The Big Red Racehorse

June 2009


To the world, he was Secretariat. To his groom Eddie Sweat, he was, affectionately, Big Red. Eddie and Secretariat were as close as a human and a horse could get. Eddie would constantly talk to Secretariat in low tones, sometimes using the singsong Creole language, Gullah. The rhythmic talk would soothe Secretariat. The majestic and powerful superhorse had Eddie’s wind beneath his wings.


The big beautiful chestnut had three white socks and a star and narrow blaze on his face. He was born in Virginia on March 30, 1970, son to Bold Ruler out of Somethingroyal. He was heavily muscled like a sprinter but had the body length of a long strider, giving him both speed and stamina. At his autopsy, it was discovered that he had the largest heart ever seen in a horse, weighing in at 22 pounds.


Secretariat loved to run. Owner Penny Chenery said “he thinks racing is a game we thought up for his amusement.” ESPN ranked Secretariat number 35 on their Top 100 Athletes of the Century list, ahead of Mickey Mantle and O.J. Simpson.


Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973, at a time when Americans were searching for an honest leader. When Secretariat adorned the cover of Time Magazine that year, appreciative readers wrote to the magazine indicating that it was nice to see the front end of a horse on the cover for once.


Secretariat earned $1.3 million in two years of racing. He would stud for the next 16 years, earning $6 million more. Secretariat sired over 650 foals, including 57 stakes winners.


His jockey Ron Turcotte said of his record-breaking Kentucky Derby run, “It was the first time he ever put everything together. [The other horses] were rolling. I was flying.” Secretariat won the Derby by 2 1/2 lengths, in record time (1:59 2/5) still standing today. Secretariat was dead last at the start of the race and ran each quarter-mile faster than the previous one. No horse had ever done that.


Secretariat also came up from dead last in the Preakness Stakes. He ran the last 5 1/2 furlongs in the lead and won again by 2 1/2 lengths. But the Belmont Stakes victory set the jewel in Secretariat’s crown. He won the 1 1/2 mile race by 31 lengths and set the world record (still standing) on a dirt track of 2:24. Turcotte later said, “Nobody has seen the true Secretariat. A horse reaches his peak at [age] five and this horse was a baby when he was retiring. He was just learning how to run.”


Secretariat ran 21 races with 16 wins, 3 seconds, 1 third place, and 1 fourth place.