which was about 21 years and four days after his death in 1989, Disney and director Randall Wallace released a film based on the impossible true story of Secretariat’s life and the team that was behind him every step of the way The Story of Secretariat . The budget for the film was an estimated 35 million dollars. On opening weekend, the film Secretariat Trailer  earned over 12 million dollars ($12, 694, 770 to be exact). World-wide, the film grossed over 60 million dollars. The film made fans realize that “This is not about going back. This is about life being ahead of you and you run at it! Because you never know how far you can run unless you run.” (Chenery-Tweedy).

To this day (26 years after his tragic death), Secretariat remains one of the first names everyone thinks of whenever the topic of horse racing comes up. “It’s hard to believe after all these years,” Chenery said, “but hardly a day goes by that I don’t get mail about Secretariat.”  

The family and staff that knew Secretariat will be having a birthday celebration on March 30th in his honor for what would have been his 45th birthday if he was alive today. The celebration will be held at Secretariat’s birthplace, The Meadow, in Caroline County, Virginia.

 Let’s continue to honor and celebrate the life of Secretariat. Long live the legacy of the greatest racehorse that ever lived.