I had kind of a strange sensation when I watched I'll Have Another win the Kentucky Derby yesterday.
It was something of a flashback to the late spring/early summer of 1973, when Secretariat won the Triple Crown.
Secretariat is probably best remembered for his dominant performance in the third jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, in which he practically strolled to a 31–length victory.
But most of the folks who were old enough at the time to absorb what it was that they were seeing — and to appreciate that they were witnessing something rare and remarkable, the first Triple Crown winner in a quarter of a century — will tell you that Secretariat came from behind to win the first two races.
That was his M.O. — until that memorable afternoon in June.
While it is entirely possible that I am overlooking something obvious, I don't think I have seen anything quite like it since — at least until yesterday's Derby.
Thirty–nine years ago, it seems to me that Secretariat had to come from dead last — or close to it — to barely win the first two races of the Triple Crown. Clearly, he was a speed horse, like all the other sons of Bold Ruler, but there were doubts that he had the endurance for a truly long race like the Belmont.
Such doubts were erased in the Belmont — and, as impressive as that victory was, there were lingering questions that went unanswered until 16 years later when, after Secretariat's death, a team of veterinarians examined his vital organs and discovered that his heart was twice the size of a normal horse's.
It's still early in this year's Triple Crown campaign. The Preakness is coming up on May 19, followed by the Belmont on June 9, and no horse has won a Triple Crown in nearly 35 years — so I'll Have Another's win yesterday may have no significance in the long run.
But his Derby run reminded me of those Secretariat days.
I honestly don't know anything about I'll Have Another's lineage. Maybe, like Secretariat, he is a descendant of not only a speed horse like Bold Ruler but also a power horse like the 18th–century British horse Eclipse (who was said to have passed along an x factor trait through his daughters that produced such oversized hearts).
Maybe not. I suppose we'll know more in a couple of weeks — or five weeks, if I'll Have Another wins the Preakness.
And he didn't have to come from the back of the pack yesterday — just the middle of it.
But I'll be damned if there aren't real similarities between yesterday's race and the one that started Secretariat on his Triple Crown–winning run 39 years ago.
In 1973, Secretariat overtook his primary nemesis, Sham. Will Bodemeister — one of yesterday's pre–race favorites and the leader until he was overtaken in the stretch — turn out to be I'll Have Another's arch rival in 2012?
Time will tell.