Remembering the Fall of '73


I hope to start a new series remembering fall racing from past years. Some of the stories, such as this one, will be a combination of recycled older columns, with a good deal of new material added to make it more comprehensive. Although this initial column first ran only three years ago, I noticed that the vast majority of comments were not from people who currently frequent this site, so it is hoped with the added material it will be fresh to many readers.

The Unbeatable Horse

We’ve all heard or used the expression, “No one would have beaten him today.” Throughout history, there have been numerous horses who, for one or two races, turned in performances so extraordinary, you can’t imagine anyone beating them. Often, these horses were meant for great things, but were hampered by a variety of problems, such as unsoundness, breathing problems, mental issues etc. When everything came together perfectly, however, that potential greatness surfaced, and pity anyone who happened to cross paths with them on that day.

One of those horses is Prove Out. The perfect storm that developed on Sept. 29, 1973 was made up of two elements that came together at the exact same time. One of those elements was Prove Out’s greatness that surfaced on that day, thanks to the remarkable training of Allen Jerkens, who had already brought down the mighty Secretariat with Onion, a hard-knocking, fast horse who did not come close to possessing the raw talent and brilliance of Prove Out. The second element was the poor decision by trainer Lucien Laurin and owner Penny Tweedy to run Secretariat in the Woodward, a race in which he was not intended to run and for which he was totally unprepared.

First, let’s look at Secretariat. As everyone is well aware, Big Red was incubating a virus when he was defeated by Onion in the Whitney. The stress of competition brought it to a head and the colt came out of the race with a fever. It was not only the one-length defeat to Onion, but finishing only a diminishing half-length ahead of Rule by Reason that convinced everyone Secretariat was nowhere near his best. His appetite declined after the race and he acted sluggish for several days, and there was no choice but to skip the Travers. You have to remember, this was a horse who worked a mile for the Whitney in the mud in 1:34 4/5 after splits of :57 2/5, 1:09 1/5, and 1:21 3/5. His mile time was a track record at Saratoga, as was his 1 1/8-mile gallop-out in 1:47 4/5. The gallop-out time was a full second and two-fifths faster than the final time of the Whitney.

Prior to the Whitney, the Philip Morris Corporation proposed a $250,000 match race between Secretariat and his stablemate Riva Ridge, winner of the previous year’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes who had set a world record for 1 3/16 miles in the Brooklyn Handicap on July 4. The race, which was the brainchild of Philip Morris marketing director Jack Landry, would be called the Marlboro Cup and was scheduled for Sept. 15.

But some took exception to the race, which would be nothing more than major payday for Meadow Stable. Most people, however, were thrilled at the prospect of seeing the two Kentucky Derby winners meet. This would be Riva Ridge’s chance to knock off the horse in whose shadow he had existed for almost a year. But when Riva Ridge was upset by a 56-1 shot named Wichita Oil in an allowance race on the grass on Aug. 1, it took a good deal of interest out of the match race. No one could understand why he had been put on the grass at that point. Then, when Secretariat was defeated in the Whitney three days later, the race pretty much lost its luster. Philip Morris had to change plans and decided to make the race an open invitation.

Riva Ridge rebounded from his defeat to win an allowance race on Aug. 21, just barely holding on to defeat Halo by a half-length. But the entire Marlboro Cup hinged on whether Secretariat could make it back in time. And no one knew how sharp he’d be coming off an illness and a six-week layoff. Secretariat worked well, but needed a stiff drill three days before the race to indicate he was ready to tackle the likes of Riva Ridge, 3-year-old champion Key to the Mint, Cougar II, Canadian champion Kennedy Road, Travers winner Annihilate ‘Em, and his Whitney nemesis Onion.

Cougar II, known in California as “The Big Cat,” added a great deal of luster to the race. The Chilean-bred, who had won almost every major race in California, was best remembered by Easterners for his dominant victory in the 1971 Woodward Stakes, only to be taken down in what was considered one of the worst disqualifications in memory. That may very well have been the beginning of the “East Coast Bias” that still is prevalent in California.
Big Red was a horse who carried so much muscle he needed to work fast before a race to get sharp, both mentally and physically. Even as a youngster, he was a big, fat baby who had a tendency to get lazy. When Secretariat worked five furlongs in :57 flat for the Marlboro Cup, out six furlongs in 1:08 4/5, Laurin knew he was ready.

History shows that Secretariat defeated Riva Ridge by 3 1/2 lengths with his typical overpowering move, and his time of 1:45 2/5 established a new world record. He now looked invincible again.

Meanwhile, far beyond all the hoopla, Allen Jerkens was quietly working on his new acquisition, Prove Out, a regally bred colt whom he had purchased privately from King Ranch for Jack Dreyfus’ Hobeau Farm. Prove Out was born for greatness, being by the classic sire Graustark, a son of the legendary Ribot. His dam, Equal Venture, is a half-sister to Triple Crown winner Assault. Equal Venture’s broodmare sire is Equipoise, and Prove Out’s fourth dam, Masda, is full-sister to Man o’War.

But Prove Out had bad ankles and other problems, and his trainer William J. “Buddy” Hirsch could do little with him. By August of his 4-year-old year, he had won only four races (a maiden and three allowance races) in 27 career starts. Of those 27 starts, 25 were in allowance or maiden races, and in his only two ventures into stakes company, he finished well up the track. The longest distance he’d ever won at was 1 1/16 miles, and that came in his maiden victory.

Jerkens, however, had his eye on Prove Out for a while, recalling the promise he had shown at Santa Anita at the end of his 3-year-old campaign. Jerkens and Hirsch were good friends, and one day Hirsch approached Jerkens and said, “I don’t want you to think I’m hustling you or anything, but that horse I saw you looking at is coming up for sale. He’s a little raunchy and Mr. Kleberg (King Ranch owner Robert Kleberg) is mad at him and wants to sell him.”

Hirsch, son of the great Max Hirsch, was a proven horseman when he took over the King Ranch horses following his father’s death in 1969. One of those who came into his care was the “Mighty Mite” Gallant Bloom, who was coming off a championship season at 2. Gallant Bloom was already riding an impressive winning streak from 2 to 3. When it finally came to an end against the boys in 1970, she had won 12 consecutive races over a three-year period, while knocking off future Hall of Famer Shuvee four times and demolishing another future Hall of Famer, the older Gamely, by seven lengths in the Matchmaker Stakes. Gallant Bloom also was destined for the Hall of Fame.

Jerkens knew Prove Out came from families that were trained hard and felt he might respond to hard training, much like Beau Purple, who began Jerkens’ legendary role as “The Giant Killer” by upsetting five-time Horse of the Year Kelso on three occasions.

Jerkens had just sold Dreyfus’ Widener Handicap winner Vertee for a nice profit, and decided to take a chance on Prove Out, buying him for Dreyfus for $65,000. He began by concentrating on the colt’s ankles, tubbing them and poulticing them. He used a eucalyptus vaporizer to clear up his sinuses and applied linament to his shoulders. In short, he did everything he could to build him back up and alleviate any aches and pains that may have been bothering him.

Prove Out also had a bad habit of lugging in, so Jerkens put his best exercise rider, Jimmy Rhoades, on him to try to teach him to keep a straight course. Two weeks after getting him, Jerkens ran him in a seven-furlong allowance race at Saratoga on Aug. 24. To prevent him from lugging in, he equipped the colt with a burr and put an inside cup on his blinker. Prove Out responded by defeating the quick-footed Cutlass and the 3-5 favorite Forego by 6 1/2 lengths in a track-record 1:21 flat.

But when Jerkens dropped Prove Out back to six furlongs in another allowance race on Sept. 1 at Belmont, he was taken too far off the pace and just missed catching Dr. Fager’s full brother Highbinder by a head in 1:09 4/5. Jerkens ran him right back nine days later in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race and Prove Out equaled the track record of 1:40 2/5, beating the top-class Halo by 5 1/2 lengths.

The nine-furlong Chesapeake Handicap at Bowie on Sept. 22 looked like an easy spot for the colt’s first stakes victory. He was in with only 111 pounds and was sent off as the 9-5 favorite. But all of Jerkens’ work seemed for naught when Prove Out lugged in again and hit the rail before retreating to a seventh-place finish.

Back in the Secretariat camp, Laurin and Tweedy had decided to point Secretariat to the mile and a half Man o’ War Stakes (then the premier fall stakes in the U.S.) on Oct. 8 and run Riva Ridge in the mile and a half Woodward Stakes. Secretariat had his first work on the turf, breezing a half-mile in :48 around the dogs and then turned in a slow, easy mile in 1:38. Those were not the kind of works Big Red needed to get sharp for a race. In his mile work (Riva Ridge also worked that morning), Secretariat went around the turf course as if he were in a common gallop.

The Woodward was only two weeks after the Marlboro Cup, and after being drilled hard to make the latter and then setting a new world record, the Woodward was hardly the place for Secretariat to come right back and stretch out from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles. If the term “bounce” existed back then, Secretariat was a prime candidate to bounce. Both he and Riva should have passed the Woodward, but Laurin and Tweedy were determined to be represented.

When the weather forecast called for rain on Woodward day, Laurin and Tweedy decided to enter both Riva Ridge and Secretariat. If the track was fast, Riva Ridge would run, but if it came up sloppy, a surface Riva Ridge detested, they would substitute Secretariat. The track did come up sloppy and Riva Ridge was scratched the morning of the race, leaving an unprepared Secretariat to go 1 1/2 miles on an off track only two weeks after breaking a world record and having to go into the race off two slow works on the grass. It was a recipe for disaster.

Jerkens, meanwhile, was angry and frustrated over Prove Out’s performance at Bowie. When one of his good horses ran that poorly, Jerkens took it personally and would often take drastic measures. In the morning, he equipped the colt with a severe run-out bit and turned it the opposite way. The bit had prongs that hit the side of the jaw, and Jerkens used it in the hope that during the race the burr would remind the horse of that bit hitting the side of his mouth and he would respond to it.

Jerkens decided to take a shot and run Prove Out in the weight-for-age Woodward, even though he’d have to pick up 15 pounds off the Chesapeake run the week before, concede seven pounds to Secretariat, and stretch out from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/2 miles. Prove Out had never run farther than 1 1/16 miles. It also would mark Prove Out’s fifth start in five weeks since coming to Jerkens, who felt if the track came up fast and Secretariat should scratch then someone had a shot to get lucky or at least pick up a piece of the purse.

But it didn’t come up fast and Secretariat didn’t scratch. The day of the race, Jerkens and Dreyfus were hanging out in the picnic area behind the grandstand when they showed a replay of Secretariat’s Marlboro Cup on the closed circuit TV monitors. After watching Big Red draw off from the field, Jerkens turned to Dreyfus and said, “What the hell are we doing in this race?”

Jerkens had given Prove Out several three-mile gallops to build up his stamina and removed the blinkers for the race, feeling he didn’t need them going a mile and a half.

Because of space I won’t go into the running of the race other than to say the 1-5 Secretariat took over the lead from the 16-1 Prove Out shortly after heading into the backstretch and was able to slow the pace down. Around the far turn, with Big Red winging out there by two lengths, the crowd waited for the explosion that was sure to come. Secretariat had picked up the pace with a :24 flat quarter, with Prove Out and Cougar II lapped on each other. After another testing quarter in :24 2/5, Cougar II was done, but Prove Out wouldn’t go away. To the amazement of everyone, he came charging back along the inside and just blew right on by Secretariat, as the crowd went silent.

Despite never even coming close to running this far, Prove Out came home his final quarter in a spectacular :24 flat, drawing off to a 4 1/2-length victory. Over a sloppy track that was not playing fast at all, Prove Out stopped the teletimer in 2:25 4/5, which still to this day is the second-fastest mile and a half ever run at Belmont. Only Secretariat’s out-of-this world Belmont performance was faster. Another unbelievable aspect of Prove Out’s performance was his running each of his last three quarters in :24 flat, a feat unheard of at that distance. To further demonstrate what a remarkable performance this was, Prove Out earned a spectacular 131 Beyer speed figure.

Regardless of what cynics may say, Secretariat did not lose the Woodward. Prove Out won the Woodward, and I can’t think of any horse who would have beaten him that day. Although everything was against Secretariat, he still ran the mile and a half in 2:26 3/5, which would have equaled Gallant Man’s previous track record before Big Red shattered it in the Belmont Stakes. And he did finish 11 lengths ahead of Cougar II in third. If Prove Out had been trained by anyone else he would not even have been in the race and Secretariat would have won by 11 lengths, running the second-fastest 1 ½ miles in Belmont history.

Remarkably, Secretariat would come back only nine days later and set a new course record of 2:24 4/5 in winning the Man o’War Stakes by five lengths in his grass debut, defeating the top-class Tentam and Big Spruce. So, Secretariat had broken a world record at 1 1/8 miles, finished second in a fast-run race going 1 1/2 miles, and broken a turf course record at 1 1/2 miles – all in the span of 23 days.

Prove Out wasn’t done with his assault on Meadow Stable superstars. For the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, Jerkens breezed Prove Out a pair of slow miles, then breezed him three furlongs in :39 the Sunday before the race. The following morning, Prove Out worked a mile and a half in 2:39 3/5 with a final half in :49 1/5. Three days later, on the Thursday before the race, he galloped a mile and a half, after which he broke off into a dead run for a half-mile, which was timed in :47 2/5. He then galloped out an additional furlong in :12 3/5. There certainly was never anything conventional about Allen Jerkens.

With all this bottom and sharpness in him, Prove Out went head and head with Riva Ridge in the Gold Cup through a seemingly suicidal half in :47 2/5. After six furlongs, Riva Ridge was spent, but Prove Out kept right on going. He covered the mile in a brutal 1:37 1/5 with half of the race still to be run. By comparison, Damascus ran his mile in the 1967 Gold Cup in 1:40 1/5. Arts and Letters went his mile in 1:40 4/5 in 1969. When Kelso set his track and American record in the 1964 Gold Cup, he went his mile in 1:38 2/5.

So brutal was the pace that Riva Ridge would be beaten more than 33 lengths. When the distance-loving Loud, winner of the 1970 Travers and second and third behind the great Shuvee in the 1970 and ’71 Jockey Club Gold Cup, respectively, came charging up to challenge nearing the quarter pole, Prove Out looked like he was cooked, especially when he veered in and bounced off the rail. But, again, to the shock of everyone, he shifted to another gear and spurted away from Loud. Somehow he managed to close his final quarter in an incredible :24 4/5, winning by 4 3/4 lengths. His time was 3:20 flat, and to this day only Kelso has run a faster two miles in this country (3:19 1/5 and 3:19 4/5).

In two races, Prove Out had demonstrated every aspect of greatness – speed, stamina, courage, fast-closing fractions, and class, defeating three future Hall of Famers – Secretariat, Riva Ridge, and Cougar II. By destroying Forego earlier, it means he defeated four Hall of Famers in three different races at three different distances in the span of two months.

Although it is sacrilegious to say this, and all due respect to Lucien Laurin, Riva Ridge, in addition to racing in Secretariat’s shadow, was one of the worst handled horses in memory. Yes, he won the Futurity at 2 on a sloppy track, but that was a blazing-fast surface and not a true sloppy track. He eventually would demonstrate his utter disdain for the slop. Yet Laurin ran him four times over very sloppy tracks and once over a quagmire on the grass going 1 1/2 miles in the Washington D.C. International following an arduous 11-race 3-year-old campaign – all major stakes. And he was already tailing off at that point. Twice he ran him in the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, a distance well beyond his scope, especially with his front-running style. The second time he ran him in the Gold Cup, he was coming off a track-record-breaking performance going 1 1/8 miles only 12 days earlier.

And in the worst move of all, after running in all three Triple Crown races, he was sent to California (not a common occurrence back then) three weeks later for the 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Derby, carrying a burdensome 129  pounds against tough horses such as Bicker, Finalista, and Quack. The last named would go on to defeat older horses that same meet in the Hollywood Gold Cup, running the fastest 1 1/4 miles on dirt in U.S. history (1:58 1/5). Riva absolutely gutted himself in the Hollywood Derby, leading every step of the way while under constant pressure and setting swift fractions. He was tenacious down the stretch, digging in gamely to win by a neck over Finalista, to whom he was conceding 15 pounds.

Riva ran a month later in the Monmouth Invitational Handicap and finished fourth at 1-5. It was discovered the following morning that he had been “gotten to” when his blood tests came up positive for the tranquilizer phenothiazine. Tweedy was “outraged” and “astonished.” Around that time, an admitted race fixer told a House committee in Washington that he would cash tickets by drugging the heavy favorite.

So, it is safe to say that Riva Ridge was never given a chance to receive the recognition he deserved. Four defeats in the slop and two on the turf; two defeats at two miles; one defeat giving the older Canonero II 13 actual pounds as a 3-year-old and getting beat in American-record time; one race in which he was drugged; and four straight defeats to end his 3-year-old campaign (two at 1 1/2 miles and one at two miles) after being gutted in the Hollywood Derby. Twice he finished second behind world and American record performances, yet still managed to break two track records and equal another. In the Brooklyn Handicap, he broke the American record for 1 3/16 miles under 127 pounds, defeating True Knight, Tentam, and Key to the Mint in 1:52 2/5. Three months later, he broke the track record in the Stuyvesant Handicap, blazing the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47 flat under 130 pounds. That should have been his final race, but he was thrown into the two-mile JC Gold Cup only 12 days later in another sure “bounce,” effort.

Getting back to Prove Out, he showed his brilliance again the following spring, winning the 1 1/4-mile Grey Lag Handicap by six lengths in a swift 2:00 1/5. But physical problems again caught up with him and he was retired to Gainesway Farm after three straight defeats. To demonstrate just how fast a horse Prove Out was, at all distances, he earned a 127 Beyer in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and a 129 in the Grey Lag to go along with his 131 in the Woodward, and who knows what he would have earned in his track-record allowance romp over Forego.

Prove Out will not be remembered as a great horse, and in fact is only remembered at all because of his upset of Secretariat and possibly as the broodmare sire of the great Miesque. But he should serve as a reminder that greatness can emerge anytime, anywhere, and from anyone. Make no mistake about it; Secretariat was beaten in the Woodward by an extraordinary horse, who, on that day and on Gold Cup day may very well have been unbeatable.


Leave a Comment:

Susan from VA

Fascinating article - how do you know all this stuff!?!

12 Sep 2011 2:48 PM
Paula Higgins

Love this Steve! I knew he beat Secretariat but knew nothing else. I had always assumed it was because Secretariat was "off" whenever he was beaten. What an eye opener.

12 Sep 2011 2:54 PM

Great info about Prove Out--much of it new to me.  I was going to college in 1973, and wasn't paying as much attention to racing as I had in the past.  Secretariat sure got my attention that year.  At the time I thought he had such a strange name. Thanks for the very interesting recap.

12 Sep 2011 3:03 PM

Wow!  What an info-packed column. Learned a lot, since most of this took place when I was a young racing fan (emphasis on young!) I am so glad you are giving Riva the props that he has long been denied. While I didn't realize it at the time (the youth excuse), in retrospect and in looking at his career as a whole, you are 110% right in that it was totally mismanaged. Perhaps because they had Secretariat in the same barn, lesser consideration was given to Riva's campaign... It's still sad that he did not earn Champion Colt for his 3yr old season; too bad he faltered a little in the later stages of that year.  I also wish he would have  (1)lived longer and (2) sire more stand-outs than he did so that people would mention him in more glowing terms and not simply that he was "Secretariat's stablemate" as if he didn't accomplish enough. It's nothing to sneeze at when you win 2 out of 3 TC races.  The grooms at Claiborne will reiterate that "Ms Penny" called Riva her favorite (and maybe he knew it!)

I also think that anyone who reads these trips down memory lane will find a common denominator:  look at how often these horses ran, the strength of opposition and the timing between races. And this during times when horses didn't live in spa-like barns, had masseuses, menu planners, facebook pages, etc.  Today's horses are virtually bubble wrapped and rarely sustain the level of competition that their forefathers did.  I understand that it's big business and that owners/trainers are more concerned about sending a horse to the breeding shed with as unblemished a record as possible.  

It a shame that racing fans can't hitch their wagons to stories like you are writing about.....  

And with that being said, let's hope the rest of this year's racing is filled with more thrills from the ladies (HdG & BL) and some excitement from the colts who are finally starting to make it interesting.   I hope some of the folks connected to the younger horses will see beyond the dollar signs and decide to keep their horses on the tracks so that in 30 years, someone will be writing stories like this one.  

12 Sep 2011 3:24 PM

Wonderful article, Steve, just full of facts that few of us know.

They sure werent afraid to run them back then.

12 Sep 2011 3:36 PM

Great article Steve and fascinating.

Riva Ridge surely did not deserve such poor training and for heaven's sake the drugging incident!  What a remarkable horse to have come through all that and  yet still be regarded as Secretariat's stablemate.  Its a shame.

Prove Out's story is remarkable.  I doubt we will ever see Beyers figures like his ever again.  

Being a total novice about racing, really, I just never realized until Zenyatta how important the trainer is to the horse's success.  And your history of Prove Out validates that fact in a big big way.

Thank you.

12 Sep 2011 4:36 PM


That was a great article, but I do have to ask a question.

Where did you get the Beyer figures for some of Prove Out's races?

I know Andy included some figures in his books on speed figures, but I believe he has tinkered with the charts and scale since then. So the figures may not be comparable to the current scale.  

12 Sep 2011 4:53 PM

Every article you write in these pages is wonderful, but it is when you get into telling these behind the scenes details of races from the past that I am always completely blown away.  I love learning all the different sides to the stories of these horses we have loved and watched over the years, seeing new aspects and details that we had no other way of learning.  Thank you so very much for sharing your incredible memories with us!!

12 Sep 2011 5:22 PM

great to hear the good stuff again! used to hear it alot when i was small and big red was all over the news! also wanted to talk to someone-anyone-about the under tack shows that are going on and killing the babies. please enlighten me. i don't expect this to be posted. my email is; thanks-love your writing!!

12 Sep 2011 5:31 PM

Well said Steve.  I would have thought you were in the Secretariat camp.  I remember Secretariat's career as I was 14 when he won the Triple Crown.  I remember being so upset when Big Red lost.  I just assumed Prove Out won because he was trained by Alan Jerkins and that's what Jerkins did.  He beat Meadow horse's.  You are very informed and really enjoyed the article.  Can you imagine if today's horses ran as often as they did back then?  If they were good enough now you could earn 15 million in a horses career.  Of course todays horse's aren't "made" like the horse's of the 70 and 80"s.  I'm glad to know that Prove Out wasn't some slouch that beat Big Red.

12 Sep 2011 7:05 PM

I don't think the words "lightly raced" had any meaning in that golden era of racing. Just shows how much the sport has changed, and not for the better. We've gone from "racing hard" to "hardly racing". All that racing, sometimes every 7-10 days, short race one week, long race a week or two later, gee, wonder how they did that without lasix? Could it be that training hard, a la Allen Jerkens, might be the best prescription for the ailments of today's tbs?  

As always, Steve, your articles are such a pleasure to read.  The depth of your knowledge and understanding are nothing short of astonishing. What a gift you are.

Ann Maree

12 Sep 2011 7:55 PM

Wow!  Thanks Steve for another article chock full of facts and training angles that put us right in the heart of a bygone era.  What Allen Jerkens did with Prove Out was nothing short of magical.  With the way you describe his ministering to the horse, I thought for a moment I was smelling linament and eucalyptus.  Unfortunately, the business has changed so much to protect breeding interests that gone is the day of hard knocking horses competing as frequently as these did and at the longer distances.

Fascinating information on Riva Ridge.  As good as the recent movie 'Secretariat' was, Riva Ridge was Meadow Stable's first Derby winner and helped support the farm before and during Big Red's career but he never got a mention in the movie.  It was like Penny, Lucien and company were a one horse show.

On October 27, 1973 we were in Toronto and I watched on a department store TV, Prove Out's dominating win in the muddy JCGC over a thoroughly beaten Riva Ridge.  The next day we were at Woodbine to watch Big Red's final race of his career as he demolished his field in the cold, rain and wind at 1 5/8 miles on the turf, missing the track record by 4/5 of a second in the Canadian International.  I still have his across the board ticket in my wallet.

In March, 1984 we were able to visit Claiborne and able to see Secretariat and Riva Ridge up close among others.  Great memories of a bygone era.  Thanks Steve, for bringing it back.    

12 Sep 2011 9:26 PM

Mr. Haskin? One question, where did you get his Beyer Speed Figures from? Was it directly from Andy Beyer? It is even difficult to get Beyers for horses in the 1980's.

12 Sep 2011 10:15 PM
Bill Two

I was at Bowie the day of the Chesapeake Handicap when Prove Hit lugged into the rail. Everyone was amazed. I believe it happened as the horses entered the stretch or just afterwards.  I wrote the horse off only to be amazed at seeing him take apart Secretariat in that Woodward.  Those were heady days and we really got spoiled watching those horses.  I doubt we will see their kind again. Thanks for the memories.

12 Sep 2011 10:30 PM
Bill Two

One other thing: Riva Ridge was a great horse on a dry track and couldn't stand up on an off track. Head of The River {Elliot Burch} beat him in the Everglades and that horse wasn't even close in ability to Riva Ridge.  True, it is a shame his career was managed better by Laurin. Who knows what or who influenced him to do what he did?

12 Sep 2011 10:34 PM
Needler in Virginia

Wonderful AGAIN! Thanks so much, Steve. I loved Riva, too, and while "poor Sham" became a mantra for 1973, Secretariat was obviously top dog in the barn. It's nice to get Prove Out's backstory. However, after reading more and more about the time, the horses and Lucien Laurin, I'm beginning to have strong suspicions about the trainer's ability. Bad planning and poor judgement seems to be something he did very well. I still cannot fathom why he never told Turcotte about that abscess before the Wood, and then we get to why on Earth the abscess wasn't lanced early on so Red's mouth had a chance to heal before the Derby? Talk about lousy decision making! It sounds more and more, to me, that Riva and Red won in spite of Laurin........ not because of him.

Cheers and safe trips.

No need to reply; this is Prove Out's column and well deserved it is.

12 Sep 2011 11:36 PM
Steve Haskin

Regarding the Beyers, when this first appeared, one of the comments was from the great racing writer and handicapper Russ Harris, who worked closely with Beyer. He is the one who mentioned the figures that were compiled on those three races.

13 Sep 2011 2:08 AM
The Deacon

Brilliantly written blog Steve, your racing memory is second to none. I watched all those races back then, to relive it through your story sent chills up my spine.

I was a Cougar II fan, saw him run many, many times. Watched Quack win the Hollywood Gold Cup.

No disrespect intended I have never been a Secretariat fan but I do appreciate his greatness, his beauty and his incredible ability. I loved Sham, being from California, we were heart broken when Big Red virtually broke Sham down in 3 grueling races.

Prove Out had incredible ability, we just didn't know if we would ever see it. Remember reading about him. Nevertheless, this was a long time ago. I am so glad that you above all other writers have constantly to stir these memories. The sport of kings is a much better place knowing you are a part of the history, the glory and the timeless memories.......

God Bless........  

13 Sep 2011 3:34 AM
Rachel NH

I love reliving these races! We did have a grand time back then, didn't we! ♥

13 Sep 2011 6:23 AM


A great aarticle as usual.  Back in the early 70's when I was a youngster in my 20's my brother and I would travel the east coast and catch the big races on weekends.  In 1971 when Riva Ridge won the Garden State stakes race for 2 year olds,and the same day Numbered Account won the Gardenia for 2 year old fillies, he became my favorite horse.  Even though he got overshadowed by Big red he remained my favorite and still is. I always wondered why they kept running him on surfaces and distances he didn't like.  Great memories of a great time in racing history thanks for the memories.

13 Sep 2011 7:47 AM

as an older horseman it was nice to read a fair article about Big Red. He was amazing but you'd think he never ran against anyone with any class because they are so often hardly even mentioned. Thanks Steve - it really took me back. I dont remember a race of his where someone didnt think he might get beat and had some pretty sound reasons that he might. Ususally he won but again not always.

13 Sep 2011 9:01 AM
Shelby's Best Pal

A wonderful history lesson!  Thank you.

13 Sep 2011 10:27 AM
Steve Haskin

Ellpol, I was at Garden State that day. Actually, it was a huge event. Numbered Account had already won the Gardenia and they ran her back against Riva Ridge in the Garden State Stakes. They gave out buttons at the track reading, "I like the king in the Garden State Stakes" and "I like the Queen in the Garden State Stakes." Key to the Mint and Freetex also were in that field and Riva won easily, with Numbered Account fourth. She never should have run back that quickly.

13 Sep 2011 10:56 AM
Dr Drunkinbum

Shockingly good story. It's a beautiful morning. The story of Prove Out and his greatness brought out by one of the great trainers was enthralling. Such a treat. Thank you Steve. Hope you're doing well.

13 Sep 2011 10:56 AM

Thank you, Steve, for starting this series. It's so good to remember the stars we oldies cheered for oh, so long ago! Those were the golden years of racing - no drugs, just good solid training and good sound horses! These old treasures so often get shoveled aside in the glory of the stars of the present day, yet they were the horses who brought us into this wonderful game and kept us here. Prove Out kind of got overshadowed having been out there with those superstars but he was a champion in his own right too. Besides - everyone (whoever everyone actually is) just KNEW Secretariat couldn't win a race that started with a "W" name! Didn't they? I look forward to reading more of these memory-pieces of the stars we loved so long ago.

13 Sep 2011 11:10 AM
steve from st louis

Steve, thanks for bringing to life that year of 1973 for those horse lovers who weren't lucky enough like you and I and others to live it in real time.

The foal crop of 1970 and thus 3-year-olds in that summer of 1973 was, I believe, the greatest of the last 50 years of the "blooded horse". Hall of Famers Secretariat, Forego, Ancient Title, and the fillies  Dahlia, Desert Vixen and La Prevoyante (did I forget any?) all made racing fans feel like they were truly watching the Sport of Kings.

13 Sep 2011 11:13 AM
Pedigree Ann

Steve, the charge of 'East Coast bias' goes back at least to Seabiscuit. The slights endured by Swaps, Native Diver, and His Felinity Cougar II (My Own True Love) only reenforced the conviction that the charge has substance.

The Coug was another horse who shouldn't have started in the Woodward. He had been a fast-closing third in the Marlboro Cup after hitting the gate and had never run on a wet dirt track. However he had already demonstrated a dislike for wet turf courses, which made his rather high action more tiring. He was going to retire at the end of the year anyway, so I guess Sir Charlie decided 'why not give it a try?' He never raced again after the Woodward; he may have suffered a slight injury.

13 Sep 2011 11:59 AM
Karen in Texas

This story is a reminder of your wealth of racing knowledge, Steve! Thanks for explaining how Mr. Jerkens was innovative in elevating Prove Out's performance abilities to top level. He must have ultimately felt a great sense of satisfaction with the horse's accomplishments.

13 Sep 2011 1:08 PM
Bill Two

Speaking of Numbered Account, I can still see Braulio Baeza sitting atop this beautiful filly as she stepped out of the paddock at Laurel for the 1971 Selima Stakes - which she won easily.  Was there ever a jockey with more regal carriage than Baeza?  Plus, he always had that very serious, dignified look when mounted - which befitted the regal bloodlines of the Phipps stable horses.  

13 Sep 2011 1:11 PM
Mike Sekulic

Steve, thank you for this great article. PROVE OUT sure was unbeatable during that period in 1973!

By the way, October 2, 1971 marks the 40th anniversary of COUGAR II being unfairly and unjustly disqualified from his dominating win the Woodward Stakes. I hope you will write about that because you're a great writer and I would love to see your take on the situation.

As for me, I think the NYRA should reverse that decision. Yes, I know 40 years have gone by, but still. When you watch the video you see how ridiculous the disqualification was. COUGAR's name belongs on that roster of Woodward winners.

13 Sep 2011 2:34 PM
Stellar Jayne

Holy Smokes!  WOW, what an interesting and revealing story.  Thanks for the history lesson regarding these three champions.  In my humble opinion, all three horses were great.  I really knew nothing about Prove Out's history and how he came to win against Secretariat.  He had great speed.  Hats off to Allen Jerkens for taking such good care of him.  

Also, interesting details regarding Secretariat's lack of preparation for the Woodward.  What were Laurin and Tweedy thinking - that he really was a 'tremendous machine' and could overcome everything!  I'd say - bad judgment on their part.

I felt really, really sad for Riva Ridge, not so much for being in Secretariat's shadow, as the valiant Sham was, but for being so mismanaged by owner and trainer.  From all I have ever read, or through interviews one thought they were selfless in Riva's care and career. That part of the article was a real shock.  Yet, til today he is referred to as Penny's favorite of the two.

In this light today - it all seemed to be about money and inheritance taxes.  What a shame.

13 Sep 2011 2:46 PM

As much as I love these historical looks back, it is also a sad reminder that in the day thoroughbreds were tough horses and racing them was at least as important as breeding them.  

We can say with disdain that Tweedy and Laurin ran Secretariat in the Woodward because they wanted to be "represented", but the fact is it was those attitudes of old, that desire to compete and have your stock represented on the race track, that made racing such an incredible sport during that time.

13 Sep 2011 4:38 PM
Steve Haskin

Stellar Jayne, in Penny's defense, she didnt know any better. She knew very little about racing, having just gotten involved.

13 Sep 2011 6:43 PM
Alexandra Boyd

I love Riva Ridge. He was my favorite racehorse. He just had the look about him. And a beautiful color to him. I love secretariat to. But Riva will always be my favorite.

13 Sep 2011 7:18 PM

Another brilliant article Steve!  Your accounts of events are always so amazing to read - I love feeling like I'm right there even though the time has long since past!  Thank you and please keep up the great work!!!          Steve from St Loui:  Mr Prospector was also a 3 year old in 1973 - a foal of 1970...and although not the greatest of racehorses he was an amazing sire!

13 Sep 2011 9:07 PM
Mike Sekulic

LINDA'S CHIEF, STOP THE MUSIC and STEP NICELY were also members of that 1970 foal crop, along with the greats already mentioned (SECRETARIAT, FOREGO, ANCIENT TITLE, etc).

The more I think about it the more impressive it seems that PROVE OUT was able to defeat SECRETARIAT, RIVA RIDGE, COUGAR II, FOREGO, HALO, CUTLASS, SUMMER GUEST, etc. PROVE OUT doesn't get mentioned in the discussions of great horses, but maybe he should!

14 Sep 2011 12:25 AM

Steve; as usual, you've enlightened even the stoutest of your ever growing following. Being of the same generation, I find the most important facts you reveal, especially for those of the younger gens, and newsest of fans, are just how remarkable some of the past champions truly were, given their number of races run, the quick turn arounds between, the weights they carried and topped by the arduous training regimes.

Hope your doing well, so we don't miss much of your educating pieces.

14 Sep 2011 8:38 AM
Abigail Anderson

Steve: I just loved this piece and am excited about the advent of a new series. I know very little about Prove Out and was delighted to learn his whole story. I had no idea his stats were so impressive. Thank you for adding to my library of stories of great thoroughbreds who would be forgotten without voices like yours.

But I was most touched by what you had to say about sweet, sweet Riva. He has never really gotten the recognition he deserves either. When writing the last article for THE VAULT on Eddie Sweat, I learned that Lucien Laurin generally liked to work his horses into the ground, a tactic that seemed to work perfectly most of the time for Secretariat, but which would certainly have damaged a horse with different abilities and needs. (I'm certain there was probably more to the mismanagement issue with him than that though.) It always interests me how we romanticize prominent figures in the lives of great horses. Understandable, but it's equally important to stay grounded in the real world. I think your take on this part of Riva's story does this.

In your new series, I would love it if you could consider writing about Alydar and that odd-ball, Silky Sullivan, if they qualify. Of course, these are not entirely forgotten or almost-forgotten horses, I know. But I'd love a piece on Alydar where he's not coupled with his nemesis....and a complete story on Silky seems very hard to find!


14 Sep 2011 10:15 AM
steve from st louis

Racingfan: My list was limited to those in the Hall of Fame, but yes, you have to wonder why Mr. Croll's sprinter was never inducted (although they limit it to racehorses, not sires). But he certainly made his mark on the breed as a sire of sires, carrying on the Raise a Native line in proud fashion. When you think of the sires he threw--Fappiano, Quiet American, Unbridled, Conquistador Cielo, Woodman, Gulch, Gone West, Afleet, Forty Niner, Seeking the Gold, Kingmambo, Machiavellian, Smart Strike, Fusaichi Pegasus, etc. Whew! He comes close to Northern Dancer as THE Sire of Sires, although I would give the nod to the "Dancer" who threw Nijinsky, Danzig, Sadler's Wells, Storm Bird, Lyphard, Be My Guest, El Gran Senor, Fairy King, Vice Regent, etc. If it were a "race" between Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer it would be too close to call.

14 Sep 2011 10:40 AM

I am so glad that someone makes mention of the great ones because there are so many that are fogotten. A big thank you!

I keep hoping you will publish a book with your favorite articles...

14 Sep 2011 10:44 AM

Kristen, re your comment "Can you imagine if today's horses ran as often as they did back then?"  I have been learning of late that there are such horses, but they tend to labor under the radar and in the claiming and allowance ranks. These horses seem to be the backbone of many tracks around the country. My favorite that fits into this category is Rapid Redux, set to go off this Friday in his try for his 17th consecutive win (15th straight this year!) in the starter allowance ranks. This one, according to his trainer, will be his toughest yet, although he just won one at 1 1/8 mi around 3 turns, at Charles Town. He doesn't show any "works" in nearly 3 months, because he races about every 10 days to two weeks! He's tough, he's amazing to watch, shows a lot of class for the quality of races that he runs. He is a gelding (what else!) And, he has a beautiful pedigree...his sire is Pleasantly Perfect. I plan to be rooting him on this Friday. The race will go off at 10:25pm ET!

I know this is Prove Out's column to shine, but I bet he would approve of Rapid Redux! He would understand the quest of an improbable horse making a run at the record books. I bet Mr. Jerkens will be watching, as well!

14 Sep 2011 11:49 AM

I couldn't agree more with your assessment of Lucien Lauren and his handling of Riva Ridge.Secretariat should have been undefeated.If he never tried the grass then think of the great rematch with Prove Out in the JCGC.I see you have the Beyers for Prove Out.Is there a link for all the Beyers of the top races of the 60's-80's?

14 Sep 2011 1:13 PM
Bill Two


When last seen under tack, Rapid Redux embarrassed a field of 5K starter handicap horses at Timonium. Judging from the astute placement of the horse in races for horses who have started for 5K or less this horse will have a very lengthy unbeaten streak - at least we hope so.  He is a marvel to behold.

14 Sep 2011 1:38 PM
Mike Sekulic

Other than SECRETARIAT's otherworldly tour de force in the Belmont Stakes in 2:24, I cannot recall a faster 12 furlongs at Belmont, or anywhere else, on dirt, than PROVE OUT's 2:25-4/5. You're right, no one would have beaten him that day.

I also agree with the perspective about RIVA RIDGE. That was one seriously magnificent racehorse!

As for the brilliant and wonderful COUGAR II, I think he was tired and over the top on Woodward day of 1973. He also caught a wet track, which he didn't like. He was 7 years old and making his 50th start, and he had just slightly lost a step, due to age, at that point. He won 3 of 9 that year, and had 6 thirds.

In the Marlboro Cup, though, COUGAR II ran an excellent race! After having plenty of trouble he rallied for third, and was flying at the finish. I can't help but think that a 5 or 6 year old COUGAR would have given SECRETARIAT all he could handle. I really think that a COUGAR in his prime would have made it a very close race. Oh, and if it had been at 10 furlongs? That would have been good!

14 Sep 2011 2:27 PM
steve from st louis

How could I forget The Minstrel?

14 Sep 2011 5:06 PM
Pedigree Ann

Mike Sekulic, you know the way to my heart - praise of His Felinity, My Own True Love. That said, he was an October 16, 1966 foal, so he hadn't actually turned seven when he raced in the Woodward. I wouldn't cite age as a problem. Earlier in the Year he won the Santa Anita H under top weight (conceding 7 lbs to second, 16 to the third), the G1 Century H under top weight (conceding 9lbs to the second, 10 lbs to third), and the Sunset H (G1) under top weight (conceding 8 lbs to second, 14 lbs to third). Similar poundage was conceded in the losses save for in NY.

This also was the year when Mary Jones yanked off finesse rider Shoe and put on muscle rider Pincay, upset with Shoe's ride in one of those third places. Coug being a horse who knew his own mind didn't respond as well to Pincay's type of urging. Hence the third in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

He just didn't like wet tracks. He had a high knee action that meant in heavy ground he had to exert more effort to get them up than usual. Unlike horses with daisy-cutter action.

14 Sep 2011 7:02 PM

Steve from St Louis:  Yep, IMO you are correct in your assessment of Mr Prospector and Northern Dancer - what outstanding sires they were! And we must remember they both descend from that AMAZING Native Dancer who often does not get the credit he deserves! :-)

14 Sep 2011 9:27 PM


What a wonderful article about a horse who went under the radar in notoriety in 1973. Such a great tribute to him and his trainor Allen Jerkens. It is amazing how much you know and there is no one who can articulate it with such passion . I am so happy to see you back with pen and passion. Missed you and your beautiful prose.

Thank you and glad your are feeling better. Be well.

14 Sep 2011 11:49 PM
The Deacon

Steve from St Louis:

1970 was a pretty good year for the great Nijinsky II, he won the English Triple Crown.

Also in 1970 Calumet Farms Bull Lea passed away at age 25 I believe.

Allez France was also born in 1970, we can't forget how great she was.

Finally in 1970, Muhammad Ali knocked out Jerry Quarry in his first fight in over 3 years.....

15 Sep 2011 3:36 AM
steve from st louis

Hey Deacon, I know old farts like us have a tough time sleeping but a 3:36 a.m. post? Maybe you should start reading the Stallion Register to help you doze. But thanks for the Paul Harvey-like update! :+)

15 Sep 2011 9:46 AM
Abigail Anderson

@Deacon & Steve from St. Louis: I so resonate to the horses mentioned: The Minstrel, Allez France and the superb Nijinsky II, a great favourite of mine. In the latter case, I am just THRILLED to see Nijinsky mentioned in the context of great thoroughbreds such as Secretariat & Prove Out & Mr. Prospector & Riva Ridge. I believe that, at the time of his arrival in the USA, very few understood what it meant to win the British Triple Crown and he was the first since Bahram, 36 years earlier. All that most North Americans knew about Nijinsky was that he had lost the Arc, as well as his final race, after going undefeated up until then. And he lost the Arc by LESS than Zenyatta lost the 2010 BC Classic, likely due to being asked to do too much too late and to lugging out near the finish when Lester Piggott hit him.

At stud, Nijinsky got some great colts and fillies -- Ferdinand, Golden Fleece, Lammtarra, Maplejinsky, Cherry Hinton and others. But I was always sorry that he never gave the USA a Triple Crown winner of its own!

15 Sep 2011 9:47 AM

What a beautiful, loving tribute to a hard knocking horse.

Deacon; though not from California, I, too, was a Sham fan.  While Secretariat had the largest heart of any TB, Sham had the 2nd largest heart, as both dams came from the Prinquillo line.  Talk about star-crossed, Sham was simply born in the wrong year.

The 70's were truly the Golden Decade of horse racing in America.  It simply boggles the mind to consider the heroes we were blessed with in that era.  Throw in the 60's, and the period is unequalled in our sport.  A quarter century of greatness that we have reduced to sprinters and milers.  Is there any flat race in America over 12f?  Not even a marathon!

15 Sep 2011 10:07 AM

Did Secretariat really need blinkers?

15 Sep 2011 11:15 AM
Mike Sekulic

Did you know that COUGAR II was the morning line favorite for the 1972 Washington DC International? I have the program! Yes, he was the favorite over DROLL ROLE (winner), RIVA RIDGE, SAN SAN (Arc de Triomphe winner) and BELLE GESTE (Canadian Champion), and I think that honor speaks to his status in the racing world at the time.

Too bad it rained so hard, and the turf course became an absolute quagmire, so COUGAR had to be scratched.

15 Sep 2011 1:54 PM
The Deacon

Steve from St. Louis:

Yes I was up late, couldn't sleep but out here in the west it was only 12:36am, which is bad enough.

I enjoy reading all the posts late at night when it is quiet.

Yes Nijinsky II was amazing, as good a sire as he was race horse.

Great son of my favorite all time stallion Nothern Dancer, argueably the best stallion ever. Also Nijinsky II sired Royal Academy, Sky Classic and Seattle Dancer who in 1985 sold for a record 13 million dollars.

I thought Mr. Haskin might appreciate some of this info, but I can't match him for memory.

15 Sep 2011 3:26 PM
The Deacon

Two pretty good fillies also born in 1970.

Windy's Daughter who won the 1973 Mother Goose Stakes and Acorn Stakes, and Magazine who won the 1973 Coaching Club American Oaks.

15 Sep 2011 3:51 PM
Ida Lee

As usual, great article. 1973 was the first year I became aware of horse racing. The reason: Secretariat and Ruffian. I fell so in fell with these equine wonders that I saw no other horses but them. Now reading your article I wish I had paid more attention to the other horses of the time like Prove Out. On the other hand, to this day, no other athlete, whether human or equine, has taken the place of Secretariat and Ruffian in my heart. P.S. Regarding heart size brought up above, I did read somewhere that the great Australian Champ Phar Lap had a huge heart...2 or 3 times bigger than Secretariat. I believe his heart is in a museum in Australia.

15 Sep 2011 4:44 PM
John from Seattle


If I remember correctly, Charles Hatton of the Daily Racing Form mentioned that Cougar II had a troubled trip in the Marlboro Cup busting out of a pack of horses at the top of the stretch and actually made up several lengths on Secretariat, but still behind.

15 Sep 2011 10:34 PM


16 Sep 2011 1:52 AM

John from Seattle,

The official DRF chart on the Marlboro Cup states,"COUGAR II, off slowly,settled suddenly approaching the stretch,altered course when blocked attempting to split horses nearing midstretch and finished with good energy."

Here's the tape:

He wasn't going to catch Secretariat, even without the trouble but at 10F, it may have been close.

In a previuos post on this blog I mentioned our trip to Claiborne in March 1984 (our honeymoon).  Not only did we see up close Secretariat and Riva Ridge but also Nijinsky II, Mr. Prospector, Danzig, Spectacular Bid and Sir Ivor.  The more we all talk about that era, the more I realize how blessed we were to visit Claiborne that day.  

16 Sep 2011 10:06 AM

This reminds me of today  with Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo. They do what is right for one horse and send the other one anywhere so they don't run against each other. Will be interesting to see what they do now since ST has shown himself a really good horse.

16 Sep 2011 11:08 AM

@Bill Two, I totally agree. I do need to make a small correction: Rapid's last race and this one will be around 3 turns at 1 1/16, not 1 1/8 as stated. Win or lose even if his streak ends at 16, he's fun to watch, and as Lafit Pincay & his sidekick, not sure which said what, for HRTV:  "Amazing story, I know he's not one of the great ones, but Who Cares! What a neat horse! It's the perfect example that a racehorse doesn't need to be loaded with talent and God-given ability to display class. And that is what this streak with Rapid Redux is all about.  If you define class as the ability to get the most out of whatever you have, he does that."  They definitely are world's apart in quality, and Prove Out had the God-given talent and ability, but Rapid has to be a horse after Prove Out's own heart! Guess I'm a sucker for the "little guys" and the underdog.

16 Sep 2011 11:38 AM

Prove Out babies had a reputation for being quite difficult to work with and I remember riding one such 2 y.o. colt in Florida. We had some some wild times together as he learned but in the end I was so proud of him and how he handled any adversity. He ended up being one of my favorite 2 yo's ever. Maybe he had some of his Daddy's spirit.

16 Sep 2011 11:52 AM

Can't wait to read the next installment of this series. In the golden era of thoroughbred racing trainers were able to play hunches and roll the dice - unfortunately now with the Internet and media scrutiny they risk getting crucified if they try that and fail.

16 Sep 2011 2:11 PM
Bill Two

Mike Sekulac, I really wonder what Lucien Laurin was thinking when he entered Riva Ridge in that DC International.  For starters, Riva was definitely not a turf horse and secondly, you're right, that turf course was a swamp that day.  If i'm not mistaken, one of the participants broke down when he stepped in a hole on the backstretch.  I have never seen a turf race run under such hazardous conditions and to think you had the best turfers in the world all there!

16 Sep 2011 2:50 PM

Phar Laps' heart is in the museum and weighed 13.6 pounds.  The heart of Eclipse was weighed at 14 pounds. Sham's heart is recorded at 18 pounds, while Secretariat's was estimated at about 22 pounds.  The normal size is 8.5 pounds.

When an x factor is mentioned it refers to a trait for a larger heart passed on through the female line.  Princequillo was noted as having progeny whose hearts were weighed at 14 or more pounds.

(Which is why my kids never want to play Trivial Pursuit with me...over the years, my head seems to have collected many stray facts.)

16 Sep 2011 7:29 PM
Julien Richards 1

wow! Steve what an amazing story. I was so mesmerized that i read the story very slowly so i would absorb every aspect of the piece. I love horses and horse racing and find that these older historic accounts of greatness in the sport give me the biggest boost. Thank you Steve... I wish that you never stop.

17 Sep 2011 3:59 PM
outdoor fun

hi steve!  '73 is special to me, secretariats belmont was the moment that grabbed me into the sport.  I was in junior high, but as soon as i turned 18 i high tailed it to hazel park, mi. and until this day I'm still playing around with these horses.  I was doing some research for 2012 breeding season and wonder if you know where DEBUSSY went to? I'd appreciate it if you could track him down.  thanks

17 Sep 2011 7:15 PM
Dawn in MN

Mr. Haskin,

Thank you for telling the story of Prove Out.  This fan saw this story on Blood Horse, and "saved" it.  I wanted to wait for a time when the house would be quiet and I could savor your wonderful writing.  I was not disappointed.

I found this quote about story-telling;

"Australian Aborigines say that the big stories—the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life—are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush. —Robert Moss, Dreamgates"

I'm glad this story grabbed you.  Your writing it like that, you tell the stories that give meaning to the lives of the horses and people, and for that I thank you, every time you write.

18 Sep 2011 8:44 AM
Dawn in MN

P.S.  Deacon, Slew and me too.  I too was rooting for Sham.  When Sham dropped back and Secretariat pulled away in the Belmont, the camera could no longer include the other horses in the field.  I kept looking at the t.v. screen for any shot of Sham.  That was the last time anyone ever saw Sham race, I never saw Sham again.  So sad.

18 Sep 2011 8:53 AM

Perhaps, the greatest and most interesting of Steve's articles. Certainly puts into stark perspective the decline in thoroughbred horse racing. I was 26 in 1973, and this was horse racing as I remember it before horses were made brittle by drugs, were bred only for speed, were only lightly raced, carried lower weights, were run at lesser distances, and were retired far too early in their racing " careers" if what goes on today can actually be termed a career. Yes, this really happened: Prove Out running 5 times in 5 weeks against the best in the country, stretched out to 1 1/2 for the first time in the now 1 1/8 Woodward to best Secretariat having never gone more than a 1 1/16; then stretched out even further to 2 miles in the now 1 1/4 Jockey Gold Cup to beat Riva Ridge by 33 lengths after a half in a suicidal 47 2/5 and a mile in a brutal 1:37 1/5, holding off a top notch closer when Prove Out should have been finished after the earlier speed duel with Riva Ridge. This from a horse that had only won 4 times in 27 starts (25 of those maiden and allowance races with 2 losses in his only stake races)  and a horse with physical problems (ankles, sinus, and shoulder) that it took the genius of Jerkens to correct and alleviate. From the conditions in the thoroughbred racing industry today it's, simply put,  hard to fathom such an occurrence of events and amazing that Prove Out then beat Secretariat in the Woodward even though Big Red ran a time equalling that of Gallant Man in the Belmont - the fastest ever run until Secretariat's Belmont - and with Secretariat ill-prepared after two slow turf works and only two weeks after a world record performance in the 1 1/8 Marlboro Cup  - Secretariat still finishing 11 1/2 lengths ahead of the top handicapper Cougar 11. It seems surreal that Jerkens came right back with Prove Out in the JGC at 2 miles with the horse running a two mile winning time that only the great 60s handicapper Kelso has ever bested to this day. Then, to add a little perspective to it all, factor in that Secretariat in a span of 23 days had set a world record in the Marlboro Cup, equalled the second fastest Belmont time in losing to Prove Out, and climaxed this 3 week period by setting a turf course record in the Man O' War in his first start on the Grass, winning by 5 lengths. Then comes the badly used Derby winner Riva Ridge, the victim of bad timing/race placement, races run on the wrong surfaces in the slop, and even a drugging incident, who, despite it all, never broke down, had a fine career breaking American and track records, but never, as Steve points out , getting the recognition he deserved. Thanks, Steve, for this piece of historical perspective that causes us elders to yearn for what used to be the conditions in American thoroughbred racing and that demonstrates so clearly the sharp decline in the industry today.

18 Sep 2011 11:25 AM


Sorry I just caught up with this article now.  I remember reading - and being fascinated by - the initial version of this article a few years ago.  The additional information you've provided in this latest version makes a great article even better.

Being a longtime fan and amateur handicapper, I agree wholeheartedly with the view, voiced by many previous commenters, that in the 1970's we were blessed by quite possibly the greatest collection of racehorses to run in any decade.  From a breeding perspective, it's always seemed to me that, at least in part, this greatness is likely the result of the presence of a combination of classic North American and European champions in the recent bloodlines of the greats of that era.

I was particularly intrigued by the Beyer speed figures you cited in the article, especially the towering 131 Prove Out ran in the Woodward.  Assuming this figure was computed on roughly the same scale as the 139 speed figure Andy Beyer, after a careful reconstruction, ascribes to Secretariat's Belmont, it allows us to have some fun by speculating how that Woodward might have turned out had Secretariat been in peak form.  The eight point difference suggests to me that Secretariat, had he been able (or fit enough) to reproduce his  Belmont performance, might have finished 6 or 7 lengths ahead of Prove Out.  This would have given him a time of 2:24 3/5 or so, not very far at all off of his Belmont time.  Instead, given that Secretariat ran 4 1/2 lengths behind Prove Out, we can infer that he probably ran about a 125 Beyer, some 14 points (or 11 or so lengths) slower than he ran in his Belmont.  These 11 lengths (although admittedly a rough estimate) seem to me a reasonable guess as to how much Big Red's performance might have been compromised, in a tiring 1 1/2 mile race, by the training and other factors you describe in your article.  They might also explain why,as Ray Woolfe cited in his book, "Secretariat", Allen Jerkens, after the Woodward, said, "Secretariat is the best horse I ever saw on his peak performances . . .".

Anyway, I don't intend at all to detract in any way from Prove Out's remarkable Woodward.  These are fun comparisons to make, only the great ones are part of them and there's certainly nothing wrong with being a strong candidate for having run the second best dirt mile ever seen in America.

Thanks again for a wonderful article and for reviving so many terrific memories.  I hope others enjoy these kinds of comparisons among our greatest performers and I look forward eagerly to your next article.

30 Nov 2011 5:50 PM

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