Secretariat is the most beloved Thoroughbred race horse in American history. He is one of only twelve horses to ever win the Triple Crown. Among racing fans, his story is legend.
Secretariat was born on March 30,1970 in Doswell, Virginia. He was the offspring of Preakness winner Bold Ruler and Somethingroyal, who was a top-notch breeder. As a two-year-old horse, he won seven of nine races and was the first two-year-old to win Horse of the Year. Before Secretariat’s third year, his owner died and his family sold Secretariat to settle estate debt. He was purchased for $6.08 million, a record at the time.
The 1973 Triple Crown
In 1973, Secretariat won his first two races but placed fifth in his third because of an abscess that was discovered after the race. Going into the Kentucky Derby, speculation was high as to whether his loss was due to the abscess or if he could not rise to the hype surrounding him. His Kentucky Derby win put this criticism to rest with a track record win. Secretariat became the first Derby winner to complete the race in under two minutes, winning by 2 ½ lengths. At the Preakness he moved from last place into first and won again by 2 ½ lengths, but his greatest victory was yet to come. He won the Belmont by a jaw-dropping 31 lengths and set a world record for completing the race in 2 minutes 24 seconds. Secretariat broke so far ahead that cameras had a hard time capturing the gap between him and the second place finisher.
Secretariat’s picture graced the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated in the same week before his historic win at the Belmont Stakes. After his Triple Crown win, Secretariat was named Horse of the Year for the second straight year. America was in love with the chestnut horse who shattered records wherever he ran. At a time when Americans needed a sports hero, Secretariat galloped to the forefront of the sports world.. He was said to transcend both horse racing and sports and became a celebrity.
Retirement and Death
Secretariat retired in 1973 after his second spectacular season with much fanfare. Hundreds of people turned out to greet Secretariat as he began his retirement in Kentucky. Secretariat would go on to sire Lady’s Secret, the 1986 Horse of the Year, and also Risen Star, who won the 1988 Preakness and Belmont Stakes, but no other horse would capture the hearts and minds of the country like Secretariat.
In 1989, Secretariat came down with laminitis, a life-threatening hoof disease. A month later, on October 4, 1989, Secretariat died. Those who loved him grieved for him as a fallen hero. His autopsy revealed a heart that, while healthy, was twice as big as normal. So it is not an exaggeration to say that Secretariat was a horse with an outsized heart who won the hearts of a generation.