April 28, 2015

I’m Reblogging this terrific post from Old Friends. It’s time for the Kentucky Derby. Without a doubt, my favorite winner (other than Secretariat – and y’all know how I feel about him) was Silver Charm. He had the same sire as our Untarnished, and he was born and raised on the farm from whom we bought Untarnished’s mom, Permanent Cut. I got to know Bonnie’s Poker (Silver Charm’s mom) while she lived at Old Friends. I can’t wait to go and visit him – and all the other wonderful horses at Old Friends later this spring or early summer.

In the meantime, I’m trying to heal from foot surgery (in case you were wondering why I hadn’t been around for a while). I promise to start blogging again in the very near future.

Old Friends Blog

Hall-of-Famers Bob Baffert and Silver Charm share a playful moment. Hall-of-Famers Silver Charm and his trainer, Bob Baffert, share a playful moment. Photo by Tim W.

…Speaking of wonderful moments shared between our residents and their connections, here’s one that happened today. I wish I could describe the reminiscing shared by 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm and his trainer Bob Baffert when Bob, Jill and Bode Baffert took time out from their busy pre-Derby schedules to visit Old Friends.

A Silver Charm brings good racing luck, they say... Are the two veteran Derby winners exchanging perspectives on how Saturday’s race will play out? Photo by Tim W.

Or the welcome Game On Dude gave them, especially Jill–smart horses like the Dude know who loves them the very best of all.

The best of friends. Jill Baffert, Bode Baffert and Game On Dude enjoy each other's company. Photo by Tim W. The best of friends. Jill Baffert, Bode Baffert, Bob Baffert and Game On Dude enjoy each other’s company. Photo by Tim W.

I wish I could describe the memorable time they all had being together again…

View original post 120 more words

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Solid Chrome – Part 3: No Triple This Year

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California Chrome Yes, We're ALL Looking at You, Kid!

California Chrome
Yes, We’re ALL Looking at You, Kid!

I had hoped (as had millions and millions of others) that California Chrome was going to be the latest Triple Crown winner. I had all kinds of comparative information all set up to discuss the similarities and differences between California Chrome’s Triple and those of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. I’ve been around for all of those. Only once since Secretariat, though, have I been so emotionally involved. It’s partially because Secretariat was the most amazing horse who ever looked through a bridle. Having been raised on stories of Man O’War (I read everything I could get my hands on about him as a child), I thought Secretariat was the first “Big Red” reincarnate. Perhaps he was. Another part of it could be that there had been the longest (until now) stretch between Triple Crown winners – 25 years.

Tony Leonard's Iconic Photo of Secretariat at the Belmont

Tony Leonard’s Iconic Photo of Secretariat at the Belmont

Seattle Slew (Photo from Sports Illustrated)

Seattle Slew
(Photo from Sports Illustrated)

Affirmed - Our Last Triple Crown Winner (Photo from CNN)

Affirmed – Our Last Triple Crown Winner
(Photo from CNN)

I absolutely want to take nothing away from Seattle Slew or Affirmed. Both were amazing horses who completed the heroic challenge of winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. All bested the best of their generations. I think part of the reason that their accomplishments took something of a back-seat in my mind was that, similar to the multiple Triple Crown winners of the 1940s, several happened in a very short time. Perhaps we got a little spoiled; perhaps a little jaded.

California Chrome Wins 140th Kentucky Derby (Matthew Stockman /Getty Images)

California Chrome Wins 140th Kentucky Derby
(Matthew Stockman /Getty Images)

This year, we had California Chrome. The whole story around this horse was “made for movies.” Actually, had anyone tried to script this, it would have been tossed for being too implausible. No one would ever believe that two complete neophytes to the art/business of breeding thoroughbreds could possible buy an $8,000 failed mare, breed her to a bargain ($2,500) stallion and end up with a horse that would end up 1-¾ lengths from winning the Triple Crown. Who does that? Steve Coburn and Perry Martin did. All of the back stories have been covered intensely, so I’m not going to rehash them. I do want to say that, as a former, very small-time breeder, these two were AND STILL ARE my heroes. I keep looking at them and saying, “That could have been me.” They are living proof that even the smallest of small-time can end up with a “freak” – a horse who doesn’t realize he’s not supposed to be that good – a horse that God gifted with the speed, endurance and personality to captivate and capture the American racing scene.

Steve Coburn with his Champion!

Steve Coburn with his Champion!

I’m not going to go into the human aftermath of the race because I feel it’s been covered ad nauseum. All I’m willing to say is that, while Steve Coburn probably should have just quietly said, “I don’t want to talk now, I want to go look after my horse.”, I completely understand the well of emotions that exploded in him when he watched his champion injured and defeated at the hooves of other horses. That was especially true due to the fact that the first two horses were completely “new shooters.” Only Medal Count in third had competed in any of the other Triple Crown races. It was a bitter pill and the reality blew up in Steve Coburn’s face.

Barbara Livingston's Photo of California Chrome's Foot After the 2014 Belmont Stakes

Barbara Livingston’s Photo of California Chrome’s Foot After the 2014 Belmont Stakes

The heel will heal in a few weeks. The scrape to Chrome’s leg/tendon probably is already gone. What I hope lingers is the magic that enveloped us all for so many weeks. I am also hopeful that this intense campaign hasn’t taken too much out of California Chrome. Huratio Luro, the great horseman and trainer of Northern Dancer, once said it was important to not squeeze the lemon too dry. Winning the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes is an amazing feat. Chrome really doesn’t have anything more to “prove,” but I hope he does come back and get back on the winning track this year. I also would love to see him continue to grow, strengthen, and come back as a four- or even five-year-old. As he gets larger, stronger and even more confident, he could show us an even better Chrome.

Silver Charm Winning 1997 Kentucky Derby

Silver Charm Winning 1997 Kentucky Derby

One last bit of business. Perhaps you caught my allusion earlier, “Only once since Secretariat, though, have I been so emotionally involved.” That “once” was in 1997. Another horse with a “metal” in his name was poised on the brink of winning the Triple Crown. Eerily, this horse won his Kentucky Derby on May 3 (like California Chrome), his Preakness on May 17 (like California Chrome), but lost his Belmont on June 7 (like California Chrome). This horse was Silver Charm. He also was a horse who came from California. However, his ownership and trainer were part of the everyday fabric of American horse racing. Bob and Beverly Lewis were the owners and Bob Baffert was his trainer. The Lewises were always a class act, so for their horse to win the Triple Crown might not have been such a huge surprise.

Untarnished's Jockey Club Registration Photo (1990)

Untarnished’s Jockey Club Registration Photo (1990)

So, why was I so emotionally invested in Silver Charm? That’s an easy one. Silver Charm was bred in Florida on the farm of the Heath family. Bonne Heath and Jack Dudley (the man who sold us our very first broodmare) were partners for years. They are part of the Needles connection. I’d like to think that Silver Buck’s dam (mother), Bonnie’s Poker (who retired, lived and was loved at Old Friends in Kentucky), and my mare might have actually looked through the fence at each other over the years. Even more compelling is the fact that Silver Charm’s sire (father) was Silver Buck. The sire of the baby that Permanent Cut was carrying when we bought her was also Silver Buck. While it’s true that stallions can have over one hundred offspring per year, I always considered Silver Charm as a half-brother of our filly, Untarnished. Untarnished died from colic a couple of years before Silver Charm’s heroics so I always felt like he brought a little of her back to the racing world and to me.

Untarnished as a Baby With Permanent Cut

Untarnished as a Baby With Permanent Cut

Little Untarnished with Me

Little Untarnished with Me

Happy Times Untarnished as a Yearling with Me

Happy Times
Untarnished as a Yearling with Me

Up Next: Back to Normal – Michigan’s Lumberjack Festival

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Continue reading

This Chrome is Solid Gold – Part 2: Two Down…

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How do you feel about your "competition?"

How do you feel about your “competition?”

I had planned to talk about California Chrome’s early years, but the coverage of the first two races has been so complete, I’m sure you’ve heard just about everything there is to tell about him prior to the Kentucky Derby.

 

Since the Kentucky Derby, I’ve found that there is a very personal connection with California Chrome. It was my great pleasure to find out that one of the Kalitta family of companies (Kalitta Air, Kalitta Charters, and K2) had the distinct honor of flying California Chrome from Louisville to Baltimore. My friends, who know what a huge fan I am, sent me a couple of photos of California Chrome on the plane. It wasn’t as though I actually needed another reason to cheer for Chrome, but it sure added to the personal enjoyment.

California Chrome on K2 flight from Louisville to Baltimore

California Chrome on K2 flight from Louisville to Baltimore

 

California Chrome in his stall on K2 aircraft

California Chrome in his stall on K2 aircraft

California Chrome leaves K2 aircraft for ride to Pimlico

California Chrome leaves K2 aircraft for ride to Pimlico

I also want to touch on how wonderful I think it is that Art Sherman, California Chrome’s trainer, was able to train a Kentucky Derby winner after accompanying the great Swaps on the train from California to win the 1955 Kentucky Derby. Sherman was Swaps regular work rider and he slept in the straw with Swaps all the way east. I also think it’s incredibly touching that he visited Swaps’ grave before this Derby and asked the great one to imbue Chrome with some of his toughness. I believe that was one request that was granted.

 

Art Sherman with California Chrome

Art Sherman with California Chrome

 

The Great Swaps

The Great Swaps

 

Chromie's Favorite Trick Stealing the Hat off Alan Sherman's (Art's Son & Assistant Trainer) Head

Chromie’s Favorite Trick
Stealing the Hat off Alan Sherman’s (Art’s Son & Assistant Trainer) Head

One more shout-out regarding the Kentucky Derby. It goes to California Chrome’s spectacular “pony” horse. When I saw the pony leading Chrome in the Kentucky Derby, I could swear he looked like an old friend – Perfect Drift. The more I saw the pony, the more I concentrated on HIM rather than Chrome (which, my friends, is really saying something). I could have sworn it was Perfect Drift. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know how much I have always adored Perfect Drift. I’ve been a huge fan of Perfect Drift ever since he started racing. Having bred to Dynaformer, all his horses (especially Perfect Drift and Barbaro) have been favorites. I visited Drift at the Kentucky Derby Museum while he was their “representative.”

Perfect Drift at The Kentucky Derby Museum

Perfect Drift at The Kentucky Derby Museum

Susan Salk in one of the other blogs I follow did a bang-up piece on Perfect Drift in his new job as “pony” in her blog http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/ That’s when I knew for certain I was right. Chrome’s pony horse was my old pal, Perfect Drift. I hope she doesn’t mind that I borrowed one of her photos from her blog. If you head over to her blog, I think you will really enjoy it. I read every one of her posts and have loved to hear the happy stories of “off the track” thoroughbreds in their new lives.

Perfect Drift Ponying California Chrome at the Kentucky Derby

Perfect Drift Ponying California Chrome at the Kentucky Derby

If you watched the Preakness Stakes, you saw that Chromie (affectionately Tweeted and written about as #Chromie) broke well from the gate. This is really important for Chromie. He has had a history of having to overcome poor “breaks” (starts) from the gate. This time, he was rocking forward. It’s not that he’s a bad actor in the starting gate. There are horses who constantly fight going into the starting gate, or flip over, or just flat won’t go in at all. Chrome is anxious. He rocks back and forth with anticipation. He’s getting better with each race, it seems; and one can only hope that he will be rocking forward when they pop the gates at Belmont Park on June 7.

 

California Chrome in Preakness Winners' Circle

California Chrome in Preakness Winners’ Circle

Now, we’re on the brink of the first Triple Crown (Chrome?) in 36 years. Without going into all of the negative press horse racing has gotten just over the past few months, I can confidently say that we sure could use a Triple “Chrome” winner now more than ever. This is especially true for this particular horse with his storybook background, working-class owners, and septuagenarian trainer.

California Chrome Racing with History?

California Chrome
Racing with History?

A whole cottage industry has sprung up around California Chrome. Tee-shirts and other garments are being printed with DAP (Dumb Ass Partners – the ownership’s racing name) colors and logos and California Chrome’s name (or #Chromie). Many of the parties selling these items are donating a percentage of their sales to my dear friends at Old Friends – A Kentucky Facility for Retired Thoroughbreds (http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/ ). If you’re interested in checking out some of these items, Teespring.com and Etsy have them. I, personally, do not have any financial interest nor do I receive any funds from any of these, but I have made purchases for myself.

California Chrome Sure Doesn't Look Like He's Stressed

California Chrome
Sure Doesn’t Look Like He’s Stressed

As the Belmont Stakes gets closer, I hope to be blogging more about this year’s Triple Crown and the sense of destiny surrounding California Chrome. Stories like this don’t come along very often. As the adage goes, “A racehorse is an animal that can take several thousand people for a ride at the same time.” I sure am enjoying this ride. I’m praying that it takes all of us to the Winners’ Circle at Belmont Park on June 7; and California Chrome into the history books and his own slice of immortality.

 

California Chrome Yes, We're ALL Looking at You, Kid!

California Chrome
Yes, We’re ALL Looking at You, Kid!

 

Up Next: Solid Chrome

 

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Title: This Chrome is Solid Gold – Part 1 (The Beginning)

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California Chrome Wins 140th Kentucky Derby (Matthew Stockman /Getty Images)

California Chrome Wins 140th Kentucky Derby
(Matthew Stockman /Getty Images)

Every once in a great while a story comes along that seems “made for movies.” The story of California Chrome and his connections is one of the most heartwarming yet improbable to come along in a very long time. California Chrome, the Kentucky Derby (and Santa Anita Derby) winner is a horse that everyone can love. It would be an amazing story if it was just what the horse, himself, has overcome to become the horse that the world would love to see become the next Triple Crown winner; but that’s only part of the story.

Having been a very small-time thoroughbred breeder/owner, I can tell you that what has happened for the Coburns and the Martins (lovingly naming their partnership “Dumbass Partners” – hence the DAP and funny-looking donkey on their racing silks) is pure magic of the very best kind. These are regular people. They get up at 4:30 in the morning and go to work like all the rest of us. They got the name for their group because friends told them that they were “dumbasses” for getting into the thoroughbred business. Some (and I’m included) have called having a magnificent horse like this “catching lightning in a bottle.” I think it’s even more. I think that God, very rarely, reaches down his finger and lightly touches a foal and says, “This one.” California Chrome must have gotten that loving touch. There’s no other way to explain how complete neophytes to the business of horse breeding and racing can pull together their savings to purchase a mare for $8,000 (and who was not successful racing) and breed her to a stallion who has excellent bloodlines but is not very commercially successful that stands for a $2,500 fee and get blessed to have the result be California Chrome.

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge and thank everyone at “Blood-Horse”, but most especially Mr. Steve Haskin. Without Mr. Haskin’s great reporting and the wonderful photos from “Blood-Horse,” I wouldn’t be able to tell you as much of the story as I now can.

Mr. Haskin is, to my mind, the premier equine-related journalist in the country today. His ability to paint pictures with his words is remarkable. Rather than paraphrase, I’d like to directly quote liberally and directly from Mr. Haskin’s blog on “Blood-Horse”…

“California Chrome Was Flashy From the Start”

From the time he was a foal at Harris Farms in California’s Central Valley, California Chrome made sure people noticed him. With his flashy markings, the chestnut colt was easy to spot, but he also seemed to seek out attention—in a good way.

In spite of a shaky beginning, the likely favorite for the” (and now winner of the) “140th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) was easy to remember for the people who put him on his original path to the races. And everyone you speak with at the full-service breeding establishment near Coalinga—whether it’s farm veterinarian Dr. Jeanne Bowers-Lepore, horse division general manager Dave McGlothlin, trainer Per Antonsen, or owner John Harris himself—the recollection is entirely positive.

“He was a little bit under the radar that way,” said Bowers-Lepore, who has been taking care of the horses at Harris Farms since 1992. “He never gave us much trouble, he was always good about things like taking medication or worming. He didn’t do terrible things. He was always the type who liked to greet you, look you in the eye.”

California often sends horses to the Derby, but hasn’t had a homegrown winner since Decidedly in 1962. That makes California Chrome, a son of fast-rising stallion Lucky Pulpit   (who stands at Harris Farms for his owners, Mr. and Mrs. Larry D. Williams) extra special to the state’s breeders and owners.

“We’re absolutely excited about the Derby,” said McGlothlin. “The entire California racing industry is rooting for him.”

“My fingers are so, so crossed,” said Bowers-Lepore.”

“California Chrome’s owners and first-time breeders—Perry and Denise Martin of Yuba City, Calif., and Steve and Carolyn Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nev.—swear they knew the colt was something special the moment they saw him. He was less than 24 hours old and they were referring to him as their Derby horse.

It’s something the Harris folks hear often from newcomers to the business. “You don’t want to pour cold water on their dreams,” said Harris, who ironically has been trying for decades to breed a Derby starter. “But they were very optimistic from the start about their colt. He did everything right (while at Harris Farms). But there was nothing to indicate he would turn out to be like this.”

The most special thing about the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner” (and now Kentucky Derby winner) “as a youngster? He never got sick, never got hurt, never did anything bad. First to the feed tub and first to the fence, the young colt got along well with his fellow pasture mates and liked to outrun them. And he enjoyed interaction with his people. Although he wasn’t the biggest colt in the pasture, you could say he was the brightest.

He also was a people horse from day one.

That affinity for people, much commented on during his current run of success with trainer Art Sherman, probably stems from his earliest imprinting, says Bowers-Lepore. It was the result of a difficult start in life, she said. His dam, the Not For Love mare Love the Chase, suffered life-threatening complications in delivery of the bigger-than-average 137-pound baby, her first foal on Feb. 18, 2011.”

“Love the Chase needed quite a bit of treatment over several weeks, but she responded. As her wound healed, she spent more than a month stall-bound.

California Chrome with his "mom" Love the Chase (photo from The Blood-Horse)

California Chrome
with his “mom” Love the Chase
(photo from The Blood-Horse)

While his mother recuperated, the foal nicknamed “Junior” was always at her side, confined to a stall with only a short run to exercise in. Love the Chase—never one to seek out attention—wasn’t in a mood for people, but Junior soaked up the strokes.

“She responded okay to treatment,” Bowers-Lepore said of Love the Chase. “But most importantly, she didn’t reject him. Sometimes, with a young mare, something like this happens and they will reject the foal.”

He got used to the attention of other vets and handlers, always being touched, always watching and listening; he learned to anticipate what people wanted him to do.

 

California Chrome Baby Photo with Love the Chase (his mom) (photo from The Blood-Horse)

California Chrome
Baby Photo with Love the Chase (his mom)
(photo from The Blood-Horse)

“I think it was from that experience that he enjoys people,” she said.

It’s interesting to contemplate that were it not for the fact that Love the Chase failed to conceive in her first try at pregnancy, California Chrome might not ever have been born. As has been well-chronicled, she wasn’t much of a runner and was purchased for $8,000 off the track in 2009 by the Martins and Perrys, who previously owned 5% of her through a Blinkers On racing syndicate.

Redattore was their first choice as a sire, but when she didn’t take the first time, they could not take her back to him because he had moved to Brazil. The owners then opted the following year for Lucky Pulpit, and the resulting foal became California Chrome. After a year off to fully recover from her injury, Love the Chase has been bred back twice more to the popular son of Pulpit, producing two fillies.

And after the close call with his dam, California Chrome was quickly on his way. McGlothlin, the farm manager, said he was easy to spot in the field with some of the other weanlings on the farm.

“He was always very flashy,” he said. “Because the mare was injured he wasn’t allowed to go out in the field with the others. But once he was able to, he was always a little bit of a character; he had a little bit of an edge.”

After weaning, California Chrome was sent to the River Ranch facility, a 140-acre site with much grassy pastureland about an hour’s drive from the main horse farm where he and other yearlings are sent. It was there that California Chrome got most of his early socialization.

Craig Allen, assistant manager at River Ranch, remembered him well as part of a five-horse grouping selected by size and temperament. A couple of others in his band have also found success on the track including Well Measured, most recently third in the April 5 Echo Eddie Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

Allen said Chrome got along well with his mates. “He wasn’t one of the colts that was in a fight every day. He was certainly alpha enough that he got the feed tub second after the babysitter (an older horse that helps keep the youngsters calm).

“He was one of the leaders of the pasture but he didn’t get a lot of boxer’s cuts (from kicks or other skirmishes),” Allen said. “He was always very manageable. Every horse that age is going to try you—they’re teenagers. But once you let him know (who’s boss), he understood and he settled down.

“I think part of his personality comes from being touched every day. That’s a big part of our program here, human contact. He was always looking forward to seeing us. He was the first to greet us when we approached; it was like he was asking, ‘Are you here to see me?’ ”

After several months at River Ranch, he was returned to the main farm to begin training under Antonsen. The Denmark native has been in charge of that aspect of young horse development for the past 33 years. He also had fond memories of California Chrome.

“He was always a great horse to work with, a pleasure to work with,” Antonsen recalled. “He possessed a long stride and he was very precocious. He loved training and he was just a natural athlete. But you never know how good they’re going to turn out to be. There are so many factors.

“I’ve had some good ones, going back to Tiznow,” he noted. “There was no way of telling that he (California Chrome) would be this special. But he never missed a day of training. That’s amazing for a young horse. They are always getting sniffles or a snotty nose, a cough, or hurting their shins. I remember he used to bite a little bit, but nothing serious, just a little nippy. And he always ate up all his food.

“He was not a huge horse, a little on the narrow side. He did not have a big rear end but he doesn’t seem to need one. He took to racing naturally, learned how to switch leads very quickly; he was very smart and he seemed to take everything in stride.”

Watching California Chrome progress along the Derby trail has been amazing, he said.

“It’s very gratifying,” Antonsen said. “We’ve been breeding horses for many, many years here, and we’ve had some good ones. But we’ve never gotten one to the Kentucky Derby.”

Dr. Bowers-Lepore said she recalled Antonsen telling the Martins and the Coburns, ‘You are going to have a lot of fun with that horse.’ I don’t know if he thought they’d be having this kind of fun, though.”

 

Up Next: This Chrome is Solid Gold – Part 2 (Early Races)

 

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Secretariat and Me

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my blog, WELCOME! (One more hint: If you click on any of the photos in the blog, they should open up in a browser window so you can get a better look!)

The Incomparable Secretariat (photo taken at Claiborne Farm)

The Incomparable Secretariat
(photo taken at Claiborne Farm)

So, what’s this about Secretariat? THAT Secretariat? Yes, there was only one; and in 2013 racing celebrated the 40th anniversary of his amazing Triple Crown. Even if you don’t follow horse racing closely, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Super Horse of 1973 (and 1972)! Secretariat was a phenomenon. He was not undefeated in his career, but – in my mind – that only goes to prove that this was a flesh and blood athlete who, when he was at the top of his game, was the best that ever was. The 44th anniversary of his birth is rapidly approaching (March 30), so I wanted to make certain that my remembrance was posted before the celebration.

 

Secretariat's Amazing Leap at the Preakness 1973

Secretariat’s Amazing Leap at the Preakness 1973

There are those who say that Man O’War was better. I couldn’t say for certain. I don’t know that anyone truly can. Those who saw them both run couldn’t even agree. Let’s just put all that to bed and say that they both were bright, immensely talented, beautiful-to-look-at, beings who inspired legions with their ability to run. They were immediate celebrities who captured the attention and imaginations of generations. That’s a lot to say about one horse – let alone, two.

Secretariat also came into our lives at a time where the country desperately needed a hero. We had been through years of the tortuous and divisive war in Vietnam. On the heels of that, there was the Watergate scandal. To say that there were a great number of us (especially those of my age group) who were becoming increasingly disillusioned was putting it mildly. This was the early times of the “hippie” movement and counter-culture. Secretariat was a bright, shining beacon of truth and beauty. Even those who had never seen a horse race or had any previous interest in horses tuned into the innocence and power of the amazing, chestnut. Secretariat, in full flight, was almost a mythical beast. His stride (which later turned out to be the greatest measured) ate the ground. He was poetry in motion. It was a kind of beauty that almost everyone could appreciate.

Secretariat is so iconic that the greats have photographed him

Tony Leonard's Iconic Photo of Secretariat at the Belmont

Tony Leonard’s Iconic Photo of Secretariat at the Belmont

(this example is the famous photo of Secretariat at the Belmont by the late, great photographer, Tony Leonard),

Fred Stone's "Final Tribute" - Secretariat

Fred Stone’s “Final Tribute” – Secretariat

and painted him (this is Secretariat – Final Tribute by the incomparable, Fred Stone).

Much has been written about Secretariat the race horse. There have been terrific books (I especially like the one written by William Nack) and even a feature movie about him. This post is a more personal look at the great horse as I knew him.

My “relationship” with Secretariat came many years after his heroics on the track. As you may have learned from earlier posts, my husband and I were in the thoroughbred breeding and racing business for a number of years. My first visit to Secretariat, though, pre-dated that time in our lives, but not by much. Did meeting him have any bearing on our decision to go into the business of breeding and racing horses? Probably, but not directly.

 

My first encounter with the Great One:

We were living in Georgia, and took a road trip to visit family in Michigan. On the way back, we stopped first in Louisville, Kentucky. One of the pamphlets available at the Kentucky visitor’s center outlined different tour groups that were available to the general public to visit horse farms in the bluegrass. I have been “horse crazy” all my life. (Perhaps that’s a by-product of being born in Kentucky.) We called and requested a tour to Claiborne Farm where Secretariat held court. The tour company said that they would do their best, but that there were no guarantees. We told them where we’d be staying in Lexington and they said they would leave word as to whether or not they were able to book the tour.

When we arrived in Lexington, this message awaited us!

The Note

The Note

I have to say that I honestly don’t remember any of the details beginning at this point until we arrived at Claiborne. I’m sure I enjoyed the amazing scenery (beautiful tree-lined roads and the stacked-stone fences of Paris Pike), but my only thoughts were that I’d actually get to see the horse that I’d dreamt of for so many years.

I do know that I thought I would see Secretariat (or “Red” as I came to call him later) in his paddock and at a distance. Imagine my amazement when he was led out of his stall on a lead and brought in our direction. I’m sure I was breathing; but, at that moment, everything else was blocked out of my vision. Walking right up to me was the most amazing horse of all time.

My First Brush with Greatness

My First Brush with Greatness

Secretariat  - Oh, yes, that's me touching him

Secretariat – Oh, yes, that’s me touching him

As you can see from these photos, I got to actually “touch” him. I couldn’t be bothered to take the camera. I only wanted to stand next to him and spend all the time I could in his presence. Funny thing, the big guy knew he was being adored. I’m sure that he was used to being shown to people from the time he was a foal. His whole life had been documented by famous photographers and award-winning authors. He was totally happy being fussed over by his public. He was the consummate gentleman. From the moment I first met him, I knew I had to take every opportunity afforded me to visit.

Secretariat and Me (Yes, he was THAT easy to love)

Secretariat and Me
(Yes, he was THAT easy to love)

It was quite shortly after that visit that we entered the thoroughbred business. Jim and I made many trips to Lexington to evaluate potential mates for our mare, Permanent Cut. Each time, we would visit Claiborne to both see the stallions we might possibly purchase seasons to and to visit Red. We never failed to bring the requisite “starlight” mints. Each time we approached his stall door, I’d start to un-wrap a mint (I must mention that we always got permission first). Red sure knew that sound. He’d nicker and have his head out of the door before we could get there. After giving him the mint, he’d stand like a child’s pony to be rubbed and fussed over.

Secretariat Reaching for a Starlight Mint

Secretariat Looking for a Starlight Mint

The last time this scenario played out was when we were visiting just prior to the 1989 Kentucky Derby. We visited again in August, but were told that Red wasn’t feeling well and might not come to the door. We were also told that we shouldn’t offer him a mint. We walked to the stall door and looked in. Secretariat was standing in the back of his stall facing away. I called to him and he turned his head, but didn’t walk over. I could tell, then, that he wasn’t feeling well, but had no idea how badly he was doing.

Secretariat & Me (The Pretty One's in Front)

Secretariat & Me
(The Pretty One’s in Front)

On October 4, 1989, I was driving home from work in Atlanta. The radio started to report the death of Secretariat. I had to pull into the nearest parking lot. I sat there, at first in shock, then crying my eyes out and sobbing. It took quite a long time until I could compose myself long enough to drive home. Once home, I told Jim that I’d heard that Red was gone. It was on all the evening news stations. Even 16 years after his Triple Crown triumph, Secretariat was news. He was a legend in his own time.

Many terrific horses have come and gone since Secretariat. Some have caught the imagination of many; however, none have inspired such a multitude as Secretariat has. To this day, with the recent Disney movie, Red is captivating a whole new legion of fans – many whose parents weren’t even alive when Secretariat blazed into history. I’m just so very grateful that I was able to see this spectacular being, not only break all the records with his racing, but to get to know the horse, himself.

I doubt that there will ever be another.

 

Up Next: Funny Horse Stories

 

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