Thursday, April 19, 2001
Belmont Classic: Secretariat's historic run in 1973
By Ron Turcotte
Special to ABC Sports Online
Jockey Ron Turcotte rode Riva Ridge to victory in the 1972 Kentucky
Derby and back-to-back Belmont Stakes. His repeat Derby win in 1973
aboard Secretariat made him the first jockey with back-to-back victories
at Churchill Downs. He went on to ride Secretariat to victory in both the
Preakness and the Belmont -- a Triple Crown win for Turcotte. With a
career total of 3033 wins to his credit, Turcotte retired in 1978 following a
tumble from his horse at Belmont.
Before 1973, the sport of horse racing was on a serious decline. It had
been over 20 years since Citation won the Triple Crown, so Secretariat's
emergence really brought horse racing back as the "Sport of Kings,"
which it was in the '60s.
Going into the '73 Belmont, Secretariat was running so strong that only
four horses entered the field to challenge us. I had won the Belmont the
previous year riding a horse called Riva Ridge, and I knew that
Secretariat was the faster, stronger horse out of the two. To be honest,
we felt the only way he was going to lose the race was if he fell down, or
something bizarre happened.
Secretariat simply had too much going for him. He had such big bones and tremendous leg muscles -- he was built to win races. I mean, we had nearly set a
track record at Pimlico a couple weeks prior, and I was just galloping Secretariat.
After that, I thought to myself, "The Belmont is ours."
The night before the race, I was out to dinner with Secretariat's trainer, Lucien
Laurin, and I told him if I were to get beaten on Secretariat tomorrow, I would
hang up my tack.
Lucien responded, "Ronnie, this is the greatest horse I've ever worked through a bridle. If he gets beat, I'm gonna throw my connections book in the river, sell my farm, and leave horse racing altogether."
We were obviously very confident.
Previously that spring at the Kentucky Derby, I took it very easy with him
and we had to come from last place to win. At the Preakness, I let him
run a little harder early on, and we pretty much galloped to an easy win.
My intention at the Belmont was to just go easy with Secretariat, so I
really had no idea where we'd be after the first turn. But Sham, who had
finished second to Secretariat in both the Derby and the Preakness,
came out real fast. I didn't want to risk getting sucked in by any horses in
the back, so I lifted Secretariat's head up, and he just took off with
incredible speed and strength.
I was perfectly willing to let Sham get a lead on us and then come from
behind him later in the race, however, Secretariat made the move on him
with such ease. I knew I could just let him gallop the rest of the way
About halfway through the race, something went wrong with Sham
physically. At that point, the race was over. His jockey, Laffit Pincay, had
enough sense not to push Sham (who never raced again) and to save him
for breeding purposes.
Going into the last turn, I had to turn around to look at the other horses
because I couldn't see anything around me, and I couldn't hear anything
but the crowd. So I knew I had a pretty big lead, but I wouldn't have
guessed that I was ahead by 31 lengths because Secretariat was still
running with such comfort and ease.
Secretariat ran a 2:24 that day, which remains a world record for 1 1/2
miles on a dirt track. It is still a full two seconds better than the next best
time ever run at Belmont.
Secretariat winning the Triple Crown provided a tremendous boost for the
sport of horse racing. It brought people with no previous interest in the
sport out to the track. I received thousands of letters from all over the
world, some from folks who had never seen horse racing on television,
just congratulating me and telling me how they'd been converted to horse
I think it was Secretariat's disposition and mentality that separates him
from other horses of the past and present. While he was clearly a strong,
sturdy horse, from the first time I ever got on him, I knew he had an awful
lot of intelligence. Whatever I taught him from the time he was a baby, he
would just take it in and remember it forever. He was so manageable, I
really could do anything I wanted with him. His heart and his brain are
what made him so special.
|Jockey Ron Turcotte stands up as he rides Secretariat across the finish line during the 99th Kentucky Derby on May 5, 1973.||