The Remains of One Magnificent Day

The crowd at Secretariat's Belmont | Getty Images


The 50 years that have passed since Secretariat's Herculean victory in the Belmont Stakes have taken a toll on the number of the 67,605 souls who came to witness history and saw a day sanctified by the racing gods. But then, unlike Secretariat, we are mere mortals. I am one of the dwindling number of those who were present on that sweltering day in June 1973. The memory of that magnificent day remains, intensely vibrant and charged with emotion, but it is now more a mosaic than a painting, with some chips lost to time. These are the images of that turbulent time and of that glorious day that have endured:

In the spring of 1973, a country steeped in discord was waiting with open arms to welcome a new standard-bearer, pure and noble, better than the best of themselves. A hero emerged in the form of a charismatic horse, as burning red as a spark sprung from the torch of a god. Within his body beat a titanic heart, nearly three times the size of the average Thoroughbred's. His name was Secretariat.

The second Saturday in June dawned hot and sultry, the first day of the year to reach 90-plus degrees. In anticipation of heavy demand, the Long Island Railway had added extra cars to its Penn Station-Belmont run. I was soon seated cheek-by-jowl amongst every definition of racing's demographic in a sauna on wheels, all stoked with the hope that the 25-year Triple Crown drought would be brought to an end.

At Belmont, the heat and humidity were stifling, and every available shady spot was soon snatched. In defiance of the fire laws, fans were standing on the stairways and in the aisles, anyplace they could to catch a glimpse of the horse which had captured the country's imagination for the past five weeks. I found a few spare inches in the grandstand and guarded my ground.

The hour before post-time was a clinic in anxiety management. I wanted Secretariat to win so badly, I would have gladly traded years off my life to seal the deal. The noise from the crowd was unrelenting and rose to a crescendo when the familiar blue-and-white checkered colors of Meadow Stables appeared on the track. Secretariat's coat caught the late afternoon light and shone like burnished copper. His neck was bowed, and he walked with a demeanor which was regal in its calmness. I can recall nothing about the four other competitors. My eyes were riveted on that piece of equine perfection which carried 126 pounds and 25 years of hope on its back.

The crowd cheered, shouted, and clapped, the reverberations from the excitement so high, the air seemed to sing. Secretariat was a model of deportment throughout the playing of the traditional “Sidewalks of New York,” the announcer's introductions, and the uproarious reception from the multitude. His composure was so restrained, that it was only in the warm-up that one caught a glimpse of the enormous power of his underlying musculature.

In watching countless replays of Secretariat's Belmont, I have felt like a pilgrim returning to holy ground. What remains is a recollection of an event so transcendent that it has illuminated my life and lit my inner world for 50 years.

I will never forget the angst of watching what many considered to be a premature move by Ron Turcotte on the first turn, and the heart-cracking fear that the long sweep of Belmont's stretch would sap Secretariat's last ounce of strength. I cannot hear a replay of TV announcer Chic Anderson's classic call of “Secretariat is widening now, he is moving like a tremendous machine,” without reliving the fervor of the crowd, which recognized that they were present at that rarest of alignments–when greatness gives birth to legend; the terror that the giant grandstand would not withstand the seismic shaking of thousands of stomping feet; and the euphoria that motivated a wall of humans to rise in unison to applaud a horse that, for one moment in time, became the embodiment of as much beauty as one could ever hope to see in this world. With tears streaming as I watched Secretariat's incredible lead continue to lengthen and Ron Turcotte steal a backward glance at history, I experienced an elation so magnificent that I cannot manufacture the words to describe it.

Secretariat had run the fastest Belmont on record, shattering the old mark by an amazing 2 3/5 seconds, and he had broken the world record for 1 1/2 miles. His winning margin was a mind-boggling 31 lengths. But it was not merely a matter of time and distance. For two minutes and 24 seconds on June 9, 1973, Secretariat was the culmination of the best of his breed and the consummate expression of the highest part of ourselves. He was everything that his Maker and nature had intended. The world was not perfect that day. But he was. Fifty years later, the flame of that memory endures. His name is Secretariat.

(Watch Secretariat's Belmont below:)

Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.

Copy Article Link

Liked this article? Read more like this.

  1. Belmont at Saratoga
  2. The Week in Review: No Plan? No Problem for Castellano in Travers
  3. Arcangelo Proves The Right 'Choice' In Travers 154
  4. In Historic Showdown, Stars Collide in Travers
  5. Gun Runner Colt Breaks Through in Smarty Jones

Never miss another story from the TDN

Click Here to sign up for a free subscription.