Forty-five years ago, as a 2-year-old in 1972, Secretariat ran his maiden race ... and finished fourth! The 1973 Triple Crown winner is the pride of Meadow Stable in Doswell, and we asked Leeanne Ladin — who oversees Meadow Event Park's “Hoofprints of History” tour and is the author of “Secretariat’s Meadow” — to share some insight into the legendary Thoroughbred.
Secretariat was a big, spirited colt who kept his grooms at Meadow Stable on their toes. One day at the yearling barn in 1971, according to former workers, he broke away from his groom and galloped off the farm and onto state Route 30, the main highway. A man driving a truck from the local sawmill stopped in the middle of the road and caught Secretariat. He held him until the panicked grooms got there and led him back to the stable.
Though this happened in 1971, Secretariat's owner, Penny Chenery, didn’t hear the story until 2007. She had hosted a reunion dinner for former Meadow Stable staff, and at the end of the dinner, many of the former grooms shared stories of her colt’s escapades — much to her surprise.
QUITE THE LEGACY
Secretariat’s bloodlines continue to influence Thoroughbred racing today. American Pharoah, who in 2015 became the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 37 years, is a great-great-great grandson of Secretariat. So is California Chrome, who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in 2014 and is the top money-winning race horse today (with more than $13 million in earnings).
And though she did not find success at the racetrack, great-great granddaughter Groundshaker now lives at Meadow Event Park as the star attraction of the “Hoofprints of History” tour.
A BIG HEART ...
In Secretariat’s unforgettable Belmont Stakes, which he won by a staggering 31 lengths, the announcer said the champion was “moving like a tremendous machine.” In fact, that tremendous machine had a tremendous engine.
After Secretariat's death in 1989, it was estimated that his heart, which was healthy, weighed 22 pounds — while a normal Thoroughbred heart is 8 to 10 pounds. Chenery said her horse "just had a bigger power pack.”
... AND A BIG STRIDE
Secretariat's enormous racing stride of 25 feet was second only to Man o’ War’s (28 feet). At top speed, Secretariat was running at 39 mph, according to biographer Bill Nack.
UPS, DOWNS AND MOODS
Secretariat won several more races and broke track records after the Triple Crown. But he also lost a couple of races during his career, with illness a factor. His exercise rider, Charlie Davis, has recounted how Secretariat would sulk in his stall with his rump turned to the door after he lost a race. Then at his next race, Secretariat would set a track record.
The best example came as a 3-year-old in his 1973 Triple Crown season: Secretariat had an abscess in his mouth and lost the Wood Memorial — but a few weeks later, he became the first horse to run the Kentucky Derby in under two minutes.
That Derby track record still stands, as do Secretariat's records for the Preakness and Belmont. Of the 12 Triple Crown winners since 1919, Secretariat is the only one to break marks at all three races. And there have been only three Triple Crown winners since Secretariat: Seattle Slew in 1977, Affirmed in 1978 and American Pharoah in 2015.
A CLOSE CALL
The year before Secretariat's Triple Crown, another Meadow Stable horse nearly accomplished the feat. In 1972, Riva Ridge, the “forgotten champion,” won the Derby and Belmont but lost the Preakness on a muddy track. Many expert horsemen of the day said that if it had not rained, Riva would have won the Preakness and Chenery would have had back-to-back winners of the Triple Crown.
As it was, Meadow Stable won five of six consecutive Triple Crown races, something no other racing stable had done.
Tours of Secretariat’s birthplace are available by reservation at Meadow Event Park. For details, visit meadoweventpark.com.