I posted a column this week about Secretariat’s widespread popularity after 44 years, which elicited a large number of comments, most of them illustrating the reverence in which he is still held. Someone also posted a photo of him working on Facebook that I took, and I noticed a lot of people had never seen it and marveled at what a magnificent physical specimen he was and the power and length of his stride.
I have posted photos of Secretariat over the years, including a collection of shots seven years ago, but never all of them in one place. I figured it was time to put all these photos together in a single blog, just to have them archived and easily accessible.
So, here then are my Secretariat photos, including a couple with me in the photo.
This first photo is the aforementioned shot of Big Red working for the Wood Memorial. You can’t help but notice his gargantuan stride and the muscles rippling through his massive neck.
The next photo, taken by Ray Woolfe Jr., shows Secretariat going to the track for his pre-Wood Memorial work with Ron Turcotte up, followed by Penny Tweedy, Lucien Laurin, groom Eddie Sweat (far left), and yours truly with that God-awful 1970’s look. I don’t know who the other two people are. Ray published this photo in his book “Secretariat.” Also, it was Ray’s photo of Big Red going by the stands the first time in the Preakness that inspired the famous statue in the Belmont Park paddock.
This photo was taken back at the barn following his work. His one-mile drill actually was slower than anticipated, and Secretariat’s best races were right after blazing works. So perhaps this work was a portent of what was to come, as Big Red ran the dullest race of his career in the Wood, whether it was caused by the abscess in his mouth or not. We’ll never know for certain. But he sure did look great physically on this day. Incidentally, Ray and I were the only two photographers at the barn.
One of my favorite photos of Secretariat is this one I took of him after being saddled in the infield for the Preakness. Big Red stood motionless looking straight ahead. I was the only one standing on this side of him, and after taking a photo of him, he reacted to the clicking of the shutter by turning his head and staring right at me, or I should say through me. Those eyes peering at me through the blue and white blinkers make this one of the most special photos I’ve ever taken.
The following two photos on a glorious September morning show Secretariat and Riva Ridge, illuminated by the morning sun, on the walking ring prior to their separate works on the grass and then heading to the track, with Big Red’s mane standing on end, giving him an even more majestic look. Both colts had just finished first and second in the inaugural Marlboro Cup.
In the next two photos you can see the magnificence of Secretariat, his coat gleaming, as he is approaches the track, while the second shot shows the NYRA photographer’s photo taken seconds after mine, with me walking alongside.
The following shot shows Secretariat breaking off into a show horse canter for the photographers during his farewell celebration at Aqueduct.
This is probably my favorite shot of Secretariat, because it shows off a playful side not many have seen. As I approached his paddock at Claiborne Farm he picked up a large branch and brought it over to the fence, wanting me to try to pull it out of his mouth. There I was playing tug of war with a legend. This went on for several minutes with me unable to pull it out of his mouth. It was like playing fetch with a big dog. By the way, care to guess Secretariat’s favorite treat? It was Certs breath mints, which my wife and I fed to him, compliments of his groom, who was well supplied.
Big Red looks like the Phoenix rising from the ashes.
Secretariat strikes a beautiful pose.
Secretariat shows off his powerful frame even as he grazes.
My daughter Mandy gets to meet the mighty Secretariat for the only time.
I hope this provides a more personal, behind-the-scenes look at Secretariat rather than the often-published race finishes and winner’s circle shots. Looking back, I am amazed that most of these photos were taken in complete or near solitude. The shots of Big Red and Riva on that September morning were taken with not another person around other than the NYRA photographer stationed at the entrance to track.
The reason there are not many photos taken of his races or on race day is because, working for the Daily Racing Form, I had to work Saturdays due to the abundance of big races, and we all gathered in front of the TV in the managing editor’s office to watch them. On big race days, I would stop at OTB and place everyone’s bets. This was a far cry from the days at the Morning Telegraph when everyone would bet with Ralph the bookie, who worked in the wire room, and we’d all huddle in front of the teletype machine to watch the results come in.
The biggest on-site thrill during Secretariat’s career was watching the Preakness from the roof and looking down directly below me as he made his spectacular and unprecedented move from last to first on the clubhouse turn. I think my jaw literally dropped when he charged to the lead. I took a far off black and white shot of Big Red and Sham turning for home, which I have since lost, and then, caught up in the moment, I just put my camera down to watch the stretch run, showing I was a fan more than I was a photographer.
These were wonderful days in racing, especially coming on the heels of Canonero II and my beloved His Majesty and Jim French, and Riva Ridge and his rivalry with Key to the Mint, and before that the magical years of 1968 and 1969 of Arts and Letters, Majestic Prince, Gallant Bloom, Shuvee, and Ta Wee, and of course the legendary Damascus and Dr. Fager, and finally my days practically living at Darby Dan Farm.
But racing as we knew it changed in 1973 when hero worshipping took on a whole new meaning, as Thoroughbred racing and a single horse catapulted into public consciousness on a national scale. I hope these photos provide a different look at that magnificent steed and bring him a bit closer to those who never had the opportunity to witness the horse behind the legend.