Sunday, May 19, 2013

When Secretariat Won the Preakness

When a horse wins the Kentucky Derby, it sets off a certain amount of speculation about whether that horse can win the Triple Crown.

But most railbirds don't get excited about a horse's chances of winning the Triple Crown until the Derby winner actually wins that second jewel, the Preakness.

After all, someone has to win the Kentucky Derby, right? Win the Preakness, too, and then we'll talk.

(There will be no such talk this year. Oxbow won yesterday's Preakness, not Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner.)

When Secretariat won the 1973 Kentucky Derby, there was still some residual uncertainty about whether it was a true representation of the likely outcome of a duel between Secretariat and Sham. After all, Sham had beaten Secretariat decisively in the Wood Memorial a few weeks earlier.

The rematch of the top two finishers in the Derby was highly anticipated, and the Secretariat–Sham showdown riveted the attention of the sports world for the five weeks of the Triple Crown.

And when Secretariat won the Preakness 40 years ago today, it triggered a wave of excitement in the sports world. It had been 25 years since a horse had won the Triple Crown, and, in that time, only seven horses had won the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. Five of them had come along in the last 10 years alone.

While many people in horse racing did not believe a horse could win the Triple Crown again, others believed recent history indicated otherwise.

Could he do it?

The sports world was about to find out if Secretariat could become the eighth horse in 25 years to win the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, and a record crowd was on hand at Pimlico in Baltimore for the 100th running of the Preakness Stakes.

Other than the fact that Secretariat set a speed record in the Derby, perhaps the only thing that made him stand out was the hype that followed him everywhere. Investors had been paying record prices for breeding shares — as if Secretariat had already won the Triple Crown.

As he did in the Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier, Secretariat started almost casually, lumbering out of the gate and settling into the back of the pack. Investors' hearts must have skipped a beat or two.

But, about halfway through the race, he made his move and passed the other horses as if they were standing still, seizing the lead and sprinting down the stretch.

Frankly, I never saw anything like Secretariat. It's probably safe to say no one else had, either. He set records in all three Triple Crown races — records that still stand today.

And his most impressive performance was still to come — in the Belmont Stakes three weeks later when he beat Sham again, this time by 30 lengths.

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