There has been all this talk about the I price of gold—$64, $73, zooming up to $86 an ounce—but the most precious commodity in the news right now is a racehorse named Secretariat. Four weeks ago he was syndicated for something like $345 an ounce. And last Saturday at Aqueduct he made his first start for the international consortium (Americans, Canadians, Trish, French and Japanese) that now owns him. He won the race handily, earning just .0027 of his $6,080,000 purchase price. At least it was a start and, figures aside, it was an impressive one.
For Secretariat, the Bay Shore Stakes was to be a nice little romp across seven furlongs of slop and then back to the barn for a meal and a massage. From somewhere they found five colts willing to run for second money, and they laid 126 pounds on the giant coppery dude to keep it decent, but as John Campo, the trainer of one starter in the race, said, "The only chance we got is if he falls down." Still Secretariat could race five Sherman tanks and he would make it exciting. He is a majestic brute with great rippling muscles and a showman's flair for romping from far back to win.
"It is not so much that he enjoys coming from behind as that he is trying to stay out of trouble in the early going," says Lucien Laurin, the French Canadian who trains the colt for Mrs. Penny Tweedy and for the 28 other members of the syndicate. ( Mrs. Tweedy is the major stockholder in Secretariat with four shares, worth $190,000 apiece.) Laurin traces Secretariat's reluctance to run with the pack to his first start, when he was bounced around coming out of the gate and finished fourth. Nothing has beaten him in nine tries since, except the stewards, who disqualified him from first place after he shoved a massive shoulder into Stop The Music in last season's Champagne Stakes. "He never forgot that initial race," Laurin says. "Ever since he holds back. He's a smart horse. A handsome one, too."
And how do you tell a handsome horse from an ugly one?
Laurin frowns. "The same way you tell a handsome man from an ugly one," he snaps, handsomely ending that discussion. But there has been much talk on America's racetracks about how wonderfully formed this animal is. "It was as if God decided to make a perfect racehorse," said Pimlico's Chick Lang not long ago.
To many, the syndication of Secretariat so early in his racing career came as a surprise. He has an excellent chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948, a sweep that surely would have driven his value up. He is the shortest-price (8-to-5) winter-book Kentucky Derby favorite in decades. But the sale became necessary with the death of the colt's owner, Christopher T. Chenery, in January. The taxes on his estate were staggering. Mrs. Tweedy, who is Chenery's daughter, decided to part with most of the family's prize 3-year-old.
"We didn't have any trouble putting a syndicate together," says Seth Hancock, the owner of Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. where Secretariat will go to stud at the end of this season. The previous record price for a horse was $5,440,000 paid for the English Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky. Hancock's father, the late A.B. (Bull) Hancock, handled that deal.
"Secretariat has the credentials to be a remarkable stallion," young Hancock says. "First you look at performance and obviously his has been outstanding. Only two losses, and one of those to the stewards. The second category to consider is his pedigree. He is by Bold Ruler, the greatest sire we ever had. He led the list seven straight years. Sons of Bold Ruler have made fine stallions."
Secretariat's mother, a daughter of Princequillo, is Somethingroyal, a bay who was an also-ran in her only start. But what matters is she produced a colt named Sir Gaylord, the favorite for the 1962 Kentucky Derby until he was injured just hours before the race. And he is a top sire. Another son, First Family, won the Gulfstream Park Handicap, and a daughter, Syrian Sea, won the Selima Stakes.
Hancock moved on to the third and last category—appearance. "He is a beautiful animal to look at, a great big, strong horse who is unflawed. A real good eye, all legs under him, a good hind leg, a sharp-looker. He's, well, he's a hell of a horse."