On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s incredible win in the Belmont Stakes, the champion’s legend only grows with the passing of time.
Secretariat ran race record times in each of the three legs of his famous 1973 US Triple Crown clean sweep that remarkably remain unmatched to this day.
But it is Secretariat’s win in the Belmont Stakes that has been described as the greatest performance by an equine athlete ever seen on a racetrack.
Secretariat’s 31 length winning margin remains a world record for a Group 1 race, his winning time for the mile and a half (a2400m) on dirt is 2m 24s has never been equalled, let alone broken.
Replays of the race have been viewed countless times over the years but it still fills one with a sense of awe.
Acclaimed American racing writer Steve Dennis’ article for Thoroughbred Racing Commentary this week declared that to “write about the 1973 Belmont Stakes is never quite to be able to do it justice, to fall perpetually just short of distilling the sheer poetry of it into prose.”
“That’s not to be critical of the best turf writers ever to sit down before a blank page and fill it with brilliance, rather a tacit admission that no-one can be as perfect as Secretariat was on that hot June afternoon in suburban New York,” Dennis wrote.
“Secretariat’s performance defies encapsulation, refuses to be made small enough to fit on the page, remains as bright and beautiful as it was 50 years ago, having lost no lustre to the passage of time. It is as important, as vital, as definitive now as it was then.
“It is – almost inarguably, allowing for the propensity of heated debate around these things – the greatest performance ever seen on a racetrack, any time, any place.”
Racecaller Chic Anderson captured the moment so superbly, so unforgettably. “They’re on the turn, Secretariat is blazing along. Secretariat is widening now, he is moving like a tremendous machine! Secretariat by 12, Secretariat by 14 lengths. Secretariat is all alone!”
Dennis wrote in his article that golfing great Jack Nicklaus was moved to tears as he watched the Belmont in his Florida home.
Nicklaus later asked CBS broadcaster Heywood Hale Broun why he might have been so affected by the race.
“It’s because you’ve been looking for perfection your whole life, Jack. In the Belmont, you finally saw it,” Broun said.
This writer began thinking about those moments when I was moved by a racehorse’s performance.
The following is by no means a definitive list, racing enthusiasts will have their own personal favourites, but these are the wins that will stay with me forever.
Kingston Town – 1980 Tancred Stakes
I was a teenager and had read and idolised Kingston Town from afar but this was the first time I saw “The King” live. The Tancred was full of Group 1 winners but Kingston Town won with contemptuous ease, the majestic black horse’s breathtaking acceleration unforgettable.
Might And Power – 1997 Caulfield Cup
I remember watching Might And Power’s Caulfield Cup next to the late Les Carlyon, one of the nation’s greatest authors and journalists. Might And Power, under Jim Cassidy, led most of the way and streaked clear from the turn to win by a widening seven-and-a-half lengths. Carlyon turned to me and said: “Ray, you will never see a Caulfield Cup win like that again.”
Media Puzzle – 2002 Melbourne Cup
Media Puzzle isn’t the greatest Melbourne Cup winner by any stretch but I’ve never experienced a more emotional moment on the racetrack. Damien Oliver decided to ride in the race despite the death of his brother, Jason, in a Perth barrier trial incident a week earlier. The Hall of Fame jockey gave Media Puzzle the run of the race, the Irish stayer did his part and won by three lengths. This was a race that transcended sport.
Lonhro – 2004 George Ryder
Lonhro, the sleek, near-black champion was a fan favourite for his electrifying acceleration. He was nearing the end of his race career in the 2004 George Ryder but this was perhaps his most dominant win. Lonhro was almost arrogant as he unleashed a brilliant burst of speed to sprint clear of another outstanding racehorse, Grand Armee, and win his second successive George Ryder.
Makybe Diva – 2005 Tancred Stakes
Makybe Diva was a rarity as the champion mare seemed to get better as she got older and in 2005, her final year of racing, she was in supreme form culminating with her unprecedented third Melbourne Cup. But her win in the Tancred Stakes earlier that year was a phenomenal effort as she gave Grand Armee (again) a big start on the turn but sailed by him to win by two lengths.
Black Caviar – 2011 TJ Smith
Black Caviar was rarely tested in her unbeaten 25-start career but in the 2011 TJ Smith, the mighty mare knew she was in a contest. Hay List, a champion in any other era, had raced clear over the rise and Black Caviar was standing the leader a big start. Suddenly, Black Caviar lengthened stride, her acceleration so extraordinary she swept by Hay List, who was still full of running, to win by nearly three lengths.
Winx – 2017 George Ryder
Winx’s entire career was a highlight reel but the one win that always stands out in my mind was the 2017 George Ryder Stakes. Winx put a margin of more than seven lengths between herself and her nearest rivals, two genuine Group 1 horses who were in great form at that time, Le Romain and Chautauqua. It was close to a complete performance by this exceptional mare.
Chautauqua – 2017 TJ Smith
Chautauqua was renowned for his incredible finishing bursts but his third successive TJ Smith triumph in 2017 was something else again. The grey champion was in a seemingly hopeless position back last into the straight and only got into the clear at the 200m. It doesn’t matter how many times you watch a replay, how he ran down English near the line still beggars belief.
Yes Yes Yes – 2019 The Everest
Yes Yes Yes became the first three-year-old to win The Everest with an elite sprinting effort. The acceleration he demonstrated from the 400m to give speedsters of the calibre of Nature Strip and Redzel a start before reeling them and racing clear was sensational. No horse has ever run faster over the Randwick 1200m than Yes Yes Yes who stopped the clock at an amazing 1m 7.32s.
Nature Strip – 2022 King’s Stand Stakes
Nature Strip’s reputation as the world’s best sprinter was on the line at Royal Ascot. But this was the chestnut champion’s finest performance as he made a mess of Europe’s best sprinters and won by more than four lengths. It was a proud day for Australian racing.