Secretariat’s victory in the Belmont Stakes 21 years ago will be commemo
Secretariat’s victory in the Belmont Stakes 21 years ago will be commemorated tonight as one of the greatest moments in New York City sports history.
Secretariat’s accomplishment ranks with Joe Louis’ 2-minute, 4-second knockout of Max Schmeling before 70,043 screaming fans at Yankee Stadium the night of June 22, 1938.
A turnout of 67,605 was on hand the afternoon of June 9, 1973, when Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths in a world-record 2:24 for 1 1/2 miles and became thoroughbred horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 25 years.
The Belmont pushed Secretariat beyond the point of being just a great racehorse. It caught the attention of non-racing fans and made him a hero at the time the nation was being pulled apart by the Vietnam War.
Thirty-five year earlier, Louis’ devastating victory in his rematch with the German Schmeling, the only man to have beaten Louis at the time, struck a national chord because of the ominous rise of Hitler.
As a competition, Secretariat’s Belmont, like Louis’ KO, appears in hindsight to have been a mismatch. But there lies the drama _ the incredible ease with which it was accomplished.
``He felt wonderful before that race,″ said Penny Chenery, Secretariat’s owner, who was in New York for tonight’s 21st annual MS Dinner of Champions. ``On that day he could have done anything.″
The big chestnut colt couldn’t have done much more than he did.
``Secretariat’s moving like a tremendous machine,″ track announcer Chick Anderson called at one point. At another point, an excited Anderson called, ``He’s out there by himself.″
Secretariat raced the first three-quarters of a mile in 1:09 2-3, good time for a sprint, but a suicidal fraction for a 1 1/2-mile race.
He completed the mile 1:34 1-5 and the 1 1/4 miles in 1:59 flat, two-fifths of a second faster than he ran on the first Saturday in May when he become the only Kentucky Derby winner to break 2:00.
The crowd went nuts as Secretariat thundered home.
While the Belmont Stakes was Secretariat’s greatest race, Chenery thinks he was prepared for that effort by what she felt was his most exciting race _ the Preakness three weeks earlier at Pimlico in Baltimore.
``He made a move just past the finish last time that was most exciting,″ Chenery said, recalling that Big Red was last going into the first turn and first coming out of it.
``Right then he took the race in hand,″ she said. ``That race set up the Belmont, because then he knew he could do anything he wanted to do.″
Secretariat had a presence about him _ call it charisma. He did indeed act as if he was fully aware that he was the Big Horse.
He was being cooled out once more before the final race of his career at Woodbine near Toronto. As he walked round and round, he saw a camera being pointed at him, stopped and threw up his head as if posing.
If he had known how to read and write, he probably would have signed autographs. That’s something that a lot of baseball, football and basketball players won’t do.