The seventies had it all.

Disco, fat Elvis, short shorts on NBA players, and oil embargoes. What’s a decade without a quality embargo?

And the thing that concerns most folks who read this itty-bitty column is the horse racing. Affirmed, Seattle Slew, and BIG Red —Secretari-WHO?

(When I get a whiff of strong cinnamon, say, a stick of Big Red, I’m a kid again riding shotgun with my Dad who is drinking a Busch Light. We are on our way to Building 19 (a place that makes Wal-Mart look like Macy’s) to buy God-knows-what. Hmmm, in the time to read that paragraph the flavor of a stick of Big Red expired faster than me on Prom night. OK, I went home on Prom night, but part of that is believable.)

Still, you know who did have staying power? Secretari-HUH!

Turfdom is talking up, down, and around Disney’s take on the 1973 Triple Crown winner. There will never be another horse like him. He is the greatest horse of all time (And, get this, he lost a few races.)

There’s a saying I’ve heard a number of times from different folks that when they describe horse racing that, ‘Secretariat’s not coming through that door.’ Yet here he is.

I don’t know whose idea it was to make this movie, which, mind you, I haven’t seen. Is it better to share in the past of Seabiscuit and Secretari-WHAT!? Or is it best to move on.

Big Red even makes curmudgeon turf writers think about roses, babies, puppies, and rainbows. The horse did make the cover to TIME Magazine, checkered blinkers and all.

Everyone in this game wishes it could be mainstream. It’s probably safe to say that every turf writer came into the sport thinking, ‘Why don’t more people like this?’ then try to convey that in their writing. Soon enough they get beat down by its culture and tada! a seasoned turf writer is born. The only saving grace is the late Pick 4 on Derby Day or Breeders’ Cup Day(s).

Secretari-UH HUH embodies and encapsulates a time when people turned to racing for inspiration, yet I still can’t escape the idea that maybe all this reminiscing is bad. The game can’t move forward with a boot in 1973.

This movie has given Blood-Horse writer Steve Haskin a platform through which to revisit his relationship with Big Red. Most of the big writers all were enamored with Claiborne’s gem (Haskin has some wonderful art from the farm). William Nack’s piece, “Pure Heart,” remains one of my favorite stories of all time (except for his crying over Secretariat’s death, could’ve done without that, not because of machisimo, but for the undue attention it shines on the writer as character instead of responsible narrator. Pretension ends ... here.)

Where is the line between tasteful remembrance and tragic nostalgia? When it gets blurry our tires start to spin. We think that there is no day better than yesterday.

I have to think that racing was pretty darn crummy before Secretariat came along, probably not unlike how it is today. There hadn’t been a Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948. Disco balls still had seven more years of twinkling glory, and there’s only so much cocaine to go around. Then along came this monster and set the world on its proper axis. He was Jack Shepherd taking one for the team in “Lost.” What Sec did most of all was restore energy and faith to the equine athlete and fan. And maybe that’s why there’s so much buzz around a movie about a horse who died the same year the Berlin Wall came down.

Casual fans will flock to the movie (Oh, I remember him, won the Belmont by 73 lengths!). Racing fans will stampede to the movie if not out of excitement than to point out its obvious flaws.

All I know is that when I saw the close up of Secretariat’s eye in the starting gate it made me feel like I’d fallen into a vat of brownie batter.

Haskin writes, “ ... This is Disney, and on the feel-good meter, it registers a "10."


Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project Six Weeks in Saratoga and The Last Championship at The Blog Itself where he tirelessly awaits a willing publisher. Follow him on Twitter @BrendanOMeara. His Web site is