50 years have passed since the Secretariat’s Herculean victory at the Belmont Stakes has taken its toll on the 67,605 souls who have come to witness history and witness a day sanctified by the gods. racing. But then, unlike the Secretariat, we’re just mortals. I was one of the few who was present on that sweltering day in June 1973. The memory of that glorious day is still there, intense and emotional, but now it feels like a painting. mosaic rather than a painting, with some debris having been lost to the moment. Here are pictures of that tumultuous time and of that glorious day that has endured:
In the spring of 1973, a country engulfed in discord was welcoming a new standard-bearer, pure and noble, better than their best. A hero appears in the form of a charismatic horse, red like sparks from a god’s torch. Inside his body beat a huge heart, almost three times the size of the average purebred heart. His name is Secretariat.
The second Saturday of June starts to be hot and muggy, the first day of the year the temperature reaches more than 90 degrees. Anticipating great demand, the Long Island Railroad added wagons to run Penn Station-Belmont. I soon sat facing every demographic definition of racing in a sauna on wheels, all filled with hope that the 25-year Triple Crown drought would come to an end.
In Belmont, the heat and humidity were oppressive, and any available shade was quickly taken over. Despite fire laws, fans have stood on the stairs and walkways, wherever they can to catch a glimpse of the horse that has captured the country’s imagination for the past five weeks. I found a few spare inches in the stands and protected my ground.
An hour before posting is a clinic in anxiety management. I really want the Secretariat to win, I’m willing to give up years of my life for an agreement. The noise from the crowd was incessant and increased to a climax when the familiar blue-and-white plaid of the Stables appeared on the track. The secretary’s coat caught the late afternoon sun and shone like polished bronze. His neck was bent, and he walked with a regal air in its composure. I can’t remember anything about the other four competitors. My eyes are fixed on the perfect piece of the horse that carries 126 pounds and 25 years of hope on its back.
The crowd cheered, shouted and clapped, the echoes of the excitement were so high, the air seemed to be singing. The secretariat was a model of manners during the traditional “New York Sidewalk,” the announcer’s introduction, and the boisterous reception of the crowd. His composure is so limited, that it is only during a warm-up that one glimpses the immense strength of his underlying musculature.
In watching countless replays of Belmont by the Secretariat, I felt like a pilgrim back to the holy land. What remains is the recollection of an event so transcendent that it has illuminated my life and lit up my inner world for 50 years.
I will never forget the anger I felt at witnessing what many considered Ron Turcotte’s premature action on the first turn, and the tearing fear that Belmont’s protracted sweep would do exhausted the last bit of strength of the Secretariat. I can’t listen to a replay of TV presenter Chic Anderson’s classic appeal of “The secretariat is expanding, he’s moving like a giant machine,” without reviving the frenzy of the crowd, who found themselves in that rarest arrangement—when greatness begets legend; the horror that the giant grandstand would not withstand the earthquake of thousands of stomping feet; and the excitement spurred a wall of people to rise in unison to cheer a horse that, for a moment, had become the embodiment of so much beauty one could hope to see in this world. With tears streaming down my face as I watched the Secretariat’s incredible lead continue to drag on and Ron Turcotte peeking back through history, I experienced such an exhilaration that I couldn’t help myself. What words can be created to describe it?
The secretariat ran the fastest Belmont on record, breaking the old record with an amazing time of 2 3/5 seconds, and he broke the world record with a distance of 1 1/2 miles. His winning margin is a staggering 31 lengths. But it’s not just a matter of time and distance. For two minutes and 24 seconds on June 9, 1973, the Secretariat was the culmination of the best of his breed and the perfect expression of the highest part of who we are. He is all that his Maker and nature intended him to be. The world back then wasn’t perfect. But he did. Fifty years later, the flame of that memory still lingers. His name is Secretary.
(See Belmont of the Secretariat below 🙂