Blood-Horse magazine's panel of horse-racing experts selected the 100 greatest thoroughbreds of the 20th century. Secretariat was number 2. Man o' War was chosen number 1. Uploaded by pollsb.com.
Think of him as “Secretariat: The Prequel.” In 1920, the Triple Crown of horse racing had not yet been recognized as the standard of excellence it’s since become. And Man o’ War’s owner felt the Kentucky Derby came too early in the year for a three-year-old to race a mile and a quarter. But Man o’ War did win the Preakness (in a Pimlico track record time) and the Belmont (by 20 lengths).
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During his racing career, Man o’ War won 20 of 21 races. The one he lost? He got off to a horrific start (starting gates didn’t come until later) and got trapped in the middle of the pack. Even so, he came on strong down the stretch, finishing just a nose behind. The winning horse’s name? Upset.
When Sports Illustrated compiled its list of the top 100 athletes of the 20th century, Man o’ War came in at number 84. Yeah, I know. It’s a horse. But get this. A panel of horse-racing experts at Blood-Horse magazine compiled its list of the top 100 thoroughbred racehorses of the 20th century. They named Man o’ War number one. Secretariat (Great American Things, April 24, 2010) came in second.
Thoroughbred racing has seen some beautiful and powerful steeds. Eleven have won the prestigious Triple Crown. Memorable names such as Gallant Fox, Whirlaway, and Citation. But the greatest horse ever to step onto the track was – Secretariat.
He was a Virginia horse, born at Meadow Farm in Caroline County. His mama was Somethingroyal, and his pa was Bold Ruler. He was chestnut in color, grew to a svelte 1,175 pounds at maturity, and earned the nickname “Big Red.”
Secretariat lost his first-ever race, and didn’t like the feeling. So he reeled of five consecutive wins to feel better about himself. He was named American Horse of the Year as a two-year-old, a feat only accomplished by one horse in the 37 years since.
Secretariat, charging to victory. Uploaded by circledhorses.com.
Then came his Triple Crown season. He actually finished third in the Wood Derby, a major tune-up for the Kentucky Derby. Then came his first appearance on the big stage, and Secretariat made the most of it. All he did was set the track record time in the mile and a quarter, a record that has never been broken. He also ran each quarter mile faster than the one before it – he was still accelerating when the race ended. A few weeks later at the Preakness, Big Red moved from the back to the front of the pack in a quick move and never relinquished the lead.
Then came the Belmont Stakes, and the chance to win the first Triple Crown since the great Citation in 1948. With all that pressure, what did Secretariat do? He just ran the most amazing race in Triple Crown history, winning by an unbelievable 31 lengths and setting a new world record time.
ESPN Classic named that Belmont run as the second most amazing performance in sports history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. Americans love fast horses, so it’s no wonder that even now, Secretariat is revered as no horse has been before or since.