Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Remembering Red: The 22nd Anniversary of the Passing of a Legend...

It's been 22 years since Secretariat was euthanized at Claiborne Farm on the morning of October 4th, 1989, due to complications arising from laminitis.  He was 19, and his handlers had expected him to have years left as a sire.  He was survived by the key members of his team: Owner Penny Chenery, trainer Lucien Laurin, beloved groom Eddie Sweat, and jockey Ron Turcotte.

The passing of the great horse was like few others; flags flew at half mast in Lexington, he was buried entire wrapped in the golden colors of Claiborne's racing silks, although he'd raced in the blue and white of The Meadow.  His funeral was a private affair, unlike the ceremonial lying-in-state awarded the great Man-O-War.

One of my earliest memories was of Secretariat winning the Belmont.  My parents and I were at my grandparent's house, and we all gathered to watch the race in the living room.  I can remember the sun glinting off the big red colt's coat looked like the sun bright diamonds reflected off  the drinks in the grownup's crystal highball glasses.  At the start of the race we all yelled encouragement, as if he could hear our exhortations and respond to them. However, as we watched Secretariat demolish the rest of the field, we quieted, almost as if we were in church.  No one in my family said a word as he lengthened his lead; it was as if we were almost afraid to breathe, as if that act would upset the delicate balance of the perfection we were witnessing.

I was already a horse crazy little girl, but that day I thought that Secretariat was pure magic, capable of anything.  I guess in some ways, I still am that little girl, sure that all horses are magic.  However, there's no doubt that Secretariat was one of a kind, the most magic horse in all of Thoroughbred racing.

His legacy lives on in the recent Disney movie, inspired by the book by William Nack,  that tells his tale.  My family and I have watched it countless times, and we still all yell at the screen as if there was some doubt that this time he might not win the Triple Crown, and we still cry at the ending.

Thankfully, there are a lot of excellent books that also provide fans with more Secretariat lore. Some of my favorites are:

The Horse God Built, by Lawrence Scanlan
Secretariat, by William Nack
Secretariat's Meadow, by Kate Chenery Tweedy, and Leanne Meadows Ladin
Secretariat, by Raymond G. Woolfe Jr.

Thanks for the memories, Big Red.  You are much missed.


  1. Big Red was the reason I began riding. After watching his Triple Crown races as a horse crazy nine year old, I begged my parents non stop until I got riding lessons. Secretariat's Belmont was the single most amazing thing I have ever seen, and I cannot watch the footage even today without choking up.

    Check this out - Pure Heart, a 1990 Bill Nack article about the greatest racehorse ever... enjoy :)

  2. Wow. I hadn't seen either of these videos. They're both really poignant - thank you.