Gobsmacked is how I would describe my emotions as I listened to Ron Turcotte recall the events of the 1973 Triple Crown, the golden anniversary to be marked this Friday, June 9th, a racing date that will live in perpetuity.
“Í look at [the Belmont Stakes] on You Tube from time to time and it doesn’t seem that long ago, a refresher,” said the rider, both a passenger and a pilot as the mighty Secretariat “did things on his own. I never asked him,” explained Turcotte, “I was there to control him, to guide him.”
The rider was concerned about the colt’s preparations going into the 1973 Kentucky Derby coming off his shocking defeat in the Wood Memorial. “He was not at his peak and I had to work him accordingly.
“In the Derby, I rode conservatively for the first three-eighths of a mile. When he got to the first turn I didn’t want to use him, I chirped to him and he went through a hole. After that I got him in clear outside.
“I didn’t ask him in the backstretch and he began picking up horses like crazy. I didn’t want to use him coming off that defeat, and didn’t ask him until the three-eighths pole.
“At the top of the stretch I saw that Pincay [Laffit Pincay Jr. aboard second favorite Sham] had a lot of horse. I hit him once to make him change leads. He won very easy and set a track record.
“I was very confident after he won the Derby. Someone asked me about the Preakness and the Belmont. I told him it was all downhill from there.
As for the Preakness, “ we came out of the gate and I let him get his feet under him. The other horses were dashing into the first turn and I thought I better not get inside and we passed every horse around the first turn.
“I took control of the race at the three-quarter pole. At the three-eighths, Pincay thought he had me.”
Obviously, he didn’t, and coming to the Belmont Secretariat was just reaching peak form. He was doing so well that Turcotte thought he might need a race in between the Preakness and Belmont. He made a suggestion to trainer Lucien Laurin that perhaps he could run in the Jersey Derby.
“If I work him, he’s probably going to work faster than they run the race. Why not get some money out of it?
“Lucien told me not to mention the idea again. ‘You tend to your business and let me do the managing,’ were Laurin’s final words on the matter.
“We wanted him to peak in the Belmont. I thought I was going to take the lead leaving the gate. I let him get in stride and I knew that Sham was going to try to run with me. I took an edge and went inside, saving ground into the first turn.
“It was kind of a match race. He’s such an easy horse to ride. We were just staying together and he was breathing good under me. I moved my hands a little and [Sham] couldn’t stay with me.
“At the top of the stretch I took a peak at the clock on the board and it was 1:59 for a mile and a quarter, a record. Looking back, I kept watching the tote board and he was breaking a track record every sixteenth of a mile. He kept going and set a record for a mile and five-eighths [galloping out past the wire].
Turcotte recalled like it was yesterday: “I looked up at the top of the stretch and took a peek and it was like looking at the sea in a bad storm.
“I saw people jumping, heads bobbing up and down. In the Preakness, people were sitting on the fence. He kept going, he never shied from anything.
“When I took the saddle off, he wasn’t sweating, he wasn’t tired. I watch that [Belmont] and I’m still amazed. I was amazed by the horse all along.”