Why 50 Years Later We Still Love Secretariat, the Greatest Racehorse of All Time

It was 50 years ago that Secretariat became the ninth horse to win the Triple Crown of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and Belmont. At the time, he was the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948, a gap of 25 years. Since Secretariat’s win, there have been four others: Seattle Slew, who won it only four years later in ‘77, Affirmed in 1978, American Pharaoh in 2015 and Justify in 2018. But none has the hold on the American psyche that Secretariat did in 1973. Here’s why.

| 11 Jun 2023 | 03:33

Fifty years after Secretariat won horse racing’s triple crown, we still revere him as the greatest horse in the history of the Belmont Stakes, and to many as the greatest race horse of all time.

We love and admire Secretariat’s majesty. There were other Triple Crown winners before him and since Secretariat’s record run in 1973, but Secretariat remains horse racing royalty. The name alone conjures up visions of sheer greatness, unmatched in our minds, at least, by any other horse in our lifetime.

The image of Secretariat roaring to the finish line of the Belmont Stakes in 1973 left an indelible impression in the minds of anyone witnessing it. The horse was racing toward a championship and the rare feat of the Triple Crown, yes–but, really, so much more.

We crown new champions in every sport from year to year. Some make us smile because we associate so strongly with the team. As Jerry Seinfeld wisely noted, sports fans cheer for the laundry–for the uniform of their favorite teams.

But Secretariat was unique, combining power, speed, determination and–yes, that word again–majesty.

In my six decades as a sports fan in this city, only four images really stand out: Willis Reed of the Knicks hobbling on to the court in game seven of the NBA Finals in 1970; Reggie Jackson crushing a knuckleball into the Yankee Stadium black seats in the last contest of the 1977 World Series, marking Reggie’s third home run of the game; Mark Messier, the Rangers’ captain hoisting the Stanley Cup at Madison Square Garden, minutes after the Rangers had won their first title in 54 excruciatingly long years. And Secretariat winning the Belmont.

Fifty years is a heck of a long time. We have seen many worthy champions at the Belmont. But glimpsing greatness is unusual. We should savor the memory.

If you are too young to have experienced it in 1973, go back to YouTube and watch the videotape or catch some of the highlights and specials on ESPN. It is remarkable. The announcer’s broadcast of the race conveys the excitement of the moment. Fortunately for us, he has the proper appreciation of the horse’s achievement. By the time of the Belmont, the big chestnut horse that stood 16 3/4 hands high (or 64.75 inches) with a stride that measured 24 ft. 11 inches was a prohibitive favorite. If you plunked down $2 to bet on him, it only returned $2.20 since he went off as the 10 to 1 favorite.

Leading up to Belmont, Secretariat was not only on the cover of Sports Illustrated but was also on the cover of Newsweek and Time magazines.

The race was extraordinary.

“Secretariat is all alone!” the announcer exclaims as the great horse thunders to the finish line. Secretariat won by a mind boggling 25 lengths.

“The most sensational Belmont Stakes in the history of this race!” he adds. It was not hyperbole.

The race was breathtaking. Secretariat’s time was a record-breaking 2:24, and like his record breaking times in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, they all still stand as course records to this day.

Clearly, he’s greatest thoroughbred of all time.