SPECIAL FEATURE

The King of the Turf retires

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On this day, October 28, 1973, Secretariat ran victorious in the Canadian Stakes at Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack by six lengths ending a 21-race career with16 triumphs, four placings and $1.3 million prize money.

That 1973 was his year was further confirmed by his sweeping the Triple Crown – Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes – and several others, thus, becoming the world’s most celebrated thoroughbred as well as crowning himself “King of the Turf.”

Secretariat, likewise, emerged only the ninth horse to win the Triple Crown after Sir Barton in 1919, Gallant Fox in 1930, his son Omaha in 1935, War Admiral in 1937, Whirl­away in1941, Count Fleet in 1943, Assault in 1946 and Citation in1948.

Secretariat keyed off his year’s campaign by making mince meat of New York’s Aqueduct Race Course in what was dubbed “if you can make it here” event that captured every race buff’s imagination on April 7.

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Secretariat surges to victory at the Gotham on the way to scoring a sweep of the 1973 Triple Crown. PHOTO FROM EDDIE ALINEA’S FILE

That win carried the Lucien Lauren-trained and Ron Turcotte-steered Secretariat into his own following his debut on July 4 when he was bumped right out of the gate and blocked behind other rookie horses and ended up fourth.

Less than two week later though, the big red colt bounced back by winning in New York to becoming the first to-year-old unanimously voted Horse of the Year.

Back at the Aqueduct tune-up, Secretariat route the field in the $25,000 short distance Bay Shore Stakes. In a field of seven with three legitimate challengers lined up for the Gotham, Secretariat made sure the crowd would only be watching him. Carrying a whopping 126 pounds, the heavy favorite hit the stall’s side coming out of the gate and was never threatened.

At the Gotham, showed he had speed contrary to what many believed. He’d shown guts in holding off the late challenge, and stamina in his post wire run.

That was Secretariat for real!

When the Triple Crown series arrived, he proved it, destroying the competition especially in his astonishing Belmont Stakes showing. The unstoppable colt won by an unimaginable 31 lengths ahead of his closest pursuers.

He made the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated, becoming, as William Nack observed, a cultural phenomenon, a sort of undeclared national holidays from the tortures of Watergate and the Vietnam War.”

“Secretariat generates a crackling tension and excitement wherever he goes,” Pete Axthelm wrote in Newsweek. “Even in the kind of gray weather that shroud lesser animals in anonymity, Secretariat’s muscular build identifies him immediately; his glowing reddish coat is a banner of health and rippling power.”

Although horse racing stories came scarce in the sports pages for much of that year, Secretariat made the Triple Crown races a big annual, story. And while that legacy was passed down only because Secretariat made it elsewhere, he had to make it in New York first, dazzling the racing world and becoming media star by capturing the Gotham in record time.

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