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Two years later Florida-based trainer George Maker, Mark's father, saw Secretariat Dancer grazing in his pasture in Toronto. Maker, who specializes in claiming horses, thought the horse might be able to race again. He bought Secretariat Dancer from Hyde for $1,500 and sent him to Detroit Racecourse.
And there, on Oct. 20, 1991, 5-year-old Secretariat Dancer, in his second career start, broke his maiden against $5,000 claimers. Maker thought enough of the horse's effort to ship him to Hialeah with the rest of his stable.
But Secretariat Dancer was no match for the younger, healthier horses at Hialeah, and he finished off the board in three starts. So Maker took him to Tampa Bay Downs with the hope that someone would be impressed with his bloodlines and claim him.
There were no takers. Secretariat Dancer was jostled during the New Year's Day race and returned to the barn with bowed tendons in both front legs. Maker, whose livelihood depends on the soundness of his horses, could no longer afford to keep him. Then Godwin appeared on the scene.
After a year of recuperation at Leddon's farm, Secretariat Dancer was brought back to the track last December in a six-furlong, $3,500 claiming race. He finished seventh, but Brill saw a mild finishing kick that suggested he might like to go farther. She ran him again nine days later, this time at a mile and a 16th. He got up in the final strides to win by a nose, but his victory came against the cheapest horses stabled at the track.
Now, on a sunny day in March, Secretariat Dancer is entered in a mile and a 16th race for $3,000 claimers. All six members of the Brill family have turned out for his race. The horses in today's field are a quaint assortment of winded losers and barnyard pets, many with bum knees. With his scarred legs, Secretariat Dancer fits right in.
When the gates open, Secretariat Dancer comes out slowly, but he quickly moves up as the field passes the grandstand. Going into the first turn he is bumped by a horse running erratically along the rail. He stumbles slightly, and Brill nearly bites her cigarette in half. He moves up steadily along the backstretch and is second going into the final turn. He appears to flatten out in the homestretch, but 100 yards from the wire he sweeps past the front-runner.
There are hugs and joyful tears as the family meets in the winner's circle for the winner's photo. Secretariat Dancer, the resplendent warrior, is nearly covered with mud, but Brill, mascara running down her checks, leans over and plants a kiss on his nose.
In 10 races this year Secretariat Dancer has had three wins. With year-to-date earnings of $5,835 he has earned more than 28 times his purchase price. He is fitter than he was as a 3-year-old, although his once-dark-brown coat is now nearly black, and other trainers tease Brill about the gelding's slight paunch. Newly nicknamed Sexy, he is the barn pet in a motley 10-horse stable.
"I wouldn't put him in a tough race," says Leddon, who co-owns the horse with Marian Brill's husband, Gary. "He'd try so hard, I'd be afraid he'd hurt himself." After this year Secretariat Dancer will retire to Leddon's farm to begin a second career, as a pleasure horse.