It was 50 years ago this week that Meadow Stable’s Secretariat made his stakes debut and served notice that he was a budding superstar. His victory in the 1972 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga gave fans of the sport a glimpse of what lay ahead in a tremendous career that would find him joining Man o’ War, Citation and Kelso in the conversation as to who was the greatest American racehorse of the 20th Century.
Secretariat was not the betting favorite in the six-furlong Sanford. It would be the only time he was not the favorite in his 21-race career.
“When Secretariat went into the historic Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, the very race nin which Man o’ War suffered his only defeat [in 21 career starts], he was just a promising colt who had the looks and the pedigree to be special, but with only a maiden and an allowance race to his credit, as well as a troubled fourth-place finish in his debut,” Secretariat.com’s Steve Haskin wrote this week. “In fact, the majority of those at Saratoga on August 16, 1972, might have felt it was an undefeated near-black colt named Linda’s Chief who was headed into the realm of greatness following three impressive stakes wins in New York.”
Linda’s Chief had won his first two races by five and eight lengths prior to reeling off three straight stakes victory. He was sent off as the 3-5 favorite in the Sanford. Secretariat was the 3-2 second choice.
On hand for that race was Andy Beyer, future father of the Beyer Speed Figures. Beyer talked about it Tuesday on Steve Byk’s SiriusXM radio program At the Races.
“When I noticed that this anniversary was looming, a couple of months ago I circled it on my calendar,” Beyer said. “It was one of the most memorable days of my life at a racetrack as a fan or reporter, leaving aside the gambling activity.
“As a fan and a horseplayer, you get a great deal of satisfaction out of seeing and spotting these horses and identifying ones who are really going to go on to greater things. In 1972, I was working at the Washington Star before moving to the [Washington] Post. And after the Sanford, I wrote a story that began by saying racing fans at Saratoga have reason to believe they saw the 1973 Kentucky Derby winner…On Aug. 16, 1972, if you were really, really smart, you might have said, ‘This could be the greatest horse who ever lived.’ That was how momentous I think many people who watched the Sanford and Secretariat felt.
“The horse showed how great he was. All I can say is I’m pleased that I’m still breathing 50 years later and can talk about it and that I still have enough functioning brain cells to remember the details of that day and race.
“At the time, the preeminent 2-year-old was Linda’s Chief, who had won all five of his starts. In the spring, he had run six furlongs in 1:09 flat at Aqueduct. I mean, he was really good.”
Beyer noted that as a 3-year-old, Linda’s Chief beat Forego, a three-time Horse of the Year.
Linda’s Chief also “went out to California and beat Ancient Title three times,” Beyer said. “And Ancient Title wound up in the racing Hall of Fame. That’s why I say Linda’s Chief was justifiably favored in the meeting with Secretariat.
“It was about this time I started working with speed figures. I developed my methodology beginning in 1971. It took about four years to get it all right. So the figures I was making in 1972 were really primitive. You couldn’t compare them with our scale of numbers today. So I can’t say Secretariat ran this, or Linda’s Chief ran that. I wish I had true numbers for all the greats of the 1970s. But unfortunately I don’t. But I do know that Secretariat’s allowance win [before the Sanford] was a big figure and I liked him that day.
“Secretariat had run on the day of the Test Stakes, which then and now is one of the big races in the country for 3-year-old fillies. The winner of the race that day was Numbered Account, who had been the much acclaimed [2-year-old] filly champion of the previous year. She was a Phipps colorbearer and she was just a terrific filly.
“On that day, although they ran at different distances, Secretariat’s Beyer Speed Figure was two points higher than Numbered Account’s figure. When you’ve got a young 2-year-old running faster than an acclaimed champion, he’s pretty good.”
Beyer characterized the Sanford as “a great showdown between two exceptional horses” in Linda’s Chief and Secretariat.
The Sanford was the second race in which Ron Turcotte rode Secretariat.
You can view the 1972 Sanford in black and white and sans audio on YouTube.
As you watch the video, when the field emerged from behind the tree or trees shortly after the start, Secretariat is last. He then is out of sight on the video for a time. When he reappears, Secretariat is full of run and advancing while racing alongside the inside rail. But from midway on the far turn to the top of the stretch, he is stymied behind a wall of horses.
Coming into the stretch, Secretariat is right behind Trevose and Northstar Dancer as those two vie for the advantage, while Linda’s Chief comes on while wide to bid for lead.
Leaving the three-sixteenths pole in upper stretch, a seam finally materialized between Trevose and Northstar Dancer. Secretariat boldly surges through the opening to take the lead nearing the eighth pole, then powers home to win by three widening lengths.
Secretariat “required just 1:10, swiftest time of the meeting, to spot unbeaten Linda’s Chief and the others two lengths’ running start, then simply pulverized them a last quarter in :23 4/5,” Daily Racing Form’s Charles Hatton wrote.
In the marvelous book “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion,” Bill Nack wrote: “Secretariat ran the six furlongs in a sharp 1:10 flat, and in that time he remade himself into the leading 2-year-old in America, not only beating the best, but doing it with a dramatic flourish, as a seasoned 5-year-old horse might do it.”
“The Sanford wasn’t just merely Secretariat’s first stakes win,” Beyer said Tuesday. “This was the race that showed what a great racehorse he was. And he would, of course, go on to verify that judgment.”
Secretariat would go on to be voted a 1972 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. More significantly, he became the first 2-year-old to be elected Horse of the Year by the Eclipse Award voters. In 1973, of course, he was voted champion 3-year-old male and a second Horse of the Year title after a stupendous 31-length Belmont Stakes victory completed the first Triple Crown sweep in 25 years.
After the Sanford, Beyer wrote that “racing fans at Saratoga have reason to believe they saw the 1973 Kentucky Derby winner.”
Beyer is understandably proud to have written that. I am similarly proud of what I wrote on March 22, 1973, in my high school newspaper, the Lewis and Clark Journal.
“Going out on a limb and living dangerously I dare say that 1973 will be a historic year as Secretariat will become the first Triple Crown winner since the great Citation in 1948.
“The 1972 Horse of the Year made his 1973 debut an impressive one as he exploded to a 4 1/2-length triumph in the $27,750 Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct last Saturday.
“Ridden by regular jockey Ron Turcotte, Secretariat put on his usual late burst of speed to easily put away Champagne Charlie and Impecunious, who finished second and third.
“Running the seven furlongs in 1:23 1/5 over a sloppy track, the outstanding son of Bold Ruler appears to beat anybody anywhere, anytime and at any distance.
“Secretariat is owned by Meadow Stables and trained by Lucien Laurin, who produced last year’s winner of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, Riva Ridge.”
Considering I wrote that as a senior in high school in 1973, is it any wonder that I went on to work for the Daily Racing Form as the start of a career in horse racing that has continued to this day?
A GIGANTIC BEYER SPEED FIGURE
Many consider Secretariat’s victory in the Belmont to be the greatest performance in the history of racing in this country. His final time of 2:24 obliterated the track record by 2 3/5 seconds set by Gallant Man in 1958.
Beyer calls Secretariat’s Belmont “the best single performance ever.” Beyer once wrote that he retroactively calculated what Secretariat’s Beyer Speed Figure would have been for that performance. It would have been a 138.
As yet another example of Secretariat’s greatness, all these years later, he has the distinction of having run the fastest Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
SLEW’S TIZ WHIZ CAPTURES LONGACRES MILE
A razor-sharp Slew’s Tiz Whiz came home strongly to win last Sunday’s 87th running of the $150,000 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs, racing’s most coveted prize in the Pacific Northwest.
Outrun early after breaking from post 1 in the field 12, Slew’s Tiz Whiz “scraped the paint in sixth when seven lengths off the lead” approaching the far turn, as track announcer Bill Downes said during his call of the race.
Jose Zunino rode Slew Tiz Whiz. What made this such a terrific ride on the part of Zunino is he was able to save ground by racing alongside the inside rail from the start all the way until angling Slew’s Tiz Whiz out to about the three path approaching the sixteenth pole.
Slew’s Tiz Whiz then whizzed past pacesetter Papa’s Golden Boy in the final sixteenth and won going away by 2 3/4 lengths. Papa’s Golden Boy squandered a three-length lead with a furlong to go, but he did hold on for second. Five Star General finished third.
Background won the 2021 Longacres Mile. Never far back in this year’s renewal, he lacked the necessary late punch and came in fifth as my top pick.
Slews Tiz Whiz extended his winning streak to three, all at Emerald. He had won a six-furlong allowance/optional claiming contest by 2 1/2 lengths on July 10, then ran down Papa’s Golden Boy to win the 6 1/2-furlong Governor’s Stakes by the same margin on July 24.
Tom Wenzel trains Slew Tiz Whiz. Darlyne Krieg, who races as K D Thoroughbreds, owns the 4-year-old Washington-bred Slew’s Tiznow gelding. Slew’s Tiz Whiz was bred by Karl Krieg, Darlyne’s husband, who passed away from cancer in 2019.
This was Wentzel’s second Longacres Mile win and first for Zuzino. Wentzel saddled The Great Face to take the 2007 Mile.
Fifty years ago, not long after Secretariat won the Sanford, I was in attendance at Longacres and saw Red Wind eke out a narrow victory over Canadian invader Briartic in the Longacres Mile.
Red Wind, like Slew’s Tiz Whiz, was a Washington-bred who received a terrific ride. Richard “Tex” Hollingsworth was Red Wind’s pilot.
In Red Wind’s four most recent starts going into the 1972 Mile, he had set the early pace. He won an allowance sprint on June 16, followed by victories in the Independence Day Handicap at one mile on July 4 and British Columbia Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on July 16.
In Red Wind’s final start before the Mile, he led early before ending up eighth. He finished 11 lengths behind the victorious John Longden-trained Circle, who would be backed down to 7-5 favoritism in the Longacres Mile.
Five days before the 1972 Mile, Hollingsworth approached Red Wind’s trainer, Glen Williams, and proposed a new strategy for the Mile. Hollingsworth asked Williams if it would be okay to rate Red Wind and bring him from off the pace in the Mile. Williams gave Hollingsworth the green light.
Red Wind vied head-and-head for the run to the clubhouse turn after exiting post 2. But Hollingsworth rated Red Wind, allowing him to drop all the way back to sixth nearing the far turn while racing alongside the inside rail. In a ride that was a masterpiece, Hollingsworth never left the rail while Red Wind came on in the final quarter to win by a nose in a dramatic finish.
Briartic just missed. I have no doubt that Briartic would have won instead of having to settle for second at 5-1 in the wagering if he had not been fanned extremely wide into the lane. Circle finished third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Briartic.
Red Wind, off at 8-1, paid $19.70 for each $2 win ticket.
Slew’s Tiz Whiz, off at 3-1, returned $8.80 for each $2 win wager. At $3.40 to $1, he was the second choice in the betting. Top Executive, who finished fourth, was the favorite at $3.20 to $1.
In the era before hundredths, Red Wind’s final time in the 1972 Mile was 1:34 flat, which broke Longacres’ track record of 1:34 2/5 set by Quality Quest in 1955.
Slew’s Tiz Whiz completed his mile journey in 1:34.46 (1:34 2/5 in fifths). He recorded an 88 Beyer Speed Figure.
Below are the Beyer Speed Figures for Longacres Mile winners going back to 1992 (run at Longacres in 1992, at Yakima Meadows in 1993-95, at Emerald Downs 1996-present):
2022 Slew’s Tiz Whiz (88)
2021 Background (82)
2020 Anothertwistafate (93)
2019 Law Abidin Citizen (96)
2018 Barkley (94)
2017 Gold Rush Dancer (97)
2016 Point Piper (103)
2015 Stryker Phd (99)
2014 Stryker Phd (97)
2013 Herbie D (100)
2012 Taylor Said (98)
2011 Awesome Gem (96)
2010 Noosa Beach (99)
2009 Assessment (94)
2008 Wasserman (90)
2007 The Great Face (91)
2006 Flamethrowintexan (101)
2005 No Giveaway (93)
2004 Adreamisborn (99)
2003 Sky Jack (105)
2002 Sabertooth (96)
2001 Irisheyesareflying (100)
2000 Edneator (104)
1999 Budroyale (106)
1998 Wild Wonder (111)
1997 Kid Katabatic (105)
1996 Isitingood (105)
1995 L.J. Express (94)
1994 Want a Winner (87)
1993 Adventuresome Love (93)
1992 Bolulight (106)
THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
The Top 10 is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 311 Life Is Good (19)
2. 303 Flightline (13)
3. 263 Jackie’s Warrior
4. 159 Clairiere
5. 142 Epicenter (1)
6. 114 Country Grammer
7. 105 Nest
8. 102 Olympiad
9. 51 Hot Rod Charlie
10. 41 Regal Glory
LONGINES BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC RANKINGS
The Top 10 is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 260 Flightline (18)
2. 236 Life Is Good (6)
3. 172 Epicenter (2)
4. 160 Country Grammer (1)
5. 117 Hot Rod Charlie
6. 112 Olympiad
7. 98 Happy Saver
8. 71 Royal Ship
9. 69 Cyberknife
10. 63 Charge It