As he watched the 1973 Belmont Stakes unfold before him and sought to describe the action to a national television audience, veteran sports announcer Chic Anderson was grasping for superlatives to describe the dominant performance of Secretariat. “… Like a tremendous machine …”
barked as the three-year-old extended his historic lead to 12 lengths going
into the final turn, an unfathomable margin that would explode to 31 lengths by
the time the horse crossed the finish line.
The suspicion here is that few horse lovers – then or now – would choose the term “machine” to describe Big Red. Whether shaped by the undeniable, real-time euphoria of that Triple Crown run almost 40 years ago – yes, I’m old enough to remember it – or perhaps kindled by the recent movie that allowed so many to relive or live for the first time the story of Secretariat, I think it is fair to say that in the eyes of multitudes, the horse was more majestic than mechanical.
And yet the venerable
can be forgiven if he simply ran out of ways to illustrate the spectacle playing
out in front of the sports world that early summer of ’73. Secretariat then – just like Secretariat now
– held us spellbound. What did I know at
the time of the equestrian world? Still,
I would find myself sketching the blue-and-white checkerboard pattern of Ron
Turcotte’s racing silks on my school bookcovers well into the following Fall.
There have been two Triple Crown winners since Secretariat’s run to glory, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. Even coming at a time when I was arguably more attuned to the broader sports enterprise, those late ’70s achievements never etched themselves upon my consciousness in the manner of Secretariat’s earlier feat. Watching his record-setting run inthe Belmont remains spine-chilling this many years later. Our oldest, who had a grandson of Secretariat as her beloved riding partner for a period of time, claims she cannot watch it without crying.
I’ll Have Another’s scratch from today’s race in
New York adds an
unfortunate twist to the lore and the lure of the Triple Crown. Eleven other horses since Affirmed have won
the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness only to be denied victory in the Belmont. Perhaps that underscores the truly
extraordinary achievement by those rare horses who have claimed the prize. I just know that, for me, Secretariat’s grand
run that summer long ago remains ageless and solidly embedded at the pinnacle
of athletic accomplishment.