I’m not a fan of horse racing. Or any kind of racing, actually. Still, sometimes, you see something and are amazed. And, that amazement stays with you.
This afternoon, there’s a misspelled horse named American Pharoah that is trying to become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. And, if he wins, good for him. And some of you young kids might remember it years down the road. But, it’ll be hard to beat the memories caused by a three-year old named Secretariat back in 1973.
Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby, the first race in the Triple Crown with a record time of 1:59.4. How fast was that record? Well, it’s still the fastest Kentucky Derby ever. The second fastest Kentucky Derby time? Same race. Sham came in second at 1:59.9 which is faster than the second-fastest winning time of 1:59.97 by Monarchos in 2001. (I just won you a bar bet. You’re welcome.)
In the Preakness Stakes, there was a problem with the clock. There’s no doubt that Secretariat won the race by 2½ lengths over Sham, but a problem with the clock threw a question over the time. The previous record (since the race lengthened to 1 3⁄16 miles in 1925) of 1:54 was set two years earlier by Canonero II. Secretariat’s time was given as 1:55, but that was immediately disputed. CBS entered the argument by showing tapes of both the 1971 race and the 1973 race in a split-screen, and proved that Secretariat beat Canonero II handily. It took a while, but the official time is now 1:53, and that record still stands. (Sham’s time would work out to 1:53.4, the second-fastest Preakness, if you want to win another bar bet.)
The clincher in how great a horse Secretariat was had to be the Belmont Stakes. That race was lengthened to 1½ miles in 1926. And the record set in 1973 still stands. But, it wasn’t just the time of 2:24 that’s amazing. It’s how that horse won it.
If you weren’t around in 1973 to see it on TV, thanks to the magic of the internets, here’s your chance.
The actual margin of victory was 31 lengths. How far is that? Well, more than you can put in a camera at a horse race in 1973. Think about it like this. You and a buddy find a football field. You stand on the goal line. Now, have your buddy walk out to the 17 yard line. No, the other 17 yard line. Cross mid-field and keep walking. That 17 yard line. Got it? That’s right about 31 lengths.
I don’t know anything about horse racing. But I know I saw something special that day. Maybe there’ll be another Triple Crown winner this afternoon. Maybe not. But, there may never be another Secretariat.