On the eve of the Belmont Stakes, it’s hard not to think back to 1973, the day that Secretariat captured the Triple Crown with a Belmont win so decisive that the other horses weren’t even in the same race. If you’re old, like I am, you might even remember watching the race live, on your grandparents’ black and white TV, cheering along with the crowds. Even then, I thought it remarkable that a horse would keep on running without any challengers. This was a horse that just loved to run.
To celebrate the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes, the New York Racing Association has created a series, “In Their Own Words,” which features the remembrances of prominent owners, trainers, jockeys and horsemen as they relive some of the most stirring moments in the history of the “Test of the Champion.” The posts appeared in the Paulick Report.
The series concludes with Hall of Fame jockey Ron Turcotte reflecting on one of the great athletic feats of all time, human or equine, when Secretariat moved “like a tremendous machine” in 1973. Read the entire post here.
The morning after his final workout, he was so much on the muscle we decided to put the tack on him and walk him around the shedrow to settle him down. Then the morning of the Belmont, when we walked him again for 30 minutes, he was rearing on his hind legs and trying to get away from exercise rider Charlie Davis, who was doing his best to hold onto him. That was the fittest I had ever seen him and we knew he was eager to run.
I always looked at the Belmont as the easiest of the three legs. If your horse stumbles, if he gets shut off, the mile-and-a-half distance gives you time to recover. That being said, I sure hoped for a clean trip.
Lucien did not give me any instructions in the paddock before the race. He never did. All he said was, “Ronnie, you know the horse. You know what to do.”
My plan was to sit behind Sham in the early going. That changed when I felt the power beneath me and Secretariat broke sharply. I let him get his feet under him and picked his head up entering the first turn.
Sham and jockey Laffit Pincay decided to try to stay with us early, but I knew there was no way Sham could stay with Secretariat, whose tremendous stride allowed him to cover a great amount of ground. I never felt such strength under me as I did that day. We were flying along. We covered the opening half-mile in 46 1/5 seconds, three-quarters in 1:09 4/5 and the mile in 1:34 4/5.
Lucien and others in the stands thought I was crazy. But I am the one on the horse. I knew he was well within himself. He was doing everything easily. His stride was beautiful. His breathing was good. Everything was going to my liking. My job, as I saw it, was to be a good passenger and stay out of his way. The only encouragement I gave him was to occasionally whisper in his ear. “Easy boy,” I would tell him.
I knew we were putting Sham and the rest far behind us with Secretariat’s long, loping strides. I knew he was going to have no trouble getting the mile and a half. I peeked and the other horses must have been 15-20 lengths behind.
Now, the only race was against the clock. After the Preakness timing controversy, I wanted Secretariat to set a record that would stand a long time. With 70 yards to go, I chirped to him to make sure he did not lose focus. He responded by finding still another gear.