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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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"I think he's finally coming around," he said. They decided to enter the colt in a race on July 4, an $8,000 maiden event for colts and geldings at 5� furlongs, with the start on the backstretch near the far turn.

The red horse's ability was no secret now. Sweep, the nom de plume for Daily Racing Form handicapper Jules Schanzer, advised his readers on July 4, "Secretariat, a half-brother to Sir Gaylord, appears greatly advanced in his training. The newcomer by Bold Ruler stepped 6 furlongs in 1:12[4/5] over a sloppy Belmont course June 24 and such outstanding speed entitles him to top billing."

Feliciano was to be up, and since he was still an apprentice, Secretariat was allowed to carry 113 pounds, five pounds less than the other maidens in the race. That weight allowance was the only break he had all day.

Members of The Meadow stable bet with both hands, most of it on the red horse's nose, but not Gaffney. He did not think Feliciano liked the colt or had enough confidence in him.

Lucien was sitting in a box seat with Penny Tweedy when the horses, in single file, walked past the grandstand in the post parade and then turned and broke into warmup gallops. It was nearing two o'clock. There was a wind blowing south out of Queens, south against the horses walking to the starting gate up the backstretch, south toward Kennedy International Airport across the highway, south toward Jamaica Bay. Bettors, some already moving toward the rail on the homestretch, were busy making Secretariat the tepid $3.10-to-$1 favorite.

Big Burn, Jockey Braulio Baeza on him, stepped into post position one. An assistant starter took hold of Secretariat—the colt was wearing his blue-and-white checkered blinkers—and led him into post two. The door slammed shut behind him. Feliciano patted the youngster on the neck and waited. It was 2:02. Strike the Line stood in gate three next to Secretariat. Jacinto Vasquez sat on Quebec in post four. It was nearing 30 seconds after 2:02.

Dave Johnson, the track announcer, looked through his binoculars toward the starting gate and clicked on the lever of the loudspeaker system. "It is now post time," said Johnson.

It came all at once—the break, the sounds and the collision. The gates crashed open and the bell screamed and the horses vaulted upward and came down in a bound, Secretariat breaking sharply through in one, two, three strides. Quebec sliced across Strike the Line, and Vasquez hollered, but there was nothing that anyone could do; Quebec had slammed into Secretariat, not sideways in a grazing blow but almost perpendicularly, plowing into his right shoulder. Like a fullback struck on his blind side as he drives up the middle, Secretariat staggered and veered to the left, crashing into Big Burn. For several moments it appeared as if the red horse had two tacklers hanging on him, as if he were trying to grind out yardage with Quebec and Big Burn leaning on him and trying to bring him down. Secretariat's legs were chopping savagely, and Feliciano heard him groaning as he worked to regain his balance. He straightened out, but he was in 11th place, next to Strike the Line. Then Secretariat began digging, trying to pick up speed as they headed for the turn, 300 yards ahead. He was not getting with it as fast as the others.

The horses were strung out as they approached the turn, and Secretariat started drifting. Moving to the bend, he seemed confused, and he wavered momentarily to the right, bumping a roan called Rove. Feliciano took back on the left rein, leaving the right line flapping, and the red horse leaned left to make the bend. There was nothing else Feliciano could do. Everything was going wrong.

There was no place to run on the inside, with Jacques Who lapped on him there, and the rail clogged up in front. Horses were pounding on his right, leaving no room for Feliciano to swing Secretariat out and get him rolling in the clear. A wall of four horses was shifting around in front of him. He had only two horses beaten as he raced for the ?th pole midway around the turn for home, and he had nowhere to go. The colt started to run up a hole opening in front of him, but that squeezed shut, too. He was working to get with it, as if looking for the holes himself.

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