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    HomePoliticsThe past four Derbies have been wild. What could possibly happen next?

    The past four Derbies have been wild. What could possibly happen next?


    Credit…Associated Press

    Before he was “moving like a tremendous machine” in a literal earth-shattering performance in the Belmont Stakes, before he secured the ninth Triple Crown sweep in history, ending a 25-year drought, Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby in such dramatic fashion that it would be considered one of the greatest races of all time — if only he didn’t follow it with even greater theatrics in his next two races.

    Coming off a stunning loss in the Wood Memorial, Secretariat, who was named the 2-year-old champion, was suddenly the beneficiary of doubt among the horse racing faithful, despite having won 10 of 11 races going into the derby. Rumors swirled: he was injured, he lost a step during his 3-year-old season, he just wasn’t the superhorse everyone thought he was, his Wood rival Sham would be the true king of 1973.

    Then the gates opened in the 99th running of the Run for the Roses, and he went off as the 3-2 favorite anyway, with Sham the second choice at 5-2. And so his furious rally to prove his doubters wrong began. He broke a step slow, a Secretariat trademark, and settled in behind his 12 challengers. His regular rider, Ron Turcotte, sat aboard, unworried. Turcotte let the colt find his legs and run his race.

    He moved to the first pack, and then moved up to the second. His rival Sham sat near the lead and made his move to catch the leader, Shecky Greene, at the top of the homestretch. Then, and only then, did Turcotte ask his horse for more, and Secretariat, like the finest of racecars, found another gear.

    He dug in and zipped past Sham in the stretch to win by two and a half lengths in 1:59⅖, a record that still stands. He ran each quarter-mile faster than the one before, going 25⅕, 24, 23⅘, 23⅖, and 23 seconds — unheard of in horse racing — and on he went into the history books. 

    Of course, the horse known as Big Red for his crimson-tinted chestnut coat went on to battle Sham in another thriller in the Preakness, setting another record in 1:53, and then followed that with a jaw-dropping performance in the Belmont in 2:24, a feat that will almost certainly never be bested.

    His influence on the sport is unparalleled, and his exploits also redefined the breeding industry. Nearly half of the horses in Saturday’s Derby have Secretariat in their bloodlines.

    “I think people fell in love with the story, the horse was very pretty and his athletic abilities just kind of captured the nation,” said Walker Hancock, who runs Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., where Secretariat stood at stud and where he is interred and memorialized.

    On most days, his modest grave is topped with roses and pennies, a nod to his owner, Penny Chenery Tweedy, an unlikely heroine who took over her father’s farm early in Secretariat’s career and saved it with the horse’s Triple Crown run and a $6.08 million syndication of his breeding rights, a record at the time.

    “He kind of was like a rallying cry for America,” Hancock said, referencing the era of Richard Nixon, the Watergate scandal and the end of the Vietnam War — a time during which his father, Seth, ran the historic breeding farm; Hancock was not even born yet. “He kind of brought everyone together after everyone was so divided.”



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