Secretariat was the It horse, the Wow horse, the people's horse. Riva Ridge was the horse's horse—playing Gehrig to Secretariat's Ruth, Johnston to his Tilden, Mikita to his Hull. Even his final race Saturday was on national television only because CBS had gambled Secretariat might be in it. As it was, Riva went head to head in a 1:37[1/5] first mile with Prove Out, the Allen Jerkens surprise that upset Secretariat in the Woodward, then fell back. Prove Out went on to win in hand by 4� lengths, while Riva collapsed to a sad dead last.
Now both Meadow champions return to Claiborne, where Secretariat was conceived and Riva foaled that magic spring of '69. Since so much is at stake, both will be quickly put to trial. First, they will be bred to test mares. Most new young stallions have little knowledge of what is supposed to be natural. Next, their semen will be examined. Eventually they will be required to service "a full book" of 40 mares in the rush-rush season that runs from February to June. For this first year, however, they probably will see no more than 28 mares.
Besides mating, studs do little but eat and sleep, so it is almost impossible to bring these fat and happy rascals back into training if they do not cut the mustard in the breeding shed. Up to 5% of would-be stallions are either sterile or noneffective—and it can happen in the very best of families. Assault, the 1946 Triple Crown winner, had no seed; Riva Ridge had a half-brother, Hydrologist, who disappointed a lot of mares before his owners gave up.
The odds, though, are about five cents on the dollar ($2.10, out, out) that Mrs. Tweedy's two champions can produce, and that they departed the madding crowds for good this weekend. The last flowers they put on Secretariat were carnations, white and red, and then they took them off and he left. So the best thing racing had seen in years—some would say ever—was gone, gone in his prime, gone in his glory, gone away to his tea and scandal in the Blue Grass, while the exactas and doubles stay behind to entertain the old men with their Racing Forms. How strange is this enterprise that takes away the hearts and leaves the numbers.
The groom, Eddie Sweat, had him by the bridle as they walked round the clubhouse turn back to the race barn, back for the last time. He kept patting him on the withers. It was very nearly dark by now, and one could only wave after Secretariat, remember him, marvel at him, and cry out (after Shelley): Why didst thou leave the trodden paths...too soon?