Skip to main content

Secretariat: Poetry In Motion

The one, The only!

The one, The only!

Galloping to another victory

Galloping to another victory

The Belmont win.

The Belmont win.

Penny Tweedy

Penny Tweedy

The Kentucky Derby win.

The Kentucky Derby win.

I have been in awe of thoroughbred racehorses since I was ten years old and attended a horse race at the Puyallup Fair with my dad and uncle back in 1958. I knew nothing about the sport other than the fact that horses raced around an oval. I knew nothing then, as I do now, of the number of deaths that occur each year to these magnificent creatures nor did I know anything about the billion dollar gambling industry. I only knew that the horses were the epitome of raw power and speed and from that first race on I was hooked.

Fifty-four years later I am still in awe. Perhaps a part of it is remembering that fine afternoon when I bonded with two important men in my life, feeling a comradeship that was worth far more than the return on a Daily Double. Perhaps my awe is fueled by a love of sports, the duel of athletes at the top of their game competing head-to-head. I suspect, however, that the main contributor to my awe is simply a love of horses.

By 1973 I was a casual follower of thoroughbred racing in this country. I would read articles on occasion about the leading horses in the country and of course I would watch the Triple Crown races. I was aware that it had been quite some time since a horse had won the Triple Crown (25 years) and I was prepared for another failed attempt that spring.

How many times in a lifetime are we lucky enough to see the greatest athlete of all time in a sport? Once? Twice? I was fortunate enough to see Muhammad Ali in his prime. Was he the greatest boxer in the history of his sport? I’ve seen Michael Jordan, Mark Spitz, Willie Mays and Wayne Gretsky. Were they the greatest? Those debates will be argued for years to come and I can see the “for and against” in each argument.

In the sport of horse racing I may have truly seen the greatest in 1973.

His name was Secretariat.


Horse breeding is not an exact science. Oftentimes millions are spent on a horse with impeccable pedigree only to have mediocre results. Not so with Secretariat.

“Big Red” was born March 30, 1970 on The Meadow Farm in Virginia. He was the son of Bold Ruler, himself a winner of the Preakness and the Belmont, and Somethingroyal. A large, bright-red chestnut colt, he grew to be 16.2 hands (about 66 inches) and in racing form he weighed 1,175 pounds with a girth of 75 inches. To say he was large would be somewhat of an understatement.

What was not known until his death, however, was that he literally had the enlarged heart of a champion. A normal racehorse has a heart that weighs, on average, seven pounds. Secretariat’s heart was estimated to weigh twenty-two pounds at the time of his death.

Owned by Penny Tweedy, Secretariat spent the next two years preparing for his destiny.


Endless days are spent preparing a horse for racing. Sleepless nights, constant worries about possible injuries, the nagging fear that all that time and money is for naught, these are the constant companions of thoroughbred owners and trainers. I would imagine the concerns only intensify as the time approaches to begin the two-year old racing season.

On the 4th of July, 1972, Secretariat began his racing career at Aqueduct Racetrack where he finished fourth, a length and a quarter out of the lead. An inauspicious beginning for sure; little did his owner know that this would be the only time he finished out of the money in his twenty-one starts.

He went on to win his next five races and by the end of the year had won the 1972 American Horse of the Year Award, a rare occurrence for a two-year old. He had a rather bothersome habit of breaking late from the gate, usually dead last, but once he found his stride he was virtually unstoppable. Those who saw him saw unbridled power in his stride, a rare combination of speed, strength and heart that is the dream of every horse breeder.

Scroll to Continue

As 1973 loomed on the horizon Secretariat was perched on the edge of greatness. It was now time to find out just how great he could be.


Considered the ultimate test in horse racing, the Triple Crown consists of three races of different lengths spanning five weeks. It begins with the Kentucky Derby, a mile-and-a-quarter test of speed and strength, followed in two weeks by the Preakness at a mile-and-three-sixteenths and ending three weeks after that with The Belmont, a grueling mile-and-a-half that all too often spells defeat for any horse hoping to capture the Triple Crown.

Secretariat won the Derby by 2 ½ lengths in a track record 1:59 2/5 and the Preakness by the same 2 ½ length margin. There were subtle signs that the best was yet to come. In the Derby Secretariat ran each quarter mile faster than the previous, meaning that by the end of the race he was still accelerating. In the Preakness he took the lead with almost six furlongs remaining in the race and then coasted to the finish line, never really extending himself as if he knew there was no threat or reason to worry.

The stage was set for June 9, 1973, and a moment in history that transcended time and place.

Breaking easily from the gate at The Belmont, Secretariat waged a two-horse race with Sham for the first six furlongs. As Sham began to tire, Secretariat began a one-horse race towards immortality. I will forever remember watching “Big Red” race around the final turn and seeing no other horses, as if he was just out for an afternoon solo gallop. He finished the race 31 lengths in front, the largest winning margin in the history of the race, and his time of 2.24 flat was a world record on dirt. To give you a better understanding, his race time computed to 37.5 mph and to this day no other horse has broken the 2.25 time, let alone a second faster at 2.24.

His performance made him the ninth Triple Crown winner in history and the first in twenty-five years. More than that, though, his performance that Saturday afternoon filled the racing world and the general public with a sense of awe and wonder.

I clearly remember sitting in front of the television as the race ended thinking that I had just witnessed one of the greatest performances of all-time in any sport. It was pure excellence. It was pure dominance. It was ungodly power and incredible beauty….it was Secretariat!


In the spring of 1973 Watergate was dominating the news as Nixon aides were quickly resigning and/or facing criminal charges. U.S. bombing in Cambodia was continuing, there was violence in Ireland and London and the American Indian Movement had seized Wounded Knee in South Dakota.

Turmoil surrounded us that spring but for two minutes and twenty-four seconds there was elation as a four-legged champion rose above it all and gave us a reason to celebrate life.

Oddly, there would be two more Triple Crown winners in that decade. Seattle Slew won in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. It has now been thirty-four years without another one.

Secretariat finished his racing career after the end of 1973. His record consisted of twenty-one races with sixteen firsts, three seconds and one third, but really, those are only statistics. They chronicle the winning percentage, the record times and the earnings won, but they in no way tell us about the heart of a champion. During one five-week period we were witness to the greatest of all time, a rare freak of nature who reached within himself and single-handedly gave the world a respite from its problems.

Secretariat died on October 4, 1989, the victim of laminitus, a painful hoof disease. He was buried on Claiborn Farm in Kentucky and millions mourned his passing.

The legend, however, will never die!

2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

To purchase my Kindle books go to:

  • Secretariat - a Horse to Remember
    Secretariat was one of only 11 winners of the Triple Crown. His record at the Kentucky Derby have never been broken. In 1973, Secretariat was the most famous horse on the planet.


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 24, 2015:

I'm thrilled that you are, Zulma. Truly! Thank you my friend.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on June 24, 2015:

You're welcome, Bill. I was out of sight for a year, remember. Don't be surprised if you see me commenting on more hidden gems. :)

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 22, 2015:

Zulma, you really went back through the archives for a couple of my articles. Thank you! I still get goosebumps watching the Belmont with Secretariat. It was, to me, one of the greatest events in sports. A once in a lifetime event presented to us by a once in a lifetime athlete.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on June 22, 2015:

I don't follow horse racing but having heard so much about Secretariat, I had to see that final race. I'll never forget how he coasted to the finish line; such a smooth and flowing gait he had.

I'll also never forget his race against Ruffian. She really gave him a run for his money till that heartbreaking moment when she went down. I still wonder who would have won.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 31, 2012:

Melbelle, I remember the Belmont like it was was the most unbelievable sporting event I have ever witnessed, and in sixty-three years I have witnessed quite a bit. Thank you for the visit.

melbelle from Southern United States on July 31, 2012:

Deja Vu!! I remember "Big Red" - I watched everyone of his races on TV. I was about 11 yrs old. I would race home on race day and sit right in front of the TV. I remember this race like it was yesterday - Secretariat was such an awesome race horse. Thanks for taking me back down memory lane!!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 31, 2012:

Linda, I actually figured that was what happened....thank you for reading both articles and for caring.

Linda from Texas on July 31, 2012:

Well, you're welcome.... I read your article about the Indian people and the comment was for that article.... so sorry. Although I did certainly read this article, it is in no way sad! I apologize for the mistake!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 31, 2012:

Thank you Linda!

Linda from Texas on July 31, 2012:

This is very sad, my heart goes out to those who suffer. Voted up and shared on Facebook.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 31, 2012:

Thank you Derby; I appreciate it, especially coming from a racing enthusiast.

Derby Deals from Jeffersonville, Indiana on July 31, 2012:

Great writing. Keep up the good work.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on July 04, 2012:

bdegiulio, you are very welcome and thank you my friend!

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on July 04, 2012:

Oh the memories. I remember very well when Secretariet won the Triple Crown. Certainly we wtinessed the greatest performance that Spring ever by a race horse. I really enjoyed watching the video of the Belmont. Thanks for the memories Bill.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 20, 2012:

Sha, I don't know where it comes from. Someone did a good job of teaching me way back when. The words are just there, you know? No explaining it.

Thank you dear lady.


Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 20, 2012:

My good friend, you entertain and educate on so many different topics. I just love the smoothness with which you pen. What I really love about this one, is the way you segued Secretariat's awesome win with giving the world, who was once again experiencing turmoil, something to celebrate. You always bring us the light at the end of the tunnel.

This is why I love you, my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 15, 2012:

Weestro, thank you very much! He was indeed an amazing animal.

Pete Fanning from Virginia on June 15, 2012:

Great read billybuc, and well written. What an amazing animal! Voted up and awesome!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 15, 2012:

Thank you Gypsy; I used to go to the track every summer but somehow that's slipped away. I think it's time to go again!

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on June 15, 2012:

Voted up and awesome. You got me crying. Glad Secretariat is happily galloping around in horse heaven. Thanks for the memories. That used to be my world in N.Y.C. Going to Aqueduct race track. heavenly spring and summer days at Belmont Race Track face to face with the horses. The Belmont Stakes was a had to be there and the Kentucky Derby was watched on T.V. Love the pics and video. Just super. Passing this on.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 14, 2012:

Thank you Ann!

Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on June 14, 2012:

I checked, and your article is linked. Thanks!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 14, 2012:

Thank you, Ann!

Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on June 14, 2012:

No problem! I think I already linked yours, but I'll double check. Thanks!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 14, 2012:

Ann, I will check out your article....and I'll link it to mine if you don't mind? Thanks again!

Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on June 14, 2012:

Billybuc, what a great article! I remember when Secretariat died - I remember how sad I was. In fact, the video you provided brought tears to my eyes. What a great horse. Recently, I was saddened to find out I'll Have Another had to be stopped from the Belmont because of tendinitis. I think he might have gone all the way. He's a distant relative of Affirmed and Man-o-War. Oh well, it just wasn't meant to be. And I'm glad they didn't run him - it might have caused even worse problems. When you get a chance, read the article I wrote on Secretariat, please. Thanks!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 14, 2012:

Spy, as always, thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 14, 2012:

Pamela, thank you so much. It's easy to write stories like this one when the subject is so wonderful.

Life Under Construction from Neverland on June 14, 2012:

Wonderful write sir! I am always impressed. Voted up 100x!

Pamela Dapples from Arizona. on June 13, 2012:

I am so glad I came over to your profile page to see what you have written of late. I discovered my favorite subject right there in front of my eyes.

I love the way you've written this! The paragraphs under your heading about the Triple Crown are so exciting and many lines are the kind I tend to memorize. Poetic prose. Thank you for a very wonderful reading experience.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Tammy, I honestly don't know. That song came out just about the same time, within a year or two. I'll have to check and see. Thanks and I'm glad you learned something from my hub.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Dianna, I loved the movie; in fact I think I should buy it soon. Thank you for your nice words.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Mei Eden, thank you; they are magnificent animals for sure.

Tammy from North Carolina on June 13, 2012:

Gorgeous story about Secretariat. Is this the horse in which Dan Fogelburg wrote the song "Run for the Roses?" I learned a lot reading this hub. I haven't had any experiences with horses, but I think they are beautiful in creation and spirit. Enjoyed reading this.

Dianna Mendez on June 13, 2012:

I too remember watching this race and how magnificent Secretariat was in strength and beauty. I loved the movie version with Diane Lane as Penny. You have written a real winner here!

Christine C from Houston, TX on June 13, 2012:

I actually had never heard of Secretariat until the movie came out a couple of years ago. Thanks for the special and informative article on the true life of the real thoroughbred horse.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Angela....:) I'm glad.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

My pleasure Mhatter; thanks for dropping by once again.

Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on June 13, 2012:

It was. The next time I was presented with the opportunity I wanted to say no! But this time the colt lived!

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on June 13, 2012:

Thank you for this trip down memory lane.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Natasha, I'm sorry, but that struck me as funny...sold a horse, bought a computer! That's quite a testimony to the advancement of time, isn't it? Kind of a metaphor on progress. :) Horses do take a lot of time, effort and money, so I think the computer was the smart choice. Thank you my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Angela, that would be so sad; I can't imagine having a horse die in my arms.

Natasha from Hawaii on June 13, 2012:

Wow, so cool! I owned a horse once...then I sold her and bought a computer. To be fair, she was young and had been neglected and needed much more work than I had the experience to give. This hub has a lot of information and great pictures. Thanks!

Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on June 13, 2012:

Me to. I have had several thourough breds. I tried to save an orphaned colt one and stayed with him for two days as he died in my arms. It was the sadest thing. My friend also boarded one of secretariats grandson (I think or great grandsone). I had to go peek.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Lord, I'll have to do some research on the Moscow question. :) Thank you once again for you loyal following.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Ann, I'm always so happy to see you pop up! You have been in my corner for as long as I've been on HubPages and I want you to know I greatly appreciate you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Thank you Kelley! I think I'd have a hard time trusting someone who doesn't like horses.

Joseph De Cross from New York on June 13, 2012:

Wonderful recount! SeCretariat made history if his own. How sad to know of his departure. Wish these kind hearted animals would live longer. Thanks for this memory from the past. I wonder if his owner had something to do with the cold war and Moscow..?


Ann Carr from SW England on June 13, 2012:

What a great story and certainly a great horse. My first experience of horses competing was the Show Jumping at Hickstead in Sussex, then a small local showground, now an international site. I ticked one of bucket list when I gambled on the horses at Ascot - no, not our famous one in London but an equally brilliant one in Perth, Australia. Voted up, interesting and awesome.

kelleyward on June 13, 2012:

Bill I also grew up with horses they are amazing animals. It's as if they can see into your soul. I miss my horses. Thanks for sharing this beautiful hub. Voted up, beautiful, and Shared! Kelley

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Amy, I was amazed that the owners of "I'll Have Another" made the right decision and I applaud them for it even though I was disappointed. Thank you as always for stopping by and my best to you always.

Amy Becherer from St. Louis, MO on June 13, 2012:

It seems ironically fitting, that Secretariat would have a heart the size of Texas. I was encouraged, though sad at the circumstances, to hear that "I'll Have Another" was treated with the care and respect every animal deserves. It's long overdue.

Beautiful tribute, Bill, to the universally loved, magnificent spirit of a horse that wouldn't quit.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Sandra, just the person I wanted to see...check out my hub yesterday...Hubbers Who Are My Support System...I do believe you are in it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Maddam, great comment. The bond between animal and man is so special; some of my greatest memories are of bonding with a horse, a dog, a goat...smiling broadly right now. Thank you for your share.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Angela, I never grow tired of watching the film of the Belmont. I get chills running through my body every single time I watch it.

Thank you so much!

Sandra Busby from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on June 13, 2012:

Amazing all that information collected in one place. Super hub.

Marie V Stephens from New Mexico on June 13, 2012:

This has always been one of my favorite stories of faith. Even animals can feel positive energy. We currently have a horse named "Buster" that no one can break. He freaks when anyone enters his stall except for me. He KNOWS that I don't want to ride him, he is just someone I share thoughts with. It was the spirit of both Secretariat and Penny Tweedy that made them both so special! Great hub!

Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on June 13, 2012:

I could read about Secretariat all day any day. Great article! Big fan!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Thanks Christy! They are magnificent animals and the more you are around them the more you fall in love with them. We owned two many years back and I still remember those days fondly.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Vellur, thank you so much! Any lover of horses is a friend of mine.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Austin, great description of a horse's the sights, sounds and smells that always draw me in. Love everything about it and oh, yes, the nuzzles rock! Thank you for your kind words here and on Facebook.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Thanks Julie! I've done odd jobs at a thoroughbred farm for a friend but never ridden one. Love to watch them, though!

Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on June 13, 2012:

You are quite right Bill that the legend will never die. I know little about horses but I have heard of Secretariat - that alone says about the legend! Well written, great idea for a hub. Vote up!

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on June 13, 2012:

Love horses, they are so majestic and full of spirit. Enjoyed reading this and voted up.

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on June 13, 2012:

Oh Bill, it was so good to see Secretariat again at the Belmont. Thanks for including the video.

I was crazy about horses for the first half of my life. I finally figured out that I could never afford to own a horse like Secretariat or Seattle Slew or even I'll Have Another.

I considered two careers in the horse business - Training them and learning to shoe horses (more vital than it sounds).

The closest I came to my dream was to care for a small stable of horses that included a grand champion Cutting Horse and I still love to watch that ballet. I did ride barrel racers for a short time, but I preferred to care for and groom the horses.

My best vacation ever was to the grand opening celebration at Saratoga Springs race course in NY. I wandered around every barn I could find. That would be my dream job - to muck out stalls for the great ones. Oh how I miss the smells and sounds and nuzzles.

Great hub!

Blurter of Indiscretions from Clinton CT on June 13, 2012:

Thoroughbreds are incredible! I've dabbled in a bit of horseback riding, but I never got on the back of a thoroughbred. Too intense for me! Loved all the pictures too...thanks for a great hub. Voted up!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Thanks Sis! I've been meaning to do this article for quite some time. Glad I finally got around to it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Starstream, thank you so much!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 13, 2012:

Hey Paula, you are welcome and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Take care and enjoy your day my friend.

Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on June 13, 2012:

He was an outstanding horse. Voted up and more. :)

Dreamer at heart from Northern California on June 13, 2012:

I worked with a senior client who adored the movie Secretariat. Beautiful photos. You have written and shared a fine article. thanks.

Suzie from Carson City on June 13, 2012:

bill....wonderful story! This "human-Horse" was astonishing and IS a legend...I love horse racing, although I rarely, if ever, gamble. I don't need to have $$ at stake to thoroughly enjoy the races.

The Kentucky Derby is #3 on my bucket List!!

Thanks for this info! UP awesome

Related Articles