Lost to the Ages: The Story of Dark Secret

By J. Keeler Johnson “Keelerman”
Ask any racing fan to name the best horses of the early 1930s and you are likely to hear names like Equipoise, Twenty Grand, Gallant Fox, Discovery, Cavalcade, Top Flight, and Sun Beau. That is to be expected. All were considered champions in their respective divisions; all are in the Hall of Fame.
But there is one name that rarely gets mentioned, and that is terribly unfortunate, for he was without a doubt one of the toughest and most courageous horses of his generation. During a career that spanned four years, he made fifty-seven starts, won twenty-three of them and placed in eighteen others. He averaged 14.25 starts per year, and earned $89,375—a very respectable sum considering how small Depression-era purses were in the handicap division.
The horse’s name? Dark Secret.
It has often been said that a great horse can come from anywhere. Allow me to expound on that premise by stating that a great horse can come from any heritage.
In 1918—or 1919, by some accounts—a mare by the name of Silencia was born. Her sire was the 1909 champion older male King James, a useful if not stellar stallion that ranked in the top twenty leading general sires on three occasions. Her dam was Auntie Mum, a foreign-bred daughter of Melton that had previously produced the good colt Spur, winner of the Travers Stakes, Withers Stakes, and five other stakes in 1916. Spur was also a son of King James, making Silencia his full-sister.
So there was most likely a bit of excitement in the air when Silencia headed to post for the first start of her career. However, like many full siblings of talented runners, Silencia failed to live up to expectations, finishing unplaced in two starts before being retired to the broodmare ranks at Gifford Cochran's Shandon Stud.
Silencia’s first foal, born in 1928, was a colt by the name of Royal Carlaris. A son of 1926 Coffroth Handicap winner Carlaris, Royal Carlaris had a modest amount of ability—enough to break his maiden—but he never won a stakes.
For her second mating, Silencia was bred to Flying Ebony, who had carried the Cochran silks to victory in the 1925 Kentucky Derby. The resulting foal, born in 1929, was named Dark Secret.
Details regarding the early years of Dark Secret's life are difficult to come by. According to Edward Bowen's fine volume Masters of the Turf, Dark Secret was sold as a two-year-old at the Gifford Cochran dispersal, where he was purchased by Wheatley Stable for the sum of $5,700 and turned over to the legendary "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons for training. But aside from that, little is known about the colt's early life. Even his color is somewhat debatable—some sources describe him as a bay roan, others simply call him bay. Photographs of him, unfortunately, are black-and-white, making it very difficult to say with certainty what color he was.
As a juvenile, Dark Secret was a capable enough performer, winning a pair of races from eight starts and placing in five others, including the Hartsdale Stakes. However, he was in nowhere near the same class as Top Flight, the magnificent filly that swept undefeated through seven starts to gain recognition as the best two-year-old of the year, regardless of gender. Nor was Dark Secret in the same class as Burning Blaze, winner of the Post and Paddock Stakes, Richard Johnson Stakes, and Eastern Shore Handicap; or even Tick On, who won the Hopeful and was second to Top Flight in the Pimlico Futurity.
No, as a juvenile, Dark Secret was fairly unremarkable. But as a three-year-old in 1932, he began to come around. By the end of the year, he had won the Bowie and Potomac Handicaps, the Kenner Stakes, and the Speculation Claiming Handicap, in addition to placing in the Bay Shore, Jerome, Knickerbocker, and Southhampton Handicaps; the Saratoga Cup, and the Empire City Derby. In the Potomac, probably the best race of his career to that point, he beat Belmont Stakes runner-up Osculator by a length, with Maryland Handicap winner Gallant Sir a nose further back in third and Top Flight still another length back in fourth.
All told, Dark Secret compiled a record of eight wins and six placings from nineteen starts in 1932, with earnings of $37,480. It was successful season.
But the best was yet to come.
Also competing as a three-year-old in 1932 was a horse whose name will forever be associated with Dark Secret, in the same way that Alydar will forever be associated with Affirmed.
This horse’s name was Faireno. Owned and bred by Belair Stud of Gallant Fox and Omaha fame, Faireno had the makings of a great horse. His sire was Chatteron, a son of Fair Play that would become the leading general sire of 1932. His dam was Minerva, who would eventually produce four stakes winners from twelve foals, including Louisiana Derby winner Wise Fox and Delaware Oaks winner Wise Lady. She herself was a daughter of the foreign-bred Ambassador IV, a son of the great German stallion Dark Ronald. If a there was ever a horse that could be described as a personification of the iron stayer, it was Faireno. For him, it seemed, the longer the race, the better he ran.
Like Dark Secret, Faireno was trained by Fitzsimmons, but unlike Dark Secret, Faireno showed considerable class as a two-year-old. From sixteen starts, he won six, including the Junior Champion Stakes, Nursery Handicap, Victoria Stakes, and Consolation Claiming Stakes. He also placed in a trio of other minor stakes, stamping himself as a colt of respectable quality.
But as a three-year-old, Faireno metamorphosed into something entirely different. Instead of being a colt of merely respectable quality, he became one of the best of his generation.
After beginning the year with a trio of moderate efforts, the colt was entered in the Belmont Stakes, which he won by 1 1/2 lengths over Osculator. Building on that success, Faireno proceeded to rattle off victories in the Shevlin Stakes and Dwyer Stakes, beating the fine colt Gusto in the latter. A sub-par showing in the Classic Stakes was followed by convincing victories in the Saratoga and Hawthorne Handicaps. He concluded the year with a runner-up effort in the Hawthorne Gold Cup and an easy victory in the Lawrence Realization. For his efforts, he was recognized as the co-champion of the division, along with Kentucky Derby/Preakness Stakes winner Burgoo King.
All told, Faireno finished the season with a record of seven wins and two seconds from twelve starts, with earnings of $136,635. Although he was unable to compete in 1933—the reason why has eluded my research—he would be back in 1934, the year his name would become inseparably entwined with that of Dark Secret.
Just as the transition from two-year-old to three-year-old ushered in a remarkable transformation for Faireno, the transition from three-year-old to four-year-old did the same for Dark Secret.
As was becoming customary for the colt, Dark Secret began the year in slow fashion, performing below par in a number of early-season races before rounding back into form. In all actuality, however, Dark Secret didn't "round back into" his previous year's form. Instead, he sort of round right on past it, and became a terror on the racetrack.
Shipping from one track to another during a busy seventeen-race campaign, Dark Secret was nearly unstoppable. His first major score of the year came in the prestigious Brooklyn Handicap, and he followed that up with a victory in the Empire City Handicap. Sent to Saratoga for the Merchants and Citizens' Handicap—then a very prestigious fixture at the Spa—Dark Secret toted 120 pounds to a 2 1/2-length victory over Golden Way and Watch Him, whom he was spotting nine and ten pounds, respectively. This was followed by an equally impressive victory in the Manhattan Handicap, where he carried 124 pounds to victory over Gusto, who carried just 114.
His next start came in the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. At two miles in distance, it seemed perfect for a colt like Dark Secret, who was rapidly establishing himself as one of the best stayers in the country. Yet despite his stellar credentials, he was not favored. That honor went to Equipoise.
Nicknamed "The Chocolate Soldier" by his adoring fans, Equipoise was a five-year-old son of Pennant and had been honored as Horse of the Year in 1932 following victories in the Hartford Handicap, Toboggan Handicap, Metropolitan Handicap, Stars and Stripes Handicap, Arlington Gold Cup, Wilson Stakes, Whitney Stakes, and Havre de Grace Cup. His defeats—which were few and far between—were typically close ones, and always came at the hands of horses carrying considerably less weight.
But as good a year as 1932 was for Equipoise, 1933 was even better. Coming into the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Equipoise had not lost a single race all season, winning the Philadelphia, Metropolitan, Suburban, and Arlington Handicaps; the Wilson Stakes, the Hawthorne Gold Cup, and the Saratoga Cup in consecutive fashion. Furthermore, in both the Metropolitan and Arlington Handicaps, he had beaten Dark Secret, while giving him substantial weight to boot.
However, if there was one chink in Equipoise's armor, it was distance. True, he had won the Saratoga Cup at 1 3/4 miles, but in general, he seemed better suited to shorter distances, with eight to ten furlongs being his optimum range. Even at his best, the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup was probably a bit beyond his capabilities.
Unfortunately, Equipoise was not at his best for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Throughout his career he had dealt with numerous hoof issues, mainly quarter cracks, and it seems they were starting to bother him yet again. Thus, given the circumstances, it seemed possible that Dark Secret could make the race a close one.
It was not close at all.
Equipoise, bad feet and all, gallantly tracked the pace for over a mile and a half, but could offer nothing more in the homestretch and retreated to finish third. In the meantime, Dark Secret—clearly relishing the distance—romped to a four-length victory over Gusto, who in turn was eight clear of the Chocolate Soldier.
It could be said that Dark Secret's victory was a meaningless one. He had already proven superior to Gusto on numerous occasions in the past, and beating poor Equipoise under the circumstances was hardly a stellar achievement.
Yes, you could say Dark Secret's victory was a hollow one; perhaps even undeserved. But one year later, he would prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that he was worthy.
The date was September 15, 1934. The feature race at Belmont Park was the sixteenth running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
The field was a small one, and Dark Secret was the heavy favorite. After winning the race in good fashion the previous year, he had wrapped up his stellar 1933 season with victories in the Laurel Stakes and the Washington Handicap. Following his usual winter break, he had started his 1934 campaign with a number of so-so efforts, including a distant second in the Brooklyn Handicap behind the up-and-coming three-year-old Discovery, who would eventually retire with a reputation as one of the greatest weight-carriers of all time.
But as was typical of Dark Secret, he got better as the year progressed. He was coming into the Jockey Club Gold Cup off of strong victories in the 1 3/4-mile Saratoga Cup—which he won by three lengths—and the Manhattan Handicap, which he dominated by four.
The post parade was surely a bittersweet occasion for his fans, as it had been announced previously that the Jockey Club Gold Cup would be Dark Secret’s final race. To go out with a win would be a fitting conclusion to his wonderful career.
But standing between Dark Secret and victory was a horse of regal background and unquestionable stamina: Faireno. After failing to make a single start during 1933, he made a comeback early in 1934 but appeared to have lost the spark that made him special—he lost his first ten starts of the year.
However, a surprising victory in the Empire City Handicap seemed to revitalize the gallant stayer, and after placing in two more stakes, he claimed top prize by two lengths in the Merchants and Citizens' Handicap.
His final prep for the Jockey Club Gold Cup was one of great intrigue, for it was the Saratoga Cup, where he faced Dark Secret for the first time. Given that both colts had proven themselves to be stayers of the highest class, it was expected to be a fairly even matchup.
But in a somewhat surprising turn of events, the race was not close. Toting equal weights, Dark Secret romped away from Faireno in the stretch to win by three lengths.
In the Jockey Club Gold Cup, they would carry equal weights yet again. And with this in mind, it seemed clear that Dark Secret would not lose. For Faireno to make the race a close one would require Dark Secret to run well below par, and what were the chances of that?
One mile and fifteen-sixteenths later, Dark Secret was in full flight, charging down the homestretch for the final time. Just like in the Saratoga Cup, he had disposed of Faireno at the top of the stretch and was now drawing away to victory. The only thing standing between Dark Secret and victory was a sixteenth of a mile; a mere one hundred and ten yards.
All he had to do was finish the race.
Suddenly, a gasp arose from the crowd. Dark Secret—the iron horse; the veteran of fifty-six starts and twenty-two wins; the fourteen-time stakes winner who had traversed hundreds of furlongs at tracks across the country—had stumbled without warning.
He had fractured a leg with less than a sixteenth of a mile to go.
Miraculously, he didn’t fall. He was injured, but still running—perhaps semi-oblivious to what had happened.
Of course, the victory that had seemed so certain just moments before was evaporating like a desert mirage. Faireno, as beaten as he had been at the top of the stretch, was back in the race. With his regal pedigree and unquestionable stamina backing him up, he surged alongside Dark Secret and appeared certain to steal the race.
But Dark Secret was not done yet. Amazingly, with only three good legs beneath him, he summoned from deep within his soul the determination and fortitude to keep running. The fire that had been stoked by breeders through the centuries, in an effort to create a better racehorse, was culminating in Dark Secret. In the face of adversity, he would not give up. He would finish the race. It was in his blood to do so, and he would have it no other way.
And although this writer cannot fathom how, Dark Secret held off Faireno to win the race by a head.
Fifty-six starts, twenty-two victories, fourteen stakes victories, and literally hundreds of furlongs of racing over the course of four years had failed to earn Dark Secret the status of greatness. Perhaps, according to traditional measurements, he didn't deserve it. Perhaps he wasn't in the same class as Equipoise, Discovery, and Gallant Fox.
But in that final sixteenth of a mile, Dark Secret proved to this writer that he was the greatest of them all.
It saddens me to say it, but that is the end of Dark Secret's story as it exists today.
Nearly eighty years have elapsed since that fateful day in September 1934 when Dark Secret won the race but lost his life. During that time, memories of Dark Secret seem to have been scattered by the wind—a tidbit here, a tidbit there, but never the full story. Why has time been so unkind to Dark Secret? How can a horse so courageous; so talented; so great—fade like a sunset with the passing of the years?
Compare and contrast his record to those of other, more recent greats. In 1933 alone, Dark Secret won eight stakes races—two more than Ghostzapper won in his entire career. All told, Dark Secret won twenty-two races—Curlin won eleven; Ghostzapper, nine; Point Given, nine; and Tiznow, eight. Smarty Jones, I'll Have Another, and Big Brown? They didn't win that many races combined!
Over the course of his career, Dark Secret traversed literally hundreds of furlongs. To compile the exact number would require an exhaustive amount of research through the Keeneland Library, but it is certainly not overestimating to state that he ran at least five hundred furlongs. Ghostzapper? He ran just eighty-two in his career.
So why did a horse that tough break down? This, too, remains unknown. Some say he stepped in a hole in the track; others say he hit a hard spot. The consensus seems to be that he didn't break down from unsoundness; rather, the track was at fault.
But all that aside, the story of Dark Secret may have one final chapter remaining—an epilogue added to the tale, years after its completion.
There is a chance—albeit a small one—that Dark Secret may still find his way into the Hall of Fame, even after all these years. He will not be voted in by traditional means. However, the Hall of Fame does have what is called the Historic Review Committee, a group that examines the merit of long-ago horses, trainers, and jockeys that may have slipped through the cracks of the traditional Hall of Fame procedures.
Perhaps someday—someday—the Historic Review Committee will see fit to usher Dark Secret into their hallowed circle of great ones. It would be a fitting ending to the story of a truly great horse that deserves so much better than to be lost to the ages.
The next time anyone asks you to name the best horses of the early 1930s, be sure to mention Dark Secret. When discussing the century's greatest stayers, don't forget to nominate Dark Secret. And when conversation turns to the most courageous horses in history, by all means endorse Dark Secret.
J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") is a racing enthusiast and blogs at; www.triplecrowncountdown.blogspot.com

Caption: Photo of Dark Secret winning the Polomae Handicap.
Photo: The Blood-Horse Library - Please do not take without permission.


Leave a Comment:

Thoroughbreds are the best

Well done!  Thank you for bringing this thoroughbred's thoroughbred back to life.  I hope the powers that be read this wonderful, courageous narrative of a horse that gave it all.

16 Dec 2012 7:19 PM

Oh, wow!  I blubbered all the way through this!  What a lovely story of surely the most courageous of horses. With a few like you to keep his flame burning, he won't be forgotten.  Thank you so much for sharing this. I plan to archive it so that I can pass it on for others to experience and help keep Dark Secret's flame burning bright.  Best wishes for a happy holiday season.  Ann Maree

16 Dec 2012 7:38 PM

Thank you for reminding us about Dark Secret.  I first read about this amazing horse in the book "Twenty Gallant Horses" by C.W. Anderson.  Intrigued, I tried to do further research on Dark Secret but found very little information.  He was courage and class in the flesh and should be honored and remembered

16 Dec 2012 7:47 PM

Thank you, Keelerman!  Excellent article, it held my attention the entire way and I learned of a horse I should have known about long before today, but somehow didn't.

The story of Dark Secret is no longer a dark secret.  You have shined a deserved spotlight on this fine, courageous horse.  You have let the modern-day fan who was unaware of Dark Secret's accomplishments know of his greatness.  Many great horses from the 1930s, including Seabiscuit, almost melted into the anonymity and obscurity of the past, but thankfully, their legacies have been preserved by some caring individuals in the racing press and by book authors like Laura Hillenbrand.

I am now an enthusiastic fan of Dark Secret, the remarkable horse who courageously won on three good legs and one badly broken leg in his final stakes race, literally giving his very life to win the race.  Reminds me a lot of Eight Belles's heroic second place story in the Kentucky Derby almost eighty years later.

Yes, Dark Secret definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame, and I pray he makes it there.  It's only right.  It's only fair.  It's his due and his legacy.  Dark Secret's greatness should be officially recognized so that racing fans can forever know of his strength, talent and courage.

Bravo, Dark Secret.  Signed: Your New 2012 Fan.

16 Dec 2012 9:59 PM
Mike Relva

Wonderful, thanks for taking the time to write this great story.

16 Dec 2012 10:21 PM
Arts and Letters

I too remember reading about Dark Secret in C.W. Anderson's books, along with another relative unknown, Chase Me.  And, ironically, I recently acquired some bound Blood Horse magazines from the 1930s, which I'm reading through.  I'm about halfway through 1934.  Chase Me has already met his demise, but I haven't read about the JCGC yet.  I know Dark Secret is on the cover though.

On a different note, one of the articles in that same year talked about 2 year old sensation Black Helen and how she wasn't nominated for the big races because her dam hadn't produced anything of note and wasn't thought well of.  Her dam?  La Troienne.  :)

16 Dec 2012 11:02 PM
Donut Jimmy

I was just about to buy a used copy of "Twenty Gallant Horses" for friends who are just getting into racing. C.W. Anderson's writings about racehorses may be one of the real reasons that I developed a passion for them. Decades later, I remembered Dark Secret clearly from his writing.

16 Dec 2012 11:13 PM

Whoapony, thank you for reminding me of the title of that book! I read it too, a long time ago, and cried when I read Dark Secret's story. Steve, thanks so much for yet another wonderful (but sad) story and for keeping Dark Secret's flame alive. I hope somehow he makes it to a well-deserved place in the Hall of Fame.

17 Dec 2012 12:33 AM
The Deacon

What a story and story teller.

Send this story to every owner and trainer in America. Convince them to get us back to old days when horses were racing machines and I mean that in a great way. We need more Dark Secrets, Kelso's, Forego's, John Henry's and Ancient Title's......

Merry Christmas to you and your family.......

17 Dec 2012 1:40 AM
Tracey Gilbert

That was an amazing story. Such toughness and courage should be rewarded by a place in Racing's Hall of Fame. It is always sad to see good horses overlooked or merely there as a footnote to the careers of other horses such as Dark Star and Foolish Pleasure. (to Native Dancer and Ruffian) although to have absolutely no mention at all in Champions: The Life, Times and Past Performances of America's is extremely sad. Thank you for bringing another great racehorse back to life and into my consciousness.

17 Dec 2012 2:57 AM

That's a bittersweet story about a courageous horse. I can't help but wonder, though, whether Dark Secret's life was sacrificed by a jockey -- and, perhaps, an ethos at the time -- too bent on winning at any cost.  Dark Secret should have been pulled up gently but firmly as soon as it was apparent that he'd broken down, a la Charismatic in the Belmont.

This is by no means to suggest that Dark Secret wouldn't be a very deserving member of the Hall of Fame, as this article so persuasively demonstrates.    

17 Dec 2012 5:23 AM
Susan W.

Like "whoapony", I have read about Dark Secret in C.W. Anderson's excellent book "Twenty Gallant Horses" (and if you like horse racing history, it is a must-have book --- out of print, but available on auction sites from time to time.) I have a copy of Anderson's drawing of Dark Secret on the wall of my office.  It reminds me of his amazing story, his amazing heart and courage.  Let us hope that the HOF folks will remember him and give him the honor he deserves.

17 Dec 2012 6:00 AM
John from Baltimore

What a difference between "The Total Package" then and now.

17 Dec 2012 9:35 AM
Abigail Anderson

Keelerman: Like "whoapony" I also first read about Dark Secret in CW Anderson's book. I treasure my CW Andersons because he focused in on so many great horses that we hear almost nothing about any more. I enjoyed your article very very much. It would seem our "racing hearts" live in the same community -- I run THE VAULT; Horse Racing Past and Present. It is my mission to bring stories like Dark Secret's to life. I was just thrilled to learn more about this great champion. Thank you!

17 Dec 2012 10:09 AM
Age of Reason

My hat's off to you, Keelerman! Don't think I could've done a better job myself. Hee! But seriously, this was an excellent story and one that needs to be told. Thank you!

17 Dec 2012 11:38 AM
Pedigree Ann

I don't remember where I first read about Dark Secret, but it was many years ago, when I was reading every book I could find about racehorses. Like Humorist, who won The Derby with an advanced case of tuberculosis (which killed him a couple weeks later), Dark Secret belongs in a special place in the galaxy of Thoroughbred stars - the constellation of horses who awe us with their determination and willingness to truly give their all.

17 Dec 2012 12:20 PM

Like whoapony, I remember this story from C W Anderson's book.  And I think Dark Secret was one of the horses, like Black Gold, who Samuel Riddle described as "running on three legs and their heart" (I think Marguerite Henry quoted that).

I seem to remember a biography of Sunny Fitz by Jimmy Breslin that tells Dark Secret's story too.

It's amazing, but I don't see a color picture on line either.  I wonder if the Wheatley Stable archives has a portrait...it might not be on line.

Thanks for the story of a classic runner.

17 Dec 2012 2:06 PM

reminds me of Ruffian. she would not let herself be pulled up. she wanted to keep going. If he had been pulled up he still would have been put down for there was no treatment for a fracture then. Possibly his jockey didn't know about the seriousness of the injury since the horse kept running and didn't fall. We will never know but he sure had a lot of heart and that is what we all admire in a race horse.

17 Dec 2012 3:22 PM

Thanks you all for the kind comments; I really appreciate them!

I think I'll have to track down a copy of C. W. Anderson's book. It sounds like a good read!

Age of Reason -- bound copies of the Blood-Horse from the 1930s? That is so cool! The piece about Black Helen and La Troinne is fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

The Deacon -- Merry Christmas to you, too!


17 Dec 2012 4:03 PM

Thank you for a fantastic story of a wonderful horse.I spend my whole lifedealing with horses and most people do not have an idea of how valiant these horses are.

17 Dec 2012 5:07 PM

Thank you for the story...heartbreaking though it is.  I am also glad to know that I am not the only one who treasures the books by C.W. Anderson that sit on my shelf.  I checked out every book in the library by Anderson when I was a little girl and have managed to collect a few as an adult.  They are wonderful.

17 Dec 2012 5:24 PM
Jean in Chicago

Thanks, Keelerman, for reminding us of a great horse.  I also remember him from C.W. Anderson's book.  I inherited my copies from my mother and since I'm now in my 60s, both the books and myself are now somewhat worse for wear.  But for any horse fan do try to track down copies.  He was a wonderful artist as well as a fine writer so there are portraits of each horse he talks about.

17 Dec 2012 6:38 PM
Dr Drunkinbum


  Excellent article albeit tragic to be so close to retirement and lose your life. Enlightening as to the Hall of Fame. First of all I was bombarded in my memory by all of the horses that I know have lost their lives in a race. Then I researched Dark Secret, a horse I had never heard of who was born in the same year of my father who passed away 3 years ago. Dark Secret in his last 20 races had 15 wins three places and 2 thirds. He won the Jockey Gold Cup twice and the Manhattan twice and also the Brooklyn, and Washington in that span. Hall of Fame, hell yes.

17 Dec 2012 6:45 PM
Dr Drunkinbum


   Me too.

17 Dec 2012 6:48 PM

Great story!   I read about Dark Secret as

A kid I hated he broke down.  And yes what

A warrior!   Our horses of today cannot

Measure up to the soundness.  

17 Dec 2012 6:55 PM

This is a wonderful tale, marvelously told. And thank you to everyone who mentioned CW Anderson... he's been an inspiration to me nearly my whole life.

17 Dec 2012 9:46 PM
Susan from VA

Wow, what a story!  This is the first I've heard of Dark Secret.  Now I'll never forget him.

17 Dec 2012 10:49 PM

Arts and Letters -- I just realized that I mis-addressed my reply to you above. Sorry about that!

18 Dec 2012 11:38 AM

Wonderful job, Keelerman! Was ever a horse more appropriately named?

What a shame Dark Secret's genes were not passed along to later generations ... thanks for a great story and more justification for this disease we all share, horse-itis. I read CW Anderson's books as an elementary schooler... all illustrated with his beautiful artwork. Treasures all.

Happy holidays, everyone, stay warm and dry!!

18 Dec 2012 1:45 PM
Terry M.

What a name from the past! I remember reading about Dark Secret when I was a child or a teenager. He definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

18 Dec 2012 2:10 PM

Kellerman you never cease to amaze me.  A truly great story one of millions that need to be told.  All the best for you and your family over the Christmas holidays and I'm anxiously waiting for another great account of the forgotten stars in the gretest of all sp[orts.

18 Dec 2012 3:53 PM
Old Old Cat

great story.  Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Magazine runs a one page spread on 10-25-50 years ago.  It's priceless.  Perhaps Blood-Horse could do the same.  Maybe 20-50-100 years ago.  I have a friend named Steve who has everything including newsprint back to 1920 or before.  I'll have to get more info from him.  Thanks again for the story.  

18 Dec 2012 4:05 PM
Bill Two

Thanks for that amazing account of a gallant warrior.  I thought that Tim Tam's Belmont was the ultimate example of thoroughbred courage, but Dark Secret has him beat.  Tim Tam fractured a sesamoid somewhere around the top of the stretch in The 1958 Belmont Stakes and still managed to finish second to Cavan, but For Dark Secret to hold on and win with that injury is mind boggling.  Heck yes, the horse belongs in the Hall of Fame.

18 Dec 2012 6:26 PM

There are often copies of Anderson's books & prints on on -line auction sites like eBay. I bought several of his books there for my nieces when they were young.

18 Dec 2012 7:19 PM
Bill Rinker

Thanks for a great article Keelerman, you write very well. I remembered the name Dark Secret but couldn't pull up any details in my memory banks. Thanks for bringing me up to speed and I'll be looking for other articles of yours in the future.

18 Dec 2012 7:20 PM
Shelby's Best Pal

What an interesting story!  Just wish the ending wasn't sad.  

18 Dec 2012 9:19 PM

What a tragic story, and what a gallant horse. I'm glad that he's not forgotten.

19 Dec 2012 1:02 AM

Heart touching and enlightening, hope he makes his way into the hall of fame someday. One of the reasons it's so hard to draw comparisons between horses of yesteryear and those today is because things were so different. If ponies today had to run on some of the tracks they ran on back in the day, there wouldn't be a horse left standing. Rest in Peace Dark Secret, you aren't a secret anymore.

19 Dec 2012 2:06 AM

The pathway to man's glory is strewn with bones of the horse. Sums it up for me.

19 Dec 2012 2:12 AM
Mike Relva


Happy Holidays!

19 Dec 2012 2:52 AM

Beautifully done, Keelerman!  What an amazing story.  I'll be on the lookout for the book recommended so well by so many.

Zen4Zen...that was my first thought also.  On second thought, I simply know how difficult it is to stop a horse running full out...it's impossible without causing even more damage.  And then you have to consider that even in pain, injured race horses will often keep running on pure adrenalin. I'll never forget how Go For Wand got up, and tried to finish her race...or Ruffian still trying to run in her dreams after surgery.

We all have so much to be thankful for...and we've been so fortunate to be able to tap into the memories and research of writers determined to recognize our sometimes forgotten heroes of the track.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, surrounded by family and friends.  And Santa Anita (Santa's Anita?) re-opens Dec. 26th.

19 Dec 2012 11:15 AM

I love such courage as this from these animals & such great historical detail from you, Steve.

I'm glad to see El Padrino back in the mix!

19 Dec 2012 11:41 AM
Mike Relva


How are you? Merry Christmas

19 Dec 2012 1:06 PM

Thank you so much for remembering him! He was the horse whose story made me watch my very first horserace a lifetime ago, so that I could meet Tim Tam and take this sport to my heart. Dark Secret was my very first hero ever and it has always grieved me that we never hear anything about him any more. His courage and dedication to the task set for him are an example most of us humans could do well to emulate. As they used to say ... Thoroughbreds don't cry. Big in heart, high in courage, they go on to finish the race. Thank you again for remembering him.

19 Dec 2012 5:09 PM


Thank you for gathering up all those scattered remnants of Dark Secret's story and piecing them together in a magnificent article for us.  I had never heard of Dark Secret, as in his name I guess his story had to be a "secret" until now.  Imagine 56 starts!  I think he so deservedly belongs in the Hall of Fame, no questions asked.  I'm sorry he met his demise in the way he did, but what a gallant warrior he proved he was.  Thanks to you Dark Secret is not forgotten and has picked up many new fans I see including myself.

Happy Holidays to Steve and family and all my fellow bloggers.  The best Christmas gift of all this year was Paynter recovering.  Let's hope 2013 gives us all good health and an incredible year of racing to be part of.

19 Dec 2012 6:35 PM


I'm good.  Been really busy.  Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year.

19 Dec 2012 11:57 PM
The Deacon

So many fabulous horses have given their life on the track, a few have been mentioned in this blog.

Lets also honor the jockeys who died giving their all on the track.

Obviously George Woolf in 1946 at Santa Anita. Alvaro Pineda also died at Santa Anita, 1975. A freak starting gate accident. Pineda's brother Roberto also died on the racetrack. Earl " Sandy" Graham died in 1927 due to a racing accident. Skeets Martin died in 1944 again the cause was a racing accident. I am sure there have been others as well. Maybe Steve could write a blog someday about all these great riders who lost their lifeon the track. So many times jockeys go unmentioned. It seems that only the horses are remembered...

Merry Christmas to all.........

20 Dec 2012 4:08 AM
Linda in Texas

Dark Secret, truly a brave and unsung hero until -Keelerman at least for me. Thank you -Keelerman, i always enjoy your comments and natural ability to see thru the statistics and bring the real glory in a story.

To Dark Secret somewhere in the green pastured paddock above, please forgive me i never knew of you or your herocism and now i do.

Convene, nicely stated especially your comment 'they go on to finish the race.' Indeed they do, regardless.

Thanks so much -Keelerman and Merry Christmas to you and all of the wonderful people who meet here to learn and perhaps pass on stories just like Dark Secret. By the way, the photos were a treat.

The Deacon,Slew,Dr.Drunkinbum,


JoyJackson21 you all are a blessing to this wonderful sport and your contributions to this blog are always amazing,sometimes funny and for sure thought provoking. Keeps the cobwebs out of my old brain for sure! Thanks.:)

Steve and family be safe.

20 Dec 2012 10:37 AM

Thank you, Lazmanick. I appreciate your kind words. Merry Christmas!

Mike Relva -- Merry Christmas to you, too!

Old Old Cat -- I really like your idea!

Bill Two & Convene -- I have always felt that Tim Tam would have been a Triple Crown winner if not for his injury. To finish second in the Belmont on a broken sesamoid was truly remarkable.


20 Dec 2012 1:53 PM

Keelerman, thank you for this beautiful and informative tribute to Dark Secret, a powerful, heartbreaking, and inspiring hero whose story has truly been a "dark secret" in the annals of racing. Although I love Steve's blogs, I'm delighted to read an occasional guest blog, especially one so well written and researched - truly a labor of love, Keelerman!

Steve, I hope you have a wonderful vacation and look forward to your return, especially when the Triple Crown Trail of 2013 begins. May you and Keelerman and everyone else here on this board have a wonderful holiday season and a very Happy New Year!

20 Dec 2012 7:05 PM
The Deacon

Keelerman:  I concur about Tim Tam. I think e would have been one of the all time greats. Maybe the best Calumet ever had, but that's argueable.

Also, Graustark, Majestic Prince, Holy Bull and Ruffian would be up there and so many others.......

Merry Christmas to everyone and a special blessing to the families of those children and adults who lost their lives in Conn.

We also suffered that day and lost a piece of our America.

21 Dec 2012 6:58 PM

Linda in Texas

Thank you!  I continue to absorb and learn from you and the rest and it is a pleasure on my end.

It is you who blesses!

21 Dec 2012 7:14 PM

It's very sad what happened to this horse. I never forgot about him ever since I first read his story as a child, in the book, "Twenty Gallant Horses", by C.W. Anderson.  It's very difficult to find information about him.  I have a small photo of him winning his last race. It's interesting to note, and don't recall you mentioning it in this article, that in Dark Secret's last race, the 1934 JCGC, only two other horses faced him, Faireno and Inlander. According to an excerpt from a book written by William H.P. Robertson, "The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America",cr 1964 "He entered the stretch in the lead, and appeared capable of winning without difficulty when there was a hitch in his stride. Dark Secret continued on to cross the finish line by a head, but came to a painful halt immediately thereafter. To compound the tragedy, plans had already been made to retire Dark Secret to stud after the Gold Cup. It would have been his last race anyway."  Robertson notes in his book that the track came up muddy for the Gold Cup that day,  and looking at the photo I have from the book of Dark Secret at the finish line with Faireno...the track looks like a soupy mess,  so it's more than possible the track was to blame for his breakdown. If you could see the picture I'm looking at right now...the track does not look like one you'd want to run your prized race horse over. It's just a very sad story,  and I have never forgotten it. I like the old photos and I'm happy that others haven't forgotten him either. He was a true champion.  Another forgotten champion that is never mentioned ever is Bally Ache.

21 Dec 2012 10:31 PM

Arts n Letters,  The story of "Chase Me" is too sad to even discuss.  Taking a child's show horse away to race it and killing the horse in the process,  I hope Mrs. Bosley was haunted by that decision for the rest of her life. They were aware of the risks involved with racing, and yet, it didn't matter. I wonder what she told her little girl after they killed the horse they took away from her. A truly awful story that will make you sorry you read about it, after you read it. It boggles the mind how anyone could be so heartless and careless in their decision-making, especially, when it involves their own child. This horse was a child's pet gelding and show horse. Anyone who knows the story of Chase Me, hopefully, understands what I am saying.

21 Dec 2012 11:01 PM
peggy conroy

well done as usual Mr Haskin,you may or may not know that CW Anderson included Dark Secret in his book "Tough of Greatness" many years ago. I read it many times, with Dark Secret being my favorite, as a little kid who was entranced by thoroughbreds having just crossbreds on the farm at that time. Although one 1/2 arab pony I grew up with was never defeated in any sort of race always winning like Eclipse--her dad was an imported  racer from Arabia. I later spent decades w/TB's with my foundation mare being the close gray ancestress on the bottom side of Vineyard Haven--that daughter was raised on our farm.

24 Dec 2012 10:31 AM
Stellar Jayne


What a fantastic horse,what a warrior, what heart!  It boggles the mind that he is not in the Hall of Fame.  Why didn't Fitzsimmons or someone fight to get him in earlier?

This story is heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing Dark Secret with us.

Happy Holiday and a Healthy, Happy 2013 to you!

24 Dec 2012 10:44 PM

Thank you, Linda.  I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas.  Ours was white, and it looks as though the weather caught a second wind as snow has begun again.

26 Dec 2012 2:00 PM

(gee...I wasn't done yet..)  As a present to myself, with opening day at Santa Anita today, and a special on Lava Man on Sunday, I broke down and got my HRTV on line.  Now, Im happy.  It's streaming nicely.

26 Dec 2012 2:04 PM

How about that!  Paynter gets reunited with "the guy with the white hair" after all this weekend!!!  He flys out of Newark Airport in NJ on Saturday!!!  Amazing!!!  Zayats will be there to welcome him.  Power to Paynter and Power to the Zayats and Happy New Year to all.  Baffert's birthday is Jan. 13 (I know this because we share the same birthday) and what a great gift for Baffert getting Paynter back.  

So big doings in California this weekend with the (thank you Slew) Lava Man special and the return of Paynter.  Wish I was in California myself, we are so sick of storms in NJ it isn't even funny.  We just weathered another Nor'easter yesterday.  I drove to work in a snowstorm and returned in a thunderstorm at night which got rid of the 4 inches of snow we got and another storm is predicted for the weekend.  Oh joy. Now we have to run around like maniacs on Friday working and shopping and getting all errands done before the storms hits while we have a reprieve.  I say bring on the Derby, the Belmont, the summer and the Haskell and to heck with this winter!  Happy New Year and Happy Return to California Paynter!!!

27 Dec 2012 11:23 PM
an ole railbird

in the late 50s, i was an aspiring young upstart, training alful hard to be a jockey.

  there was an ole groom that was around the track,that was bad to drink, but sober was tops.

   severl trainers would work him & forbid him to drink. but ole harold was a friend to all, who brought a pint of wine& the visitors were rewarded with many of his storys of horse racing history.

 some of the storyies that harold told were of "DARK SECRET".

 after having listened to racing stories for over 60 years. i judge from the "plain ole awe", with which harold displayed, when speaking of "dark secert". that "dark secert" was probally one of the most impressive horses of the era.

 he was in harolds mind anyway.

 happy new year to all.

  i remain; "an ole railbird"

28 Dec 2012 7:12 PM
an ole railbird

something else i just remembered, that harold said about DARK SECERT",when running from behind horses, as he approached a horse from behind & started to pass, he would back his ear& show the other horse his teeth. some jockeys called it an attempt to "savage" another horse.  acording to harold he never did savage another horse, but had a history threats.

 thanks for having this blog. it gives an ole man, who is surrounded by people who have no interest in horse racing, to tell a story where its understood.

i remain "an ole railbird"

28 Dec 2012 7:38 PM

Alex, if winter comes, can the Derby be far behind?  We didn't see rain, just more and more snow...and it's snowing again right now.  My youngest son also shares a Jan 13th birthday, but the little(?) bugger will be away on a Carribean cruise for his birthday.

Happy to see Paynter back in training...and terrific he caught the attention of enough fans who cared to garner him the Vox Populi.

29 Dec 2012 11:18 AM
Linda in Texas

And I say to Alex'sBigFan - and bring on also The Pretty Blue Dress while you are bringing out Belmont! No Hansen matching racing cloths. Nor dancing girl costumes. Only thoughts of Hansen now working out of a shed! I can see him running as i mention his name.

And to all who wrote and sent their beautiful get well wishes and prayers to Paynter,they worked. They really really worked. To me it is the most amazing recovery from 3 totally deadly and devastating attacks on his physicality that he conquered and stared them all in the eye as if to say 'out out of my life, i have better and bigger things to prove.' And now he is winging his way to California. And back to Bob

Baffert for his 1/13/13 birthday.

And ABF Happy Happy Big Birthday Wishes to you also. You are such a dear, gentle and thoughtful person. I know i speak for many when i say, we hope your weather issues now signal a lovely spring and summer ahead. All Easterners deserve it.

Is 3 weeks up yet?

Thanks -Keelerman.

29 Dec 2012 2:41 PM
Uncle Smiley


Happy New Year!

Got to Aqueduct two days ago.

No other race track matches the Big A, at least that is what you conclude when hover above the winners circle.

Best fans, and some good jocks and horses, I am told.

Thanks for your historical pieces about

Uncle Smiley

31 Dec 2012 9:34 PM
Dawn in MN

I love horse stories.  Thanks for including the pictures.  So sad about the end.  Maybe that is why people forget.  

06 Jan 2013 9:15 PM

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