This past Saturday hosted the 139th Kentucky Derby, one of the oldest and most revered sporting events in America, a legendary horse race steeped in unique tradition and lore. Sipping their mint juleps and fanning themselves with ridiculous hats, 150,000 spectators watched heavy favorite Orb race to a comfortable victory at Churchill Downs. As only the fourth favorite to win the Derby in the past 33 years, Orb already has fans excited at the prospect of the sport’s first Triple Crown winner since 1978 – especially after I’ll Have Another gave everyone blue balls last year by winning the Derby and Preakness, then being forced into retirement by injury before he could run the Belmont Stakes. Of course, every time somebody brings up the Triple Crown, the conversation naturally steers towards one of the last winners of the hallowed prize, and one of the most dominant competitors in American sports history: Secretariat.
Secretariat is the rare example of an athlete living up to and going far beyond the massive hype (according to an ESPN special) – think LeBron James level of expectations and production. In his Triple Crown year of 1973, he not only annihilated every other steed in each race, but he set track records in all three that still stand today, 40 years later. All three tracks! That still stand even with today’s juiced-up horses and technology! At the Derby, Secretariat ran each quarter-mile faster than the previous one – meaning he accelerated throughout the entire race – and became one of only three horses* to crack the two-minute mark in the 139 years of the Derby. At Preakness, Secretariat started out slow but flew through the pack from last to first, finishing with a controversial time that only last year was officially declared to be the track record (yes, horse racing is friggin’ absurd). And at Belmont, Secretariat dominated so thoroughly that he won by 31 lengths, which as you’ll see below is a shitload, and no other horse has come within two seconds of his record time.
Here he is at Preakness quite literally leaving the rest of the pack in the dust:
And here he is at Belmont wiping the floor with the other horses to win the Crown, as the cameraman tries and fails to keep him in the frame:
Secretariat won a ton of other races too, but these are the only ones that really matter, and the ones for which he’s remembered. No other horse has had such a dominant year as he did in 1973, and his records may never be broken. Too bad he isn’t still around for Tom Brady to bet on.
*In one of the more frustrating sports stories, one of the three horses to run a sub-2:00 Derby is Sham – the steed who came in second behind Secretariat at the Derby and Preakness, and who ALSO broke the track record at both venues. If not for Secretariat, Sham would hold the Kentucky Derby record, possibly the Preakness record, and may not have fallen apart at Belmont, thereby potentially securing him the Triple Crown. Need an equivalent to how bad that sucks? Remember Yohan Blake? Probably not, right? Blake is the Jamaican sprinter who broke the 100-meter and 200-meter Olympic records last summer in London, and who already held the world record in each, making him the fastest man in the world…or all that WOULD be true, if not for physical freak Usain Bolt. If Bolt never existed, Blake would hold all those records plus a couple shiny gold medals instead of those dull silver ones. But Bolt does exist, so Blake isn’t even the fastest guy in his own country. Must be a tough life, huh?