1973: A 20 year old college dropout sits in his older brother's living room
watching the post parade for the Belmont Stakes, as Secretariat entered the
track for his attempt to end the twenty-five year Triple Crown drought.
I was that
20 year old, of course. I look back now and wonder how I could have become so
disillusioned, cynical and apathetic at such a young age. A few months before,
my candidate had badly lost the first presidential election I voted in, to a
man whose election transgressions were just beginning to come to light. I'd
changed my college major more often than my socks before finally dropping out,
declaring higher education to be useless in the real world (as if I knew what
the real world was all about at that point). And then came Red Horse.
exposure to thoroughbred horse racing most of my life. My mother wasn't a very
adept handicapper, but she loved going to the races. My older brother was
better at the betting side of it. For me, though, it was different. My cousin
and her family lived outside the city, and she rode horses at a nearby stable.
Her parents even bought her a horse when we were teenagers. When we would
visit, I would go with her to ride. I was a city kid, and I fell in love with
horses. I even remember the first horse I ever rode; a mare named Goldie. A lot
of racing fans come to the sport for the gambling; I came for the horses. My
love of horses hadn't led me to as much interest in racing as my brother,
though, until the end of 1972. Everyone was talking up a two year old colt
who'd just been named Horse of the Year. I watched replays of some of his races
and his speed, grace and pure athleticism were captivating. As the 1973
campaign started, I began paying more and more attention to the sport.
after my equine hero lost the Wood Memorial, I prepared myself for more
heartbreak in the Kentucky Derby. And then I shouted my lungs out as
Secretariat ran down a great horse who was himself on a record-breaking pace.
In the Preakness, I watched in even greater awe as he circled the field and
went from last to first in less than half a furlong...with most of the move
coming on the first turn!
up a lot words over the years in attempting to describe watching the 1973
Belmont Stakes. As Secretariat and Sham dueled down the backstretch, my heart
was in my throat. The pace was too fast; one or both of them would hit the
wall, hard. Then Secretariat started to open his lead. Sham had it; he was
falling back. Later, looking at the fractions, I would know that Red actually
did slacken his incredible pace in the second half of the race. But watching at
the time, it felt like he streaked the whole way around that track like a
I had a
hero who won, for what felt like the first time in my life.
forward to May 19, 2012: The Preakness. I'll Have Another runs down speed demon
Bodemeister and gets a head in front, and I screamed harder than I have for any
horse race in the last 39 years.
My love of
racing has remained a love and admiration of the athletes in the sport, the
horses and jockeys. As for owners and trainers; if there were a way to run this
sport without them, that might be a good thing. As William Nack once said of
Secretariat; “His biggest problem was that he was handled by people.”
racing is the one sport in which none the problems and corruption come from the
athletes. I'll Have Another will never be busted for smacking his girlfriend
around, or bringing a gun to a club. Race horses are in most ways the purest
athletes in the world. Whatever you have to say about his trainer and owner, as
long as I'll Have Another continues to test clean, I'll keep cheering for him.
I've fallen in love with this gutsy undersized colt.
a Triple Crown mean to me? If, for this 59 year old working a “bridge-job” to
retirement after losing his career in the 2008 financial crisis, I'll Have
Another can restore one tenth of the joy and wonder in the world that
Secretariat gave to that 20 year old, it will mean a great deal indeed.
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