Secretariat ran off and left them on the race track. “Big Red” dominated the competition in the 1973 three-year-old Triple Crown races.
His celebrity status transcended thoroughbred racing, reaching through society’s channels to housewives, elementary school children, and even intellectuals generally confined to their ivory towers.
Secretariat had only one other competitor for “best thoroughbred” of all-time when discussions were held among those who had been associated with racing for decade on top of decade.
The “best thoroughbred” debate had some favoring Man o’ War and many others lining up beside Secretariat and his latter-day exploits.
Man o’ War lost only once in his career. And that was to a thoroughbred named “Upset”. Secretariat was a media pleasure/treasure — selling newspapers, newsy periodicals, sports-oriented publications, advertising, television ratings, and most of all, thoroughbred racing.
People from most walks of life knew of Secretariat and the three records he set in winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
Secretariat was more popular than politicians of the time. Why not? He was more honest, more hard-working, much more trustworthy and reliable.
But Secretariat was later worth more millions as a stallion than he had been on the race track.
It is as a stud where Secretariat is questioned.
The expectations that rose to heights too great even for him wanted Secretariat to sire nothing but stakes champions, nothing but Triple Crown winners.
Nothing of the like had ever happened. Bold Ruler, Round Table, Northern Dancer, and Man o’ War all had sons and daughters with race records that were without stakes success — some without any success.
Sectretariat did have success as a sire.
Trace your finger down a list of Preakness Stakes champions. You’ll find Risen Star winning that leg of the Triple Crown in 1988. Turn the page. Bring your finger down the list of Belmont Stakes champions. Aha, there’s Risen Star winning that race by nearly 15 lengths in a time of 2:26.40.
Only one Belmont Stakes winner in history won that marathon race by a greater distance. And that was Secretariat with a 31-length romp in 1973. Only three others had a faster time in the Belmont, and one of those was Secretariat.
Risen Star and Secretariat were joined by gobs of common ground. The Hancock Family (Arthur B. “Bull” Hancock, Jr. and his son Arthur Hancock III) had made money available to Meadow Stables’ Penny Chenery before Secretariat was born. Penny Chenery would keep her thoroughbred business afloat because of the Hancocks. And by the most circuitous of routes, she would own Secretariat.
Arthur Hancock III would breed Secretariat with a mare named Ribbon. And Risen Star was the foal born to Ribbon.
Risen Star was not a robust and Atlas-like chestnut like Secretariat. He was an average-size chocolate-colored (dark chocolate) colt. His racing career would be guided by Louie Roussel, a bright son of the state of Louisiana who had a college degree from Louisiana State University and a law degree from Loyola University in New Orleans.
Roussel and Ronnie Lamarque visited an auction for two-year-olds in training at Calder Race Course in Florida. They were the high bidder for Risen Star. Roussel became Risen Star’s trainer.
Even when diagnosed with cancer, Roussel managed Risen Star’s workouts and race schedule while undergoing therapy for the disease.
Roussel recovered. He was there later in 1987 when the dark bay colt won the Minstrel Stakes at Louisiana Downs.
The next year, Risen Star had an early-season win in the Grade II Louisiana Derby and then just two weeks before the Kentucky Derby in the Lexington Stakes.
Roussel sent Risen Star to the Kentucky Derby. He was one of the crowd’s choices. But a third-place finish was the result when a too-late surge through the long stretch failed to overcome the lead of the winner, Winning Colors.
At the Preakness in Baltimore, Roussel, Lemarque, and jockey Eddie Delahoussaye joined in celebrating a 1 1/2 length win in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
That was a son of Secretariat. The on-track icon. The off-track flop to a few.
Risen Star went to the Belmont Stakes with racing’s best chance to win the $1 million bonus sponsored by Chrysler that would go to the thoroughbred with the best finishes in the three races of the Triple Crown series.
Roussel’s trainee ran away to a long win that was just shy of 15 lengths. The $1 million bonus went to the son of the dissappointing Secretariat.
Even in leaving the field far behind in the Belmont, Risen Star had incurred a slight leg injury that would give Roussel reason to send him off to retirement.
The Eclipse Award for Best Three-Year-Old Colt went to Risen Star in 1988.
He had become the initial third-generation Eclipse Award selection in the same category (Secretariat and his sire, Bold Ruler, had also been named Best Three-Year-Old Colt).
Risen Star was Secretariat’s son. And he won both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, though he never appeared on the cover of a magazine or was more popular than a sitting president.