Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Great Secretariat



Secretariat, he had the looks, he had the charm, he had it all.

- Ron Turcotte (as quoted in Associated Press)
A new movie on 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat is being shown on the silver screen. Secretariat’s jockey, Ron Turcotte viewed the film for the first time last week and “thought it to be a very good movie.” He did concede, however, that the filmmakers took some dramatic liberties with the story. I have not seen the film yet, but I certainly intend to. It stars Diane Lane as Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery (also known as Penny Tweedy) and John Malkovich as the great horse’s trainer, Lucien Laurin. Former jockey Otto Thorwarth plays the role of Turcotte.

Ron Turcotte, a native of New Brunswick, started out as a hot walker in Toronto for E.P. Taylor’s Windfields Farms. He went on to win 3,032 races during his 18 seasons as a jockey, including back-to-back Kentucky Derby victories in 1972 and 1973.  Turcotte is 69 years old now. His riding career ended in 1978 following a tumble from his horse (named Flag of Leyte Gulf) at the start of a race at Belmont Park in New York State. The accident left him a paraplegic and he is confined to a wheelchair. The former jockey has since become a strong advocate for the disabled.

Secretariat’s trainer, Lucien Laurin, passed away in the year 2000 at the age of 88. Laurin was born in Joliette, Quebec and was originally a jockey. He began his riding career in 1929 at Blue Bonnets Racetrack in Montreal. He won 161 races but quit due to a weight problem. He eventually went to work as a trainer in the New England circuit in 1942.

I was at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto when Secretariat ran his final race in the Canadian International Stakes on October 28, 1973. I recall how cold and windy it was. Secretariat’s jockey that day was not Ron Turcotte, but Eddie Maple. Turcotte was under a 5-day riding suspension and could not be in the saddle for Big Red’s swan song. Replacement Eddie Maple rode the horse to an easy victory. Many Woodbine patrons did not even bother to cash their winning tickets on Secretariat, preferring to keep them as souvenirs.

To watch a video of Secretariat’s final race at Woodbine Racetrack, click below.


Hold your strength till the barriers fly,
then close with the leaders eye to eye.
Thundering hooves and the mad jammed race,
blood in the nostrils, sweat in the face.
And children, remember wherever you are,
you carry the blood of Man o' War.

- Anonymous

The recent buzz about the Secretariat movie has caused me to dig up trivia and make some comparisons between him and another great thoroughbred racehorse, Man o’ War. Here is what I have discovered.

1. Both Secretariat and Man o’ War were affectionately nicknamed Big Red.

2. Neither horse ran as a 4 year-old.

3. Both horses had 21 races.  Man o’ War raced in 1919 and 1920 and was only beaten once in his illustrious career.  On August 13, 1919, he finished second  in the Sanford Memorial Stakes at Saratoga to a horse called Upset. Secretariat raced in 1972 and 1973.and won 16 of his 21 races.

4. Secretariat won the Triple Crown as a three-year-old in 1973 and was the first horse to accomplish that feat in 25 years (Citation did it in 1948).  Man o’ War won the Preakness and the Belmont in 1920, but did not run in the Kentucky Derby.

5. Both horses ran their final races in Canada and won easily. Secretariat raced for the last time in Toronto and Man o’War in Windsor, Ontario. Man o’ War’s final race was a match race on October 12, 1920 against 1919 Triple Crown winner Sir Barton. Man o’ War won handily by 7 lengths over Sir Barton at Kenilworth Park in Windsor. Secretariat won his last race, the Canadian International Stakes, by 6 ½ lengths.

6. Man o’ War was retired from stud duty on March 11, 1943 after siring 350 foals that won over $3 million. He died in 1947 at the age of 30. Secretariat sired as many as 600 foals and died in 1989 at the age of 19.


Yesterday I wrote about Lester Pearson and his Nobel Peace Prize.  How sad that exactly 53 years later, Canada has failed to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council.  Oh, for some Pearsonian diplomacy again!  Under our present government, we are losing respect in the world.



The Texas Rangers eliminated the Tampa Bay Rays from postseason play last night. Texas ace Cliff Lee was too much for the Rays. He allowed six hits over nine innings as the Rangers won a 5-1 victory in Game 5 of the American League division series. I was cheering for the Rays, but it was not to be.
- Joanne