As the decades wear on, our hopes for a modern Triple Crown victory grow dimmer. Watching Secretariat’s 31-length triumph in 1973, it’s impossible not to wonder: Could this ever happen again?
Only four horses competed against Secretariat for the June 9, 1973, running of the Belmont Stakes, including Sham, who had finished second in both the Derby and Preakness, along with three other horses thought to have little chance by the bettors: Twice A Prince, My Gallant, and Private Smiles. With so few horses in the race, and with Secretariat expected to win, no “show” bets were taken. Secretariat was sent off as a 1–10 favorite to win as a $2.20 payout on a $2 ticket and paid at 20 cents more – $2.40 – to place.Before a crowd of 67,605, Secretariat and Sham set a fast early pace, opening 10 lengths on the rest of the field. After the six-furlong mark, Sham began to tire, ultimately finishing last. Secretariat continued the fast pace and opened up a larger and larger margin on the field. CBS Television announcer Chic Anderson’s described the horse’s pace in a famous commentary: “Secretariat is widening now! He is moving like a tremendous machine!”
In the stretch, Secretariat opened a 1/16 mile lead on the rest of the field. At the finish, he won by 31 lengths (breaking the margin-of-victory record set by Triple Crown winner Count Fleet in 1943, who won by 25 lengths), and ran the fastest 1½ miles on dirt in history, 2:24 flat, which broke the stakes record by more than two seconds.This works out to a speed of 37.5 mph for his entire performance. Secretariat’s record still stands; no other horse has ever broken 2:25 for 1½ miles on dirt. If the Beyer Speed Figure calculation had been developed during that time, Andrew Beyer calculated that Secretariat would have earned a figure of 139, the highest he has ever assigned.Bettors holding 5,617 winning parimutuel tickets on Secretariat never redeemed them, presumably keeping them as souvenirs (and because the tickets would have paid only $2.20 on a $2 bet).
Secretariat became the ninth Triple Crown winner in history, and the first in 25 years.
Source: Wikimedia Creative Commons
Penny Chenery, the 91-year-old owner of Secretariat, granted an exclusive interview last year to Arapahoe Park, the racetrack near where she lives in Boulder, Colorado, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown. In the interview, she relives Secretariat’s Belmont victory, guiding viewers through what she was thinking as she watches the race once again.
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