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A coming of age
William Nack
October 28, 1974
Secretariat ran his last race just a year ago, ending a Triple Crown career. Here is how it all began
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October 28, 1974

A Coming Of Age

Secretariat ran his last race just a year ago, ending a Triple Crown career. Here is how it all began

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When Feliciano met with Lucien in the paddock before the race, they spoke only briefly. "Don't do like you did last time," Laurin said. "Just stay out of trouble and let him run. He shouldn't get beat." So Feliciano was rehearsing what he would do to keep Secretariat in the clear. He decided he wouldn't rush him, even if he broke slowly, but rather let him settle into stride and move when he pulled it all together.

At 3:09, into stall No. 1 moved Fleet 'n Royal, the colt who had finished third, a nose in front of Secretariat on July 4. An assistant starter took Secretariat's rein on the left side and led him into stall No. 8, to the outside of Jacques Who and to the inside of Bet On It, a gelding with a quick turn of foot. The instant before the red horse stepped into the starting gate Feliciano reached to his forehead and pulled a pair of plastic goggles over his eyes. Secretariat gave no signs of nervousness at the post. He stood relaxed inside the gate, looking casually ahead.

Starter George Cassidy, standing atop a platform about 10 yards in front of the gate, watched for the moment when the heads stopped turning, when the legs stopped dancing and the horses waited as one in the gate. At 3:09� he pressed the button, the gates popped open and the 11 horses bounded forth.

Secretariat broke alertly, but almost immediately fell back to last, half a length behind Jacques Who. As others barreled for the lead, beginning to string out, he trailed the field. (This dilatory start, like others to come, gave rise to the false notion that the battering he took in his first race had made Secretariat timid at the break.)

Now he was pumping and driving, trying to move with the field, digging and pushing and reaching for whatever ground he could grab, but he was not getting there as fast as the others.

Feliciano sensed the colt was having no easy time, so he sat tight as they raced for the bend, not reaching back and strapping him, not hollering. Instead, he pumped with his arms, in rhythm with the stride, asking for whatever the colt could give.

Through that first quarter mile Feliciano was wondering whether Secretariat would ever find his stride, and all he could do was keep him to the outside, clear of traffic, and wait. He began to worry after the first furlong, with only five furlongs to go and still no horse running beneath him.

Then as the field raced for the turn Paul began to feel it happening. A coming together of stride and movement, a kind of leveling out and "smoothening," which retired exercise boy Jimmy Weininger once described, in tones of reverence, as "...the oddest thing...a horse, he's in first gear and then he's in fourth gear, and it's sort of like flying, taking off. It's the oddest thing."

Feliciano remembers clearly that sudden sense of Secretariat running easily, the feeling of power being generated beneath him. Heading for the quarter pole, Paul felt the momentum, the thrust into another gear. "He was running faster and faster and faster." Sitting still, Feliciano rode the surge.

Secretariat was on the outside, moving past Perilous Serenade and Monetary Crisis and Scantling and Fleet 'n Royal. He was still almost seven lengths behind, but by the time the field was midway around the turn Secretariat had bounded past Irish Flavor and was moving six horses wide, choo-chooing toward home. He was a running horse with nothing in front of him now but running room, moving on his left lead as he swung around horses. Paul was like a fighter swarming in.

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