SI Vault
Whitney Tower
April 30, 1973
It was not just that Angle Light won the last major prep for the classic at Churchill Downs, but the fact that he upset the wondrous chestnut, Secretariat, who had been heralded as another Man o'War
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 30, 1973

Putting A New Light On The Derby

It was not just that Angle Light won the last major prep for the classic at Churchill Downs, but the fact that he upset the wondrous chestnut, Secretariat, who had been heralded as another Man o'War

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

None of the field except Sham made any effort for nearly a mile to put a stop to Angle Light's runaway. Turcotte just could not get any response from Secretariat. "Jumping around in the gate before the start didn't bother him," the jockey noted later, "and he broke fine. After that I had him closer to the pace than he's often run, but even when I got him clear and moved outside on the backstretch, I could tell he wasn't right. It was just one of those days. Every horse has them once in a while."

The fact that there was no speed in the race made many, including Secretariat's Owner Penny Tweedy, wonder why Turcotte did not recognize the pace was unrealistic and do something about it. "It looked to me," she said unhappily, "as though we were racing one horse, Sham, and forgetting the rest of the field."

"What's the difference?" said Laurin. "We got beat by Sham, too."

In a few more strides Sham would have been the victor. He cut down the winner's margin from a length and a half to a head in the last furlong. If Pincay, who knows Sham better than Velasquez and who rode him to four victories in five races this winter at Santa Anita, had been aboard, the final decision might have been reversed.

The Derby poses a serious question for Laurin and his owners. Barring any mishap, Secretariat will be entered. But Whittaker, who has only two horses with Laurin as opposed to Mrs. Tweedy's barnful, says rather sadly (and perhaps naively), "Today just happened to be my day. I think Secretariat is the better horse, and I told Mrs. Tweedy even before the Wood that if Secretariat and Angle Light could not run as separate entries in Louisville, I would like to skip the Derby. I don't want the responsibility of running as an entry with the best horse." Laurin has applied to the Kentucky State Racing Commission for permission to run his owner's horses as separate betting interests, but as anyone who can remember as far back as 1968 to the Dancer's Image Derby knows, this is a commission not noted for prompt decisions. One alternative, which Laurin has suggested to Whittaker, is that Angle Light be handled by another trainer in Louisville. "I don't like that idea," says Whittaker, "because I wouldn't want to lose Laurin as my trainer." Laurin listened with a bewildered look on his already sad face and said, "Look, when you have a Derby horse, you go. You may never have another one." This week a decision will be made about the two colts.

Laurin, although conceding that Angle Light was a nice sort of colt, never thought he'd see the day when he could beat Secretariat. This season Whittaker's horse finished seventh in the Hibiscus, second to Royal and Regal in the Bahamas, fifth to Restless Jet in the Everglades, third to Our Native in the Flamingo and third to Leo's Pisces in the Louisiana Derby. So it could be, as Whittaker claims, that it just happened to be his day, or possibly Angle Light is improving at exactly the rate that will make him a dangerous contender in the Kentucky Derby. The way he was being steadily overhauled at the end of the Wood, after a pace that was a lot slower than anything he'll encounter at Churchill Downs, suggests that this is not the case.

Pincay will be back on Sham in Louisville, which certainly should improve the horse's prospects. Sham looks like a runner and is bred to be a Derby horse. Both his sire, Pretense, and grandsire, Endeavour, are noted for their staying blood, and his dam, Sequoia, is by Princequillo, which is about the best recommendation an American broodmare can have.

If Sham represents almost everything a Derby winner should have, from management to breeding, there seem to be some flaws in Secretariat. Even before the Wood there were horsemen who wondered if the colt could go a distance. "He's by Bold Ruler," they would say. "If he can get the Derby trip—a mile and a quarter—it'll be only because he is out of a Princequillo mare." It has become fashionable to knock Bold Ruler's ability to sire classic horses. This stallion, who was Horse of the Year as a 3-year-old (even after finishing fourth in the 1957 Derby), has sired 68 stakes winners and for seven consecutive years led the U.S. sire list.

But it is true that his offspring are not at their best at a mile and a quarter or beyond, and when they do win over extended distances, it often is after they have reached the age of four.

In Laurin and Turcotte, Secretariat is guided by a fiercely loyal pair of French Canadians who can talk to each other in a language that would baffle any turfiste at Longchamp. Turcotte, who is New York's current leading rider, learned his trade after a stint on his father's lumberjack horse. Laurin learned his mostly from an uncle, Eddie Bowie, and those who remember Lucien as a jockey at Blue Bonnets and other Canadian courses recall that he was fearless, a man who could have taught Manuel Ycaza a thing or two about the rough stuff and who was strong enough to hold an elephant an inch away from a bale of hay.

Continue Story
1 2 3