After winning the Derby and the Preakness, could Secretariat become the first racehorse in twenty-five years to win the Triple Crown at Belmont? Despite his stellar performances at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, Big Red had his doubters.
Bill Nack (1941 - ), a sport's writer who had covered both of the earlier races, thought Secretariat looked extremely fit on the day of the Belmont:
I stood in awe. I had never seen a horse so fit. The Derby and Preakness had wound him as tight as a watch, and he seemed about to burst out of his coat. I had no idea what to expect that day in the Belmont, with him going a mile and a half, but I sensed we would see more of him than we had ever seen before.
Lucien Laurin (1912 - 2000), Secretariat's trainer, believed his horse could handle the long Belmont track. So did his jockey, Ron Turcotte (1941 - ), who told Bill Nack Big Red could win by ten lengths.
When the horses left the gate, Secretariat uncharacteristically broke first:
Secretariat ran flat into legend, started running right out of the gate and never stopped, ran poor Sham into defeat around the first turn, and down the backstretch and sprinted clear, opening two lengths, four, then five. He dashed to the three-quarter pole in 1:09 4/5, the fastest six-furlong clocking in Belmont history.
I dropped my head and cursed Turcotte: What is he thinking about? Has he lost his mind? The colt raced into the far turn, opening seven lengths past the half-mile pole. The timer flashed his astonishing mile mark: 1:34 1/5!
No one thought the magnificent racing horse would continue at that pace. Nack couldn't believe what his eyes were seeing:
I was seeing it but not believing it. Secretariat was still sprinting. The four horses behind him disappeared. He opened 10. Then 12. Halfway around the turn, he was 14 in front ... 15 ... 16 ... 17.
Belmont Park began to shake. The whole place was on its feet. Turning for home, Secretariat was 20 in front, having run the mile and a quarter in 1:59 flat, faster than his Derby time.
He came home alone. He opened his lead to 25 ... 26 ... 27 ... 28. As rhythmic as a rocking horse, he never missed a beat. I remember seeing Turcotte look over to the timer, and I looked over too. It was blinking 2:19, 2:20. The record was 2:26 3/5.
Turcotte scrubbed on the colt, opening 30 lengths, finally 31. The clock flashed crazily: 2:22 ... 2:23. The place was one long, deafening roar. The colt seemed to dive for the finish, snipping it clean at 2:24. (This, and the above passages, from Secretariat: The Making of a Champion, by William Nack, page 358.)
No horse had ever run that fast at Belmont. The track, still notorious for defeating the dreams of Triple-Crown hopefuls, presented no obstacles for Big Red on that very hot day in June, 1973.
Secretariat's record-breaking run at Belmont remains unmatched.
Clip from SportCentury's "Classic Triple Crown Performances," online courtesy ESPN. The entire documentary, plus two additional videos about Secretariat, are available from Secretariat.com.
Quoted passages from Secretariat: The Making of a Champion, by William Nack, online courtesy Google Books.