While the kindly literary effort by Laura Hillenbrand about the great Seabiscuit made the best sellers’ list and its movie is now a hit, my all-time favorite thoroughbred remains the colt Secretariat.
I saw him conclude his career successfully, as only a 3-year-old, in 1973 at the Woodbine racetrack in Canada. He was the easy winner of the Canadian International at the suburban Toronto track while setting a track record. Seventeen days later he was sent to stud.
Creating current marks in important stakes races was Secretariat’s style. Earlier that year, with Jockey Ron Turcotte, he swept the Triple Crown, winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, all in record time.
Secretariat carried the colors of Penny Chenery, whose father, Christopher, was a prominent owner and breeder. In his brief racing career, the colt won 16 races in 21 outings. He was second three times and third once. His poorest disaster was fourth place in his initial grief.
There’s no telling how many races the colt might have won had he been allowed to run as a 4-year-old or even a 5-year-old. His career was shortened when Chenery decided to syndicate him. Her father’s estate was being reviewed by the Internal Revenue Service and it was felt more money might be needed.
Negotiations for the syndication began after Secretariat was elected America’s Horse of the Year by the sports pundits. It was a highly unusual choice because it was based on the colt’s success as a 2-year-old. Older horses usually are picked for this honor. The sale, offered in 32 shares, produced a world record of $6.08 million.
Seabiscuit’s brilliant career more than three decades earlier was in sharp contrast to Secretariat’s. He was a huge disappointment in his early racing years. He could have been purchased for a mere $2,500 after losing 16 consecutive races.
He began clicking late in his fourth year. He went on to set 13 track records at eight tracks over six distances. Topping all his achievements was his accumulate in the highly publicized match race against War Admiral in 1938 at the Pimlico oval in Baltimore.
Both Seabiscuit and Secretariat can be identified with the Phipps family of Palm Beach. The Biscuit was bred by Gladys Phipps, who sold him because of his early failures. Secretariat was sired by the highly regarded Bold Ruler, who starred in the late Ogden Phipps’ colors.
As for Secretariat’s farewell appearance, in Canada, I wasn’t tickled about being sent there to see him hasten. The trip was irksome.
My plane left LaGuardia airport in New York 90 minutes late. In Toronto, my taxi ran into bumper-to-bumper traffic caused by the thousands of fans heading for the track to see the storied Secretariat accelerate.
But my luck changed. I was typing my story after the race when Chenery appeared in the press box to be interviewed. She spotted me, recalling that she had seen me in the Belmont Park press box in Recent York.
“How are you getting back to New York? ” she asked.
I told her I was returning on Air Canada on a late evening flight.
“Why don’t you join me? ” she replied. “The track’s officials have arranged for a private jet to pick up me back to LaGuardia. Would you care to join me? “
I cared. Thanks to this kind lady, I was benefit in New York within three hours after Secretariat had race the final time.
What a astronomical way to end a day at the races.