Secretariat, whose 1973 Triple Crown triumph stamped him as the people’s horse, was humanely destroyed at Claiborne Farm here Wednesday. He was 19, getting on for a horse but awfully young for a folk hero.
Secretariat’s 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes gave America its first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. In a year of turmoil that included Watergate and Vietnam, Americans latched onto him as though he were human.
“Secretariat was like the Arnold Palmer or Sugar Ray Leonard of horse racing,” John Sosby, manager at Claiborne Farm, once said. “He’s a people’s horse.”
Helen Chenery, who owned Secretariat when he was racing, said: “Maybe he was not the world’s greatest race horse, but he was a charismatic person.”
Gus Koch, assistant manager at Claiborne, where Secretariat stood at stud, said the stallion suffered from an incurable condition known as laminitis, an inflammation of the inside of the hoof.
The condition was diagnosed on Labor Day but Koch said that Secretariat’s condition “rapidly worsened” Tuesday, putting the chestnut stallion in “extreme pain for the first time.”
Koch said that Walter Kaufman, resident veterinarian at the farm, put the animal to sleep.
“When the inflammation occurs, swelling results,” Koch said. “And since there is little room for swelling (in the hoof), this is a very painful condition.
“Nobody wanted the horse to suffer and that’s commendable. Secretariat had a lot of class and he knew it. It’s a thrill to work around a horse like that. He knew who he was and what he was all about.”
Secretariat was buried in a 6 by 6-foot oak casket lined with orange silk, the color used by Claiborne’s racing stables. He was buried near his sire, Bold Ruler, in a small graveyard behind the office at the farm.
The brass nameplate on Secretariat’s stall door will remain there.
“Secretariat was a lot different than other horses,” Koch said. “He was a very special horse to all of us. He was admired by the horse world and fans all over the country.”
Not only did Secretariat win the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in record times, he probably also would have set a record in the Preakness if the timing equipment had not malfunctioned.
Secretariat won 16 of 21 races in two years, but most fans remember the Belmont best. Already a winner in the Derby and Preakness, Secretariat barreled down the stretch at Belmont Park, and, amazingly, he was alone. It was 31 lengths back to Twice a Prince.
Using the customary racing equivalent of one-fifth of a second per length, Secretariat was under the wire for 6 1/5 seconds before Twice a Prince came along.
Not since Citation won the Triple Crown in 1948 had any horse won all three races.
“To me, he was always No. 1, the greatest horse anybody ever saw,” said Lucien Laurin, who trained Secretariat. “Everybody thought he was going to be great before he ever started, and he was.”
Secretariat was also a bit of a ham. Spotting a camera, he’d strike a regal pose. Later, when visitors dropped by his 1 1/2-acre paddock, he charged down the hill, snorting and bellowing, putting on a show.
But Red, as the Claiborne farmhands referred to the burnished chestnut, was a slight disappointment in the breeding shed. He got 85% of his mares in foal but ranked only 25th among leading active sires.
His best offspring, Risen Star, won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1988 before retiring.
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