The best of all time just got even better.
Secretariat, the larger-than-life thoroughbred from nearly four decades ago, has finally been given his due by the people now in charge at Pimlico, the race track where the Preakness Stakes takes place.
It was in 1973 when Secretariat was at his record-busting best. He had set a new record when winning the Kentucky Derby.
Secretariat was being readied for front page splashes on Time Magazine, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated magazine.
He was successful, sometimes even overpowering, at what he was doing. There was no scandal or negative publicity about him. The Viet Nam War and the veneer-laden polish of self-importance and self-decency associated with Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and national politics were pulling apart different elements in the country.
American was looking for heros. And it found one in Secretariat. Because of his bronze chestnut coloring and his massive and photogenic body, as well as his on-track record and houndstooth-clean image he became a put-him-on-a-pedestal hero.
And he didn’t disappoint anybody whose trust in modern-day heros had been placed in him.
Secretariat was America at its best. He competed and he won. He followed the rules. And he would own the first Triple Crown in 25 years.
After cruising to a comfortable, daylight win in the Kentucky Derby, his image was even more flawless.
When he came to Baltimore with trainer Lucien Laurin, owner Penny Chenery, and groom Eddie Sweat it was as if the many wrongs associated with racing had been washed away in tons of french perfume and eau de cologne.
Secretariat even outran the ills associated with all of thoroughbred racing.
On Preakness Day, his rivals were fewer than those whose owners had believed his fourth-place showing the Wood Memorial was the real Secretariat. They had sent their thoroughbreds against him in Louisville. And they had been trounced for the most part.
In Baltimore, the Preakness might be different. The race was a little shorter. The turns were a little sharper. It was only two short weeks between the first two jewels of the Triple Crown.
The boys didn’t realize they were shooting their overripe strawberries at the side of a fortified battleship.
“Big Red” didn’t wait to see how the race would completely unfold. On the backstretch, he impressively powered to the lead. And he held it . . . winning against Sham by a daylight distance again.
Was it another record time? All the television replays said it was. Men working for the Daily Racing Form and Morning Telegraph whose jobs were to record the exact time of the winning horse reported a new record had been established.
But not Pimlico. It reported there had had been a malfunction in its timing mechanism. Pimlico said Secretariat had missed the record.
A firestorm of protest crackled throughout the sports world and within the bounds of the media.
But Pimlico did not flinch. It had a time of 1:53 2/5 as the Preakness record. It said Secretariat had a winning time of 1:55. Pimlico did bend just a little and days later moved Big Red’s time to 1:54, still shy of the Preakness record.
With the Belmont Stakes still on the Triple Crown calendar, the sports world left Baltimore and its taverns and moved on to New York City.
When Secretariat staggered the free world in winning by over 31 lengths in the Belmont his time was two seconds faster than the race’s old record.
Epithets flew toward Baltimore and its firm stance on the time in the Preakness. No lawyers were summoned by Penny Chenery. No official protests were sent flying to the Thoroughbred Racing Asssociation’s officials.
Secretariat had to be satisfied with his Triple Crown, Horse of the Year honors, and status as a saviour of the sport.
Since 1973, each year at Preakness time there are articles written about the horses to beat, the chances for finding a Triple Crown, and how Secretariat was still being kept from his rightful record.
It’s been 39 years since Secretariat hypnotized the country.
He held two-thirds of the Triple Crown record for the best-times.
And now he has finally been given his due.
Last week, the Maryland Racing Commission returned a unanimous 7-0 vote to a special panel to change Secretariat’s winning time to 1:53, thus giving Big Red all three Triple Crown race records.
Mrs. Chenery is now 90 years young. She had sent people that were electronics experts, had several films and videos of the race, and were going to use modern-day technology to prove to the Commission that Secretariat had the record all along.
After two hours of testimony and visual accompanyment, the board of listeners and viewers voted 7-0 to finally give Secretariat his due.
One of those representing Mrs. Chenery’s interest — Leonard Lusky — said afterward: “It is wonderful for the sport to remove an asterisk and wonderful for the legacy of Sectetariat and his fans, who believed he set the record in all three Triple Crown races. This was a labor of love and it was so important because it was Secretariat and the Preakness, one of the landmark events in horse racing.”
The best of all time just got even better. And right there in the same state that had seen elected officials in Marvin Mandel, William Donald Schaefer, Spiro T. Agnew, and one-time Baltimore mayor Tommy D’Alesandro, Jr.