Oct. 16, 1989
Oct. 16, 1989

Table of Contents
Oct. 16, 1989

American League Playoffs
National League Playoffs
Dee Dowis
The Patricks
Tim Harris
First Person
Point After


Edited by Hank Hersch

BIG RED (1970-89)

This is an article from the Oct. 16, 1989 issue Original Layout

Secretariat was buried at dusk on Oct. 4 in the horse cemetery at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., and by the end of last week his grave was beginning to look like the final resting place of a celebrated war hero on Memorial Day. It was surrounded by red roses, chrysanthemums and carnations. Most of the flowers had been sent by people who were strangers to the Claiborne staff, "names we don't even recognize," said Annette Covault, manager of horse records. Over the next few days a steady stream of visitors, some bearing still more flowers, drove through the gates to visit the gravesite.

Famous stallions are buried every year in Kentucky, but in death as in life. Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner, set his own standards, evoking emotions as no other horse of recent times has. "I can't believe all these flowers," said Dell Hancock, one of the owners of Claiborne, as she stood near the cemetery. "You see all this, and you suddenly realize the impact he had on people."

No American racehorse since Man o' War, the fiery chestnut who won 20 of 21 races in 1919 and '20, has had Secretariat's mass appeal. In the 20th century three U.S. horses—Secretariat, Man o' War and Citation, the 1948 Triple Crown winner—are regarded as indubitable giants of their kind. Secretariat was, by consensus, the most gifted racehorse of the past 40 years, and he had a pedigree to match. He was a son of the preeminent American stallion, Bold Ruler, and the great broodmare Somethingroyal.

Secretariat was a picture horse with an extraordinarily deep shoulder, well-sprung ribs for heart and lung room, and well-developed hindquarters for propulsive power. As a 2-year-old he exploded on the scene as no juvenile had in years, winning seven of nine races. So overpowering were his performances that at season's end he was named the 1972 Horse of the Year, the only 2-year-old ever to be so honored.

Playful but poised, Secretariat sometimes behaved more like a puppy than a colt. One morning a reporter was standing in front of the horse's stall, writing in a spiral notebook, when Secretariat stretched his neck, seized the notebook in his teeth and retreated into the stall. Dropping the notebook on a bed of straw, he looked up at the reporter as if to say, "Well, dummy, are you just going to stand there?"

There was no clowning on the racetrack, though. Secretariat's quest for the Triple Crown was a tour de force. He won the 1¼-mile Kentucky Derby in 1:59⅖ still the fastest Derby time ever run, and the only one under two minutes. Two weeks later he won the Preakness at Pimlico—he was, in all probability, robbed of a track record because Pimlico's timing device went awry—and in the next three weeks, before the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat became a national celebrity as he sought to become the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. In the Belmont he put on what is widely perceived as the greatest performance in the history of the sport, covering the 1½-mile distance in 2:24 to win by an astounding 31 lengths. The time shattered the track record by 2[3/5] seconds. "His only point of reference is himself," Charles Hatton, the Daily Racing Form columnist, wrote afterward.

Secretariat sired 41 stakes winners; he was a disappointment at stud only to those who unfairly expected him to sire horses who were his equal. He lived at Claiborne for 16 years, and despite the illustrious gathering of stallions there, he remained unchallenged as the farm's central attraction. One day a few years ago, a stretch limousine pulled into the farm and out stepped a fashionably dressed woman. "May I see Secretariat?" she asked. For many minutes she watched him romp around his outdoor paddock. Finally, a groom asked if she wanted to see any of the other stallions. "No thank you," she said, then climbed back into the limo and sped away.

"Ten thousand people come here a year, and they don't give a darn about the more accomplished stallions," said Claiborne president Seth Hancock the day before Secretariat died. "All they want to do is see him. He's not a horse; he's a legend."

On Labor Day, Secretariat was diagnosed as having a mild case of laminitis—an inflammation of the inner tissues of the hooves—but he soon appeared to be recovering. Suddenly, on the morning of Oct. 3, he began experiencing extreme pain. The next morning, Hancock and the farm's resident veterinarian, Dr. Walter Kaufman, decided to put Secretariat down. At 11:45 a.m., groom Bobby Anderson loaded Secretariat into a van outside his stall, and Kaufman gave him a lethal injection. He died in less than a minute. He was buried in an oak coffin not far from the grave of Bold Ruler.

The time and the season suggested the lines that Hatton wrote to begin his essay on Secretariat at the close of that incomparable Triple Crown season:

"Weave for the mighty chestnut
A tributary crown
Of autumn flowers, the brightest then
When autumn leaves are brown
Hang up his bridle on the wall,
His saddle on the tree,
Till time shall bring some racing king
Worthy to wear as he!"


The NCAA Presidents Commission recommended some bold—and welcome—reforms at its two-day meeting in Kansas City, Mo., last week: shortening the basketball season and spring football practice, granting need-based financial aid to academically deficient freshman athletes, and requiring that schools report their athletes' graduation rates. All these proposals will be voted on at the full NCAA convention in Dallas in January.

The presidents' action was wrought in desperation. A recent barrage of bad news—including a congressional study that showed negligible graduation rates in many football and basketball programs, as well as the presidents' $1.75 million study of college sports, which ended up being nothing less than a scathing critique (SI, June 19)—was harsh proof that the system was failing. Then last week U.S. News & World Report released the results of a poll showing that 86% of college presidents and deans believe that big-time athletics encumber their efforts to attain educational goals.

Senator Bill Bradley (D., N.J.) and Representative Tom McMillen (D., Md.) are among the cosponsors of a bill stipulating that colleges annually report the graduation rates of athletes. The Presidents Commission's graduation-rate proposal, which is essentially the same thing, was an attempt to stave off federal action. Martin Massengale, chancellor of the University of Nebraska and chairman of the commission, expressed hope that adoption of the presidents' proposal at the January convention would preclude "further need for federal legislation."

Despite the obvious virtues of these measures, they will face rugged opposition at the NCAA convention, where the presidents' recent initiatives have been defeated. Massengale says there may be a roll-call vote in Dallas. That would effectively reveal where each school stands—behind improved conditions or the discredited status quo.


Twenty years ago, the Minnesota Twins had to give up four frontline players to pry righthander Luis Tiant, along with another pitcher, Stan Williams, away from the Cleveland Indians. Even now, at 48 (or so), El Tiante commands an outlandish sum. Just ask Russ Berrie, owner of Miami's Gold Coast Suns of the Florida-based Senior Professional Baseball Association. Berrie recently had to come up with 500 teddy bears to obtain the rights to Tiant from the Winter Haven Super Sox.

The Suns, you see, had no player the Super Sox wanted. And because Berrie sells gifts, he always has a sizable sloth of bears on hand. "We wanted to get something positive for Luis," says Sox owner Mitchell Maxwell, who will be giving the teddys away as a Christmastime promotion. At first Berrie struck the deal for a mere 300 bears, but when erroneous reports leaked that the trade had cost him 500, Berrie decided to up his ante. "It was for a good cause," says Berrie. "Besides, Tiant is worth more than 300 teddy bears."

PHOTODAVID ALLEN HARVEYThe flowers that arrived at Claiborne Farm are testimony to Secretariat's broad appeal.PHOTOJERRY COOKEThough retired at 3, Big Red is considered one of the three best U.S. horses of the century.ILLUSTRATIONPATRICK MCDONNELL


•John Wathan, Kansas City Royals manager, on a fan's banner proclaiming BO KNOWS BALLET, a play on Bo Jackson's Nike ads: "Bo may know ballet, but he'd need to wear a four-four instead of a tutu."