Secretariat Wins the Triple Crown Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Secretariat was the first racehorse in twenty-five years to win the Triple Crown. He was also the first Kentucky Derby horse to become a media star, appearing on the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated.

Summary of Event

On June 9, 1973, a chestnut horse named Secretariat amazed the nation by winning the Triple Crown, an unofficial title for a horse that wins three classic horse races in the same year: the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Derby the Preakness Stakes, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. Belmont Stakes Secretariat was the first Triple Crown winner in twenty-five years of derby racing history. He became a media star, gracing the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated in the space of a week. Secretariat was viewed as a pleasant distraction in a time of war and political scandal. His victory contrasted with the ongoing losses in the Vietnam War and U.S. president Richard M. Nixon’s failed attempts to explain the Watergate break-in. Secretariat was seen as a breath of fresh air during a very troubled time in America’s history. Secretariat (racehorse) Horse racing [kw]Secretariat Wins the Triple Crown (June 9, 1973) [kw]Triple Crown, Secretariat Wins the (June 9, 1973) Secretariat (racehorse) Horse racing [g]North America;June 9, 1973: Secretariat Wins the Triple Crown[01180] [g]United States;June 9, 1973: Secretariat Wins the Triple Crown[01180] [c]Sports;June 9, 1973: Secretariat Wins the Triple Crown[01180] [c]Animals and endangered species;June 9, 1973: Secretariat Wins the Triple Crown[01180] [c]Travel and recreation;June 9, 1973: Secretariat Wins the Triple Crown[01180] Turcotte, Ron Laurin, Lucien Tweedy, Penny Chenery Chenery, Christopher

Secretariat was born on March 30, 1970, at Meadow Stud in Doswell, Virginia. He was sired by Bold Ruler, a 1957 Preakness winner and Horse of the Year. Secretariat’s mother was mare Somethingroyal, whose bloodline was known for distance and durability rather than early speed. Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery Tweedy, brought Bold Ruler and Somethingroyal together in the hopes of producing a champion with his father’s precocious spirit and his mother’s tenacity. Tweedy was not disappointed.

When Secretariat was born, Mrs. Tweedy was immediately impressed by his size and strength. He was a chestnut colt with three white stockings and a distinctive blaze down the middle of his long face. Later, fans would refer to him as “Big Red.” Tweedy—along with her father, Christopher Chenery, and his personal secretary, Elizabeth Ham—struggled to come up with a proper name for the handsome red colt. Chenery’s first choice was Sceptor, reflecting the royal monikers of the colt’s parents. However, this name, as well as several others, was rejected by the Jockey Club. In the end, Ham christened the horse. She suggested the name “Secretariat,” a reference to her former career as a diplomatic secretary.

Secretariat runs away with the Belmont Stakes, winning by thirty-one lengths, on his way to the 1973 Triple Crown.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

In May, 1973, Secretariat was one of thirteen horses entered in the ninety-ninth Kentucky Derby. The derby, an annual event held at the Churchill Downs track in Louisville since 1875, is the first step on the road to the Triple Crown. Here, horses run one and a quarter miles for a garland of red flowers and an impressive, nationally known trophy presented by the governor of Kentucky. The event is sometimes referred to as the Run for the Roses. The Kentucky Derby is always held on the first Saturday in May. In 1973, the Kentucky-born horse Sham was considered an early favorite. Secretariat, who had been named 1972 Horse of the Year, was viewed as the contender to watch.

On May 6, 1973, Secretariat made racing history. Guided by trainer Lucien Laurin and jockey Ron Turcotte, Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby in the record time of one minute and fifty-nine-plus seconds. He beat the two-minute record set by Northern Dancer in the 1964 derby.

Two weeks later, on May 19, 1973, Secretariat won the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico track in Baltimore, Maryland. He broke the previous Preakness record by two and three-fifths seconds. Secretariat’s victory inspired a standing ovation from the record crowd of fifteen thousand, which had come to see the so-called Wow horse as well as the other visiting celebrity, football hero Johnny Unitas. Turcotte, who had ridden Secretariat to victory in the Kentucky Derby, remained the jockey. “He [Secretariat] made the decision,” Turcotte remarked in a 1973 interview for the Louisville Courier Journal. “When he wanted to run, I let him do what he wanted. I think I did the right thing.”

Secretariat became an instant media star, knocking the Watergate scandal off the cover of Time magazine for the first time since April 23. The new American hero, whom Time dubbed the Super Horse, captured the nation’s attention. His fight for the final leg of the Triple Crown gave Americans something to think about other than the Vietnam War and the crumbling presidency of Richard Nixon.

On June 9, 1973, Secretariat and four other horses raced the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York. The favorite to win, Secretariat did not disappoint his fans. He ran the mile-and-a-half course in a record two minutes and twenty-four seconds, becoming the first Triple Crown winner in twenty-five years. Secretariat finished thirty-one lengths ahead of his closest contender, Twice a Prince. The beautiful, bright-eyed chestnut proved once again that he could accomplish speed as well as distance. His prize money totaled $90,120, and his owners expected to collect millions in breeding fees.

Significance

No horse had won the Triple Crown since Citation had captured the victory in 1948. Harry Truman had been president, Richard Nixon was a newly elected California senator, and very few Americans could locate Vietnam on the map. Twenty-five years later, Nixon was president of the United States, and Americans were struggling to understand the Vietnam conflict and the Watergate break-in. In 1973, Secretariat’s road to the Triple Crown gave America a respite from war and political scandal.

In his blue-and-white-checked racing mask, Secretariat gazed out from the cover of the June 11, 1973, edition of Time magazine. He enjoyed mugging for photographers, seemingly proud of his own accomplishments. He had achieved an almost impossible feat, winning three competitive races in a six-week span and breaking records with astounding ease.

Secretariat, the horse of the century, died on October 4, 1989. He was buried at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky. Secretariat (racehorse) Horse racing

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Drager, Marvin. The Most Glorious Crown: The Story of America’s Triple Crown Thoroughbreds from Sir Barton to Affirmed. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2005. Provides information on the eleven Triple Crown winners from Sir Barton in 1919 to Affirmed in 1978. Chapter 9 is devoted to Secretariat. Includes photographs, an index, a glossary, and a compact disc on the history of thoroughbred racing.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nack, William. Secretariat: The Making of a Champion. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 2002. Provides a brief history of the famous Triple Crown winner. An updated version of Sports Illustrated writer Nack’s 1975 work Big Red of Meadow Stable. No index, geared toward younger audiences.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shoop, Robert L. Down to the Wire: The Lives of the Triple Crown Champions. Columbus, Ohio: Russell and Dean, 2003. Includes biographies of the Triple Crown winners and their jockeys and owners. Also provides information on the origins of the Triple Crown. Includes photographs and statistics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Woolfe, Raymond G. Secretariat. Reprint. Lanham, Md.: The Derrydale Press, 2001. An updated version of Woolfe’s 1974 pictorial history. A coffee-table book, providing large, glossy illustrations and thorough information on Secretariat.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“The Wow Horse Races into History.” Time 101 (June 11, 1973): 85-88, 90-91. The news magazine’s account of Secretariat’s 1973 victories. Provides a history of Secretariat as well as information on his owner, jockey, and trainer. Includes several good pictures and gives a feeling of the times.

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