Little Bits of History

May 5

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 5, 2017

1973: The 99th running of the Kentucky Derby takes place at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. There were thirteen horses entered and beginning the race with all of them able to complete the course. There were 134,476 attendees at the field, a then record crowd, and the race was also broadcast on both television and radio. The entry fee at the time was $2,500 and there was a cap on entrants at twenty. The last prep race for three-year-olds before the Derby was the 1 1/8 mile race held two weeks before at Aqueduct Racetrack where Angle Light won. Secretariat came in third at that event. Even with this poor showing, Secretariat was favored to win at this race based mostly on his status as 1972 American Horse of the Year.

The start of the race was delayed when Twice a Prince reared at the gate. When the race started, Shecky Greene was in the lead with Secretariat in last place. Sham had trouble leaving the gate and finally found his stride and took the lead briefly before Shecky Greene regained it. By the first turn Secretariat had only moved ahead two places but by the next quarter-mile he was in sixth place. At the half-mile mark Shecky Greene was still three lengths ahead of Gold Bag, but his pace was slowing. At the three-quarters mark and the start of the home stretch, Shecky Greene began to seriously fade and Sham moved in front for the last furlong. Secretariat on the outside, burst past Sham and finished 2.5 horse lengths ahead of second place Sham.

Secretariat finished the last quarter mile in 23 seconds and he finished the entire race in 1:59 2/5  and both of the those times were records at the Derby. He also managed each of the quarter mile distances in descending times. Sham came in second, eight lengths ahead of third place Our Native. Secretariat was ridden by Ron Turcotte and trained by Lucien Laurin. Penny Chenery was the owner. The Kentucky Derby has been held yearly since 1875 on the 10 furlongs (1.25 miles or 2,012 meter) flat dirt course. The race is for three-year-old thoroughbreds and Secretariat’s run on this day remains the record to beat.

He not only won this race, but was the first Triple Crown (winning the Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes) in 25 years. Only twelve horses have ever won this prestigious award, the last was American Pharoah in 2015. Secretariat’s win at the Belmont was even more impressive when he won by 31 lengths. After his racing career ended, he was retired to Claiborne Farm where he was bred with several noted mares. He eventually sired 663 named foals with 341 winners among them and 54 stakes winners. He is criticized for not leaving a male heir of his own impressive talents. He developed a painful, non-healing Laminitis in the fall of 1989 and was euthanized on October 4 at the age of 19.

It’s kind of ironic that the two sports with the greatest characters, boxing and horse racing, have both been on the decline. In both cases it’s for the lack of a suitable hero. – Dick Schaap

You don’t have to be Einstein to see that horse racing is dangerous. Those two ambulances driving behind you aren’t there for the scenery. I will never get over the fatalities of colleagues. It is the saddest and toughest part of this sport. – Tony McCoy

The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business. – John Steinbeck

The sport of horse racing which, at its best, showcases the majestic beauty of this animal and the athleticism of jockeys, has reached an alarming level of corruption and exploitation. – Tom Udall


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