It was only the third race on the Saturday afternoon card at Keeneland Race Course, but it seemed like the Kentucky Derby. Under the old oak trees in the saddling area, perspiring fans elbowed, shoved, snapped Instamatics and strained for a glimpse of the golden filly with the most god-awful name this side of Seattle Slew. Never mind that she had never raced, or that her challenge this day was only a 4�-furlong sprint with a chicken-feed purse of $6,500. This was one for the history books. This was the first race ever run by a son or daughter of Secretariat.
The record crowd of 22,303 in Lexington was there in part because of the continuing public fascination with Secretariat, the colt that had captured the nation's heart by winning the 1973 Triple Crown. Syndicated before his 3-year-old season for a then-record $6.08 million, Secretariat was retired to stud at Claiborne Farm near Paris, Ky. Ever since, the racing industry has been waiting to see if he can match at stud his performance as a runner. At least some horsemen believe he will. Last summer, for example, a Secretariat yearling colt out of Charming Alibi sold for a world-record $1.5 million.
Of the 28 living foals in Secretariat's initial crop, the first to make it to the races was the last foaled, a filly out of Spa II that has been stuck with the name Sexetary. When F. Eugene Dixon Jr., owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and one of Secretariat's 32 shareholders, failed to come up with a mare to breed that first season, he agreed to give Catesby Clay of Runnymede Farm and Howard Noonan, his partner, the right in exchange for 50% of the foal.
Clay and Noonan sent Spa II, a half-sister to Arc de Triomphe-winner Prince Royal II, to Secretariat. On May 21, 1975, the mare dropped her filly at Runnymede. The foal's golden color and white stockings marked her as her father's daughter. However, as she grew, she developed a crooked right front knee.
When Clay and Noonan sent her through last summer's select sale at Keeneland, the bad knee was so noticeable that she brought a bargain price—$75,000. "We had the distinction of selling the lowest-priced Secretariat," said Clay, dryly. The buyer was Andrew Adams, an Appalachian coal baron who was plunging into the thoroughbred business. "I had admired the horse when I was visiting Runnymede," says Adams, "and made up my mind that if she didn't go for more than $125,000, I was going to buy her."
Adams, who recently sold his eastern Kentucky coal operations for a reported $20 million, shipped the filly to Trainer John Ward to be broken. He asked his wife Reny to name her, and she came up with Sexetary. "At first it was kind of a joke," said Mrs. Adams. "Then we knew we really couldn't call her anything but that. I'm sort of proud of it."
Last November, Adams sent Sexetary to Trainer Dave Kassen, an ex-jockey who has 40 or so horses in a public stable, but has won only two stakes in his six years as a trainer.
Kassen took Sexetary to Hialeah and began galloping her. In mid-January, he began breezing the filly an eighth of a mile once a week. He was impressed with her appearance ("Just like her old man") and her temperament. "Secretariat was big and kind," says Kassen. "And this filly has a lot of sense. She doesn't do anything silly. You can breeze her slow or fast."
He considered starting her at Hialeah, but finally decided to wait for Keeneland, which is only 20 miles from where Secretariat stands at stud. The week before the race he worked her a half-mile in 48[2/5], and that convinced Assistant Trainer Dale Bender that she was going to win her debut.
"The way she trained, I think she shows a lot of promise," said Bender. "She's in perfect shape. We're sending her out on her own. She's not getting any medication. Just Ace bandages and a lot of hope."