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Or, "I have to teach him to run. He's big, awkward and doesn't know what to do with himself."
Secretariat was beaten more than once in training sessions that winter at Hialeah. Gold Bag beat him again. So did Twice Bold and the filly, All or None. So did a colt named Angle Light. He wasn't beaten by 15 lengths again, but he did keep on losing. Laurin avoided telling Penny Tweedy that other horses were trouncing Secretariat in the mornings.
The accident happened in mid-April, on a gray, wet morning when the track was mire. It occurred shortly after Apprentice Jockey Paul Feliciano, under contract to Lucien, hopped aboard Secretariat for a routine gallop. Feliciano had his feet out of the stirrups, dangling them at Secretariat's side, when Laurin spotted him. Lucien raised his voice in warning.
"Put your feet in the irons!" he yelled. "Be careful with that horse! Don't take no chances...he plays, and he'll drop you, I swear to God."
Feliciano's feet rose into the stirrups, which he was wearing too short, and someone dimly recalls Laurin calling, "Drop your irons!" What Laurin wanted Feliciano to do was lengthen his stirrups for greater balance.
The horses moved from the stable area toward the training track, and Laurin followed in his station wagon. Secretariat and the other horses walked onto the muddy surface and began, one by one, to take off at a slow gallop. Feliciano, his reins loose, guided Secretariat near the outside rail and stood up in the saddle as the colt cantered through the long stretch toward the clocker's shed, passed it and began heading into the first bend. It happened fast, but Feliciano spoke almost in stop action about it later. He heard a horse working to his left, on the rail, his hooves splashing and slapping at the mud as he drilled past.
"I heard the noise. It was a split-second thing. He stopped, propped, wheeled and turned left, and I knew what was going to happen...I think he knew I was going off, too, was already slipping, because he turned around from under me. I landed on my face."
Secretariat, riderless, head and tail up, reins flapping, took off clockwise around the racetrack, racing the wrong way back toward the gap from which he had come. Laurin saw him and in an instant was speeding back. Asked if they shouldn't pick up Paul, who was lying in the mud, Lucien snapped, "Let him lie in the mud!"
The car zipped into the stable area. Laurin saw Secretariat standing there, as calm as if he were waiting for a taxi-cab. Lucien's companion climbed from the car and walked carefully toward Secretariat, who stood looking at him curiously. The man reached out and grabbed the reins, and Laurin immediately took off for the barn, leaving him to walk Secretariat home.
Meanwhile, Paul Feliciano, 20, born and raised on Union Street in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, lifted his face from the mud at the seven-eighths pole of the training track and started walking around the oval toward the barn area. He did not want to return to Barn Five and the morning bustle of stablehands, with Secretariat arriving riderless at the shed, with Lucien Laurin waiting for him there. He feared Laurin. Other things had happened since he had come to work for Lucien that year at Hialeah. The headstrong Gold Bag had run off with him, as he had with other riders, and Laurin had ranted at him. Paul had not forgotten the incident. And had no illusions as to what Lucien would say this time. "I knew what was going to happen when I got back to the barn," he said. "I was thinking I didn't want to go back. But I knew I had to."