A Big Day for Big Red

The scroll on ESPN's Sportscenter on the morning of May 3 had its priorities straight. The No. 1 horse racing story read: "Secretariat wins Virtual Kentucky Derby." Oh, yes, that was followed by story No. 2, which read: "Charlatan, Nadal Win Split Arkansas Derby."

The fake Kentucky Derby run on the First Saturday in May with animated horses was more important, according to ESPN, than the substitute Kentucky Derby with real-life horses that was won by two undefeated potential superstars trained by America's most popular and successful trainer Bob Baffert.

On Monday morning, Nick Wright of Fox Sports' morning show First Things First, who is an admitted big bettor, did not waste any time bragging about getting Secretariat at odds of 7-2 and touting him Friday as a huge overlay.

Before the race, NBC's Randy Moss said, "If Secretariat doesn't win this simulated race, we're going to have an objection on the first Saturday in May for the second consecutive year. And this one is going to come from me."

The day after the race, Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post ranked his Top 10 faces in New York sports from each decade, beginning with the 1950s right through the 2010s. The only horse to make any of the Top 10 lists was Secretariat in the 1970s. Vaccaro wrote:

"The Yankees ruled baseball and back pages throughout the decade. Football in New York lay in state for the entirety of the '70s, which is how Secretariat-born in Virginia, raised in Florida but confirmed a superstar in New York City-cracks the list. And may deserve to be higher."

For the younger generation of racing fans who have only seen American Pharoah and Justify, this virtual race was a disaster, as the algorithm that programmed the running and result somehow had the speedy Justify getting left at the gate and dropping back to last and American Pharoah getting bumped soundly while going wide into the stretch. Going into the race, a Churchill spokesperson acknowledged that pace would not be factored.

Well, to all their fans, don't get too upset. Secretariat's main influence on the breed was through two of his daughters, Terlingua and Weekend Surprise, and both American Pharoah and Justify come from those mares. American Pharoah's maternal granddaddy is by Terlingua's son Storm Cat, while Justify's maternal grandma is by Pulpit, who is by Weekend Surprise's son A.P. Indy.

To show how versatile Secretariat really was, he was able to defeat the other 12 Triple Crown winners without wearing the blinkers he wore in all his starts as a real racehorse. If only trainer Lucien Laurin would have known.

So, 50 years after his birth, Secretariat still commands headlines and his name still is magical, as it has lived on through half a century as the standard by which all great horses are measured.

Blinkers or no blinkers, the sight of those familiar Meadow Stable blue and white silks, real or not real, splitting horses in the stretch and charging to the lead to defeat Citation and Seattle Slew was like seeing an old friend you hadn't seen since your days of youth when the sports world and the American public embraced this true sports hero who came along when the country needed a hero. To them, he was the second coming of Pegasus and people of all ages trembled at the sight of this equine Adonis.

Yes, for one day, for one brief shining moment, Secretariat was back to thrill five generations of racing fans. And not even an algorithm could stop him.

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