THURSDAY, JUNE 7, 1973, SPORTS
Copyright 1973/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
Racing Holds Its Breath Over Secretariat
Just five weeks ago, 28 horse owners were ready to buy a rope and go after a lady who had sold them a horse.
Mrs. Penny Tweedy didn’t look much like a David Harum, but selling 28 guys the same horse was a pretty good start.
That wasn’t the worst. She charged them $5,320,000 for it and kept four points for herself. Jesse James would have whistled in admiration.
The horse had all its legs and eyes and could pull a plow all right, but that afternoon in April he had just run down the track to a stablemate and a West Coaster who had just gotten off a plane from Santa Anita which, as everyone in New York knows, is a track that runs downhill.
Twenty-eight guys had just paid $190,000 apiece for the stud fees to a 7-furlong horse. Now it wouldn’t even be able to get a blind date.
Well, that was April. Now it’s the week of the Belmont Stakes and Secretariat, the horse, has been on the cover of Time, Newsweek, The Blood Horse, Sports Illustrated, and he looks like a $6-million steal. His stud book will be busier than a sultan’s. If he loses the Belmont, he’s going to take more money with him than a bank president absconding to Rio. He’s scared everybody out of the race except poor old Sham, his
faithful old Indian companion who’s chased him across three state lines now.
The horse writers have pulled out all the stops. To hear them tell it, you’d think this horse talked, or could pull babies out of burning buildings. They named him Horse of the Year when he was only two years old, which is like making an outfielder from Peoria the MVP.
The Triple Crown (Kentucky, Preakness and Belmont races) has been harder to win than a crap game on the waterfront, or a fight with your wife, and any horse who wins it immediately becomes Babe Ruth. Eight horses have won it, lifetime, and each of these races is now 100 years old or better.
All racing will be holding its breath as Secretariat heads for home Saturday. If his leg snaps in the stretch, or the boy falls off, the Jockey Club puts a wreath on the door. Or moves the Belmont to Juarez.
One hundred years they’ve been improving the breed, and all they turn out is hemophiliacs. The Hapsburgs could have told them that. It’s good for any society to have the daughter elope with the milkman every now and then, or marry a guy who doesn’t need a monocle.
Still, an examination of the fine print shows the Triple Crown not to have been all that difficult. Since Citation last won it in 1948 several have flunked out. Does anyone doubt Native Dancer should have won it in 1953? That was one of the Great-Mistakes-In-Sports-History, ranking with Sam Snead not winning the Open, Ernie Banks not playing in a World Series, or John Barrymore never winning an Oscar. The Kentucky Derby was the ONLY race Native Dancer ever lost.
Tim Tam should have won in 1958, but he had only three legs by the head of the Belmont stretch. Damascus probably should have won it in 1967, but came up to the Derby short on conditioning and lost to a 30-1 shot that he easily disposed of in the other two ‘Crowns.’ Gallant Man should have won it in 1957. He was easily the best in the Derby until Bill Shoemaker, like a bus rider who misjudges his stop, got off too early. He didn’t contest the Preakness, but lumped Bold Ruler and the rest of his company again in the Belmont.
In all, seven horses have come up to the Belmont with two-thirds of the Triple since Citation. And at least two other horses (Nashua, Damascus) won the wrong two.
Well, let’s hope there’s nothing hiding in the hedges that will un-crown Secretariat on Saturday. Much is made of the fact that there were only about 5,000 foals in Citation’s natal year that he had to beat, while Secretariat was one of 25,000. I don’t buy that.
Whenever you’ve got 25,000 of something, you can bet me it ain’t as good as something there’s only 5,000 of. That goes for horses, money, marbles, diamonds, paintings, books — and people. And words, too. The Gettysburg Address, remember, fits on an envelope.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
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