The Immortal Secretariat

CA-35

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I know it's ancient history, but I still get tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat watching Penny Chenery talk about this glorious, one of a kind horse named Secretariat.

 

twocorgis

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Secretariat was a wee bit before my time at Belmont Park (1975 as summer help), but still qualifies as the greatest horse of my lifetime. I was very fortunate to see him on a tour of Claiborne Farm in the summer of 1989, and he looked so good that you'd swear with 60 days training he'd have gone out there and done it all over again. It was hard to believe that he was dead of laminitis that October at the relatively young age of 19. I was shocked and saddened.

One thing that I really hated was Disney's adaptation of Secretariat's story. I know that they have to "Disneyfy" things to make a hero and a villain, but the way they portrayed Frank "Pancho" Martin was downright criminal. He trained Sham, who was Secretariat's main rival (he did get close to him a few times), and ran in all three Triple crown races against him, eventually being distanced in the Belmont Stakes. It's a shame, because he would have been a champion, and perhaps even a Triple Crown winner if he had been born at any other time. Mr. Martin (as I always called him, because I had so much respect for him) was depicted as a bitter man who was bent on humiliating his adversaries, which couldn't have been further from the truth. He was quite the opposite, maybe the nicest man of a lot of nice men that I met in my years at the track, and he was always so kind to me. He even used to go shopping for my dogs! He'd pull up in that big Cadillac of his, and pop the trunk. Inside was a plethora or treats, toys, and rawhides that he gave to me saying "This is for the babies" in his thick Cuban accent. What a wonderful man he was, and the reason to this day that I can't stand that movie.
 

Quantum Strummer

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Yup, there were no villains in the Secretariat vs. Sham story. Just two great, well-trained racehorses…with one of 'em having the additional benefit of being a freak of nature.

-Dave-
 

twocorgis

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Yup, there were no villains in the Secretariat vs. Sham story. Just two great, well-trained racehorses…with one of 'em having the additional benefit of being a freak of nature.

-Dave-
Have you seen the movie Dave? I'll agree that Big Red was definitely a freak of nature though. It's not often you see a horse with a stride like his, seen here on his way to winning the Preakness.

 

bobouz

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Sandy, it's disappointing to hear that Sham's owner was so inappropriately portrayed, especially in light of the fact that Penny Chenery was essentially an advisor & appeared in a scene. If what you say is true, and I have no reason to doubt you, Disney should have been much fairer in the way he was depicted.

There was no need to create a bad guy, as the story of these two horses was stirring enough. But indeed, he was made out to be a true villain, who by story's end, you wanted to see go down in defeat & humiliation.

As with Seabiscuit, I find documentaries with real footage to be much more interesting, and of course, more accurate in all respects.
 

Quantum Strummer

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Have you seen the movie Dave? I'll agree that Big Red was definitely a freak of nature though. It's not often you see a horse with a stride like his, seen here on his way to winning the Preakness.

Yep, I saw the film shortly after it came out. I agree about the film's Disneyfication of the story, though on the whole I enjoyed it. Particularly Diane Lane's portrayal of Penny Tweedy (previously, and also again later, Penny Chenery (I originally mixed up the surnames…now fixed).)

(To clarify: by "story" in my post above I meant the actual real-life events, not the film's stereotyped portrayal of those events.)

-Dave-
 
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Grassdog

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I still remember the race announcer's call at the Belmont, down the backstretch, "Secretariat is moving like a tremendous machine". An iconic moment in sports, it stills makes chills go down my spine when I see it replayed. God that horse was magnificent.

And yes, Sandy, you're absolutely right about Sham, he was a great one too. But I think Sham played an important role in Secretariat's greatness, pushing and challenging Big Red to be his best.
 

gilded

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Ah, Sandy, my bro', I hear you on the vilification of a nice man, Pancho Martin (Now whenever I sing Pancho and Lefty, which I do about every other gig, I'm gonna think of this).

But Hollywood always screws up the source material, don't they? I wonder though, do you think that the Chenery family viewed Mr. Martin as a threat? Or is it just pure Hollywood?
 

twocorgis

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Ah, Sandy, my bro', I hear you on the vilification of a nice man, Pancho Martin (Now whenever I sing Pancho and Lefty, which I do about every other gig, I'm gonna think of this).

But Hollywood always screws up the source material, don't they? I wonder though, do you think that the Chenery family viewed Mr. Martin as a threat? Or is it just pure Hollywood?
Not that I was ever aware of, Harry. I didn't know the Chenerys very well, but the times that I did meet them, they always seemed like gracious people who had an abiding love for the sport, which is a far cry from most of the owners these days. I don't think they were friendly with the Martins or the Sommers, but they were always cordial.

If there was a gruff character in the cast, it was definitely Lucien Laurin, Secretariat's trainer. I didn't know him very well, but knew his son Roger much better. Roger was one of the coolest cats on the backstretch, and showed up every morning looking like a movie star in his BMW 6 Series coupe. My favorite Roger moment? When he was interviewed about retiring by Jim McKay with John Galbreath (Owner of Darby Dan farm, and mastermind of the BC) before the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 1984. Asked why he was retiring so young, Roger managed to say "Fifty (his age at the time) is an old man in this game" with a straight face, while standing between two guys who were older than the hills at the time.

Then his horse went out and did this.


The horse he ran down won the Kentucky Derby the next year, on the lead the entire way. I'll never forget it!
 

gilded

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"I don't think they were friendly with the Martins or the Sommers, but they were always cordial."

Cordiality can hide a host of feelings, Sandy mon'.
 

twocorgis

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"I don't think they were friendly with the Martins or the Sommers, but they were always cordial."

Cordiality can hide a host of feelings, Sandy mon'.
I'm well aware of that Harry, but it was a different era then. These days, the gloves would just be off. At least back then, they had some sense of decorum and respect for the game. Almost all of that is long gone these days, and not just in thoroughbred racing, either.
 

CA-35

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....... Sham, who was Secretariat's main rival (he did get close to him a few times), and ran in all three Triple crown races against him, eventually being distanced in the Belmont Stakes. It's a shame, because he would have been a champion, and perhaps even a Triple Crown winner if he had been born at any other time.
Spot on Sandy. Timing and leverage. Sham, at any other time would have been a champion if it had not been for Secretariat. Phil Michelson at any other time would have been a multi-major winner but he ran into Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning may have won 6 Superbowls had it not been for a skinny kid named Tom Brady. Life is full of stories like that.
 

silverfox103

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The Triple Crown in horse racing is pretty rare. If memory serves me correctly Secretariat won in 1977. He was a big, powerful, and smart horse. Then in 1978, Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown. He was a bargain basement horse, but he made the owners a ton of money. He did have pedigree, but never showed too much promise.

Tom
 

silverfox103

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That's what I get for relying on my memory. I just checked Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown in 1977. Even though they weren't back to back years, they weren't very far apart.
 

twocorgis

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The Triple Crown in horse racing is pretty rare. If memory serves me correctly Secretariat won in 1977. He was a big, powerful, and smart horse. Then in 1978, Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown. He was a bargain basement horse, but he made the owners a ton of money. He did have pedigree, but never showed too much promise
As others have noted, Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973. Seattle Slew (the bargain basement colt) was the first undefeated Triple Crown winner in 1977. then came Affirmed in 1978, duking it out with Alydar in all three races, with the belmont Stakes that year being one of the greatest races I've ever seen. As a four year old, I was Affirmed's personal security for the last six months of his racing career, and to this day, I've never been around a greater horse (Secretariat was a bit before my time). After he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1979 (beating Spectacular Bid in the process), Lou Wolfson (Affirmed's owner) stuck something in my pocket back at the barn, and said "go have dinner". I didn't look until I got off my shift a bit later, and it was the first time I'd ever seen a $100 bill. I almost passed out, as that was a lot of money back then! Here's a very young me on the day Affirmed retired. They had a special "Affirmed Day" at Aqueduct, and paraded him to a much approving and raucous crowd, and Affirmed just struck pose after pose for the cameras, like the rock star he was.



This photo hangs on my office wall, along with a signed and numbered print by Anthony M. Alonso of Affimed with Jose Ithier up (he's the short guy in the photo, and was Affirmed's regular exercise rider).



In 1989, I was able to tour a bunch of horse farms in Lexington KY, and got to see old rivals Affirmed and Alydar in adjacent stalls before everything came crumbling down at Calumet Farm (that's another story).
 
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