It was 1973, and America was desperately looking for a sports hero. By June they had found one in the form of a flashy powerful chestnut horse named Secretariat, who was so popular he appeared on the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated in the same week. And this was before his iconic procession into history in the Belmont Stakes, in which he became the first horse in 25 years to sweep the elusive Triple Crown.
It was unprecedented for anyone to appear on the covers of arguably the three most influential magazines in America, never mind a horse. By July and August, Secretariat's popularity peaked as his legend continued to grow and racing fans eagerly awaited his next start in the Whitney.
At the time, Muhammad Ali had just been defeated by Ken Norton, who broke the former champs jaw in the fight. Ali had not yet avenged his 1971 defeat to Joe Frazier. That would come the following year and again in 1975, with his stunning knockout of the seemingly invincible George Foreman also in 1974.
O.J. Simpson had not yet become the first running back to gain over 2,000 yards in a single season. That would not come until December. Hank Aaron would not break Babe Ruths all-time home run record until the following year.
So for this one shining moment, Thoroughbred racing ruled the sports world. In fact it is safe to say Secretariat transcended racing and even sports. He was the new Big Red and his heroics were of such magnitude it seemed to raise the equine genus up to a different plateau.
How raging was Secretariat fever in the summer of 1973? In Saratoga, they were selling supposed bags of his manure on Union Avenue. Secretariat souvenirs of all kinds were in tremendous demand, and Big Red and owner Penny Chenery were receiving so much fan mail Chenery had to hire the famous William Morris Agency to handle the horse's affairs, including endorsements and appearances.
That was 44 years ago and Secretariat, despite the emergence of numerous equine superstars and three more Triple Crown winners, is still the gift that keeps giving. More than four decades later, his name still is part of our vernacular and in many ways of our culture. Thousands still visit Claiborne Farm every year to visit his grave, many placing down flowers.
How many times have you heard a horse's name mentioned in a presidential inauguration speech, especially more than four decades after the horse ran? And that was not the first time Secretariat's name was mentioned during the recent election campaign, as he also made his way into presidential nominee Carly Fiorina's vocabulary.
During this year's National Basketball Association finals, Audi debuted its commercial for its 2018 S5 Sportback, with Secretariat featured in the entire commercial, beginning with actual film clips from the Belmont Stakes to staged shots, directed by renowned Hollywood director Marc Forster. The commercial begins, "What makes Secretariat the greatest racehorse that ever lived?" concluding with, "The true secret to his perfection," being the unmatched size of his heart, depicted by side-by side X-rays of Secretariat's and an average horse's heart, with the final line, "Progress is powered from within."
To view the commercial you can go to YouTube or go directly to the following link -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRPx2cdTQho.
"It is wonderful to me that the story of Secretariat's Triple Crown still is part of the national conversation," said Penny Chenery. "Audi's innovation as an advertiser is well known, and it is an honor for our team that this esteemed international brand has chosen to feature Secretariat in its newest campaign. The commercial really is a win for horse racing and demonstrates the thrill, excitement, and marketing power of our sport."
This past May, Ariat, a global giant of equestrian footwear and apparel, promoted their new store in Lexington, Ky. with a full-length poster of Secretariat in their window to sell their recently released Two24 line of upscale boots and shoes. The poster read, "His heart was outsized and he was a fierce competitor who loved to run - everything we aspired to be as a company and a brand."
In March, Lickinghole Creek Craft Brew, a well-established Virginia craft brewery, released Secretariat's Meadow beer in honor of Secretariat's birthplace. The beer was previewed at the Virginia Horse Festival's annual Secretariat Birthday Celebration. This was the first of four in a series of Secretariat beers offered this year by Lickinghole Creek.
In NBC's crime drama "Shades of Blue," there is a reference to Secretariat with Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta.
Secretariat even got his name on The Travel Channel's "Mysteries of the Mueum," on the April 20 segment about the kidnapping of the mare Fanfreluche, who was in foal to Secretariat.
Secretariat also left his mark on the Triple Crown this year, appearing twice in the male family of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, while his dam, Somethingroyal, appeared once in the female family, as dam of Big Red's half-brother Somethingfabulous, broodmare sire of Always Dreaming's dam. Secretariat is also found in the female family of Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing and in the male family of Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit.
And at the big Equestricon event at Saratoga August 13-15, there will be an autograph signing by Bill Nack, author of the much-acclaimed biography of Secretariat, as well as jockey Ron Turcotte and exercise rider Charlie Davis. There will also be Secretariat merchandise being sold at the event and three huge items that should be in high demand - the armband worn by Turcotte in the Kentucky Derby, the victory blanket from the Preakness, and Big Red's cooler from the Belmont Stakes.
With the Disney movie "Secretariat" still being shown on TV, there is no doubt the name Secretariat is still very much in the public's consciousness. When you think that someone just turning 50 this year was only 6-years-old when Big Red swept the Triple Crown, there are still so many people yearning to learn about the horse, who has taken on mythical qualities in much the same manner Man o'War did for my generation and those that followed.
So, get yourself a six-pack of Secretariat's Meadow beer, throw it in the back of your new Audi S5 Sportback, and head up to Saratoga. Get a few autographs, purchase some Secretariat merchandise, perhaps even one of the big Triple Crown items, and take a few sips of elixir from the Big Red Spring. You can top it all off with a visit to the National Museum of Racing and see Secretariat's Hall of Fame plaque and watch some of his races.
Yes, Big Red is still alive and well, with his presence felt most everywhere, especially in Saratoga. But sorry to say, you missed out on his manure.