Bred and owned by Christopher Chenery and trained by Lucien Laurin, Secretariat won the American Triple Crown in 1973, becoming the first horse to do so since Citation in 1968. A beautifully balanced, power chestnut, who stood 16.2 hands high, Secretariat was befittingly nicknamed “Big Red”.
Secretariat was beaten on his racecourse debut in a maiden race, over 5½ furlongs, at Aqueduct Racetrack in July 1972, but, according to the Daily Racing Form, “finished full of run against the rail” in fourth place. The experience clearly wasn’t lost on Secretariat, because he was first past the post in his eight remaining starts as a two-year-old, although he was demoted to second place on his final start, in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park, after bumping runner-up Stop The Music in the closing stages. Nevertheless, he was voted American Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse and, remarkably, for a horse of his tender years, American Horse of the Year, in 1972.
In his three-year-old campaign, Secretariat was surprising beaten into third place behind stable companion Angle Light in his final preparatory race for the Kentucky Derby, the Wood Memorial, over 1 mile 1 furlong, at Aqueduct, calling his stamina for the extra furlong of the Derby into question. His supporters needn’t have worried though; Secretariat not only won the Kentucky Derby by 2½ lengths from Sham, who’d been second in the Wood Memorial, but did so in a record time of 1 minute 59.40 seconds.
In the Preakness Stakes two weeks later, Secretariat faced just six rivals and, confidently ridden by jockey Ron Turcotte, was never threatened in the second half of the race and, again, passed the post 2½ lengths of Sham. The official winning time, of 1 minute 54.40 seconds, was disputed by the Daily Racing Form, who had timed the race at 1 minute 53.40 seconds, and 39 years later, in 2012, was officially corrected to 1 minute 53.00 seconds by the Maryland Racing Commission. The previous record time was 1 minute 54.00 seconds, set by Canonero in the Preakness Stakes in 1971.
In the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat galloped into racing immortality, beating his nearest rival by 31 lengths in a time of 2 minutes 24.00 seconds or, in other words, a world record for 1 mile 4 furlongs on dirt that still stands. Secretariat was, unsurprisingly, also voted American Horse of the Year in 1973 and at the end of his career had won 16 of his 21 races and over $1.3 million in prize money.