In Their Own Words: Turcotte’s Unforgettable Ride Aboard Secretariat

by | 06.08.2018 | 3:02pm
Secretariat, with Ron Turcotte aboard

The New York Racing Association concludes a series of diaries to help celebrate the 150th Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday at Belmont Park. “In Their Own Words” features prominent owners, trainers, jockeys and horsemen as they re-live some of the most stirring moments in the rich history of the “Test of the Champion.”

The series opened with trainer Todd Pletcher reflecting on history-making filly Rags to Riches (2007), followed by Cot Campbell describing Palace Malice's 2013 triumph as the “mother of great moments” for him.

Ogden Phipps II told of how much Easy Goer's romp meant to his famous racing family when they denied Sunday Silence's Triple Crown bid in 1989. 

Marylou Whitney, celebrated as the “Queen of Saratoga” and one of the most prominent women in racing history, re-lived Birdstone's upset of Triple Crown threat Smarty Jones in 2004. Steve Cauthen wrote of the thrill of being 18 years old and riding Affirmed past Alydar three times for the Triple Crown in 1978 in one of the great rivalries in all of sports and Julie Krone recounted her barrier-breaking 1993 win aboard Colonial Affair.

Last week featured Ahmed Zayat, who recounted the 2015 romp that allowed the great American Pharoah to end the longest drought in Triple Crown history, and Michael Del Giudice, the Chairman of the NYRA Board, recounts his memories of the Belmont Stakes.

The series concludes with Hall of Fame jockey Ron Turcotte reflecting on one of the great athletic feats of all time, human or equine, when Secretariat moved “like a tremendous machine” in 1973.

By Ron Turcotte with Tom Pedulla

I knew the 1973 Belmont Stakes was going to be a special day for Secretariat. The only question was how special.

He had won the Kentucky Derby with a phenomenal performance, traveling faster every quarter in tearing through the mile and a quarter in a track-record 1:59 2/5 to defeat Sham. I made sure to give him an easy race in the Preakness; he was still 2 ½ lengths better than Sham. It definitely could have been much more, but my thought was to save as much as possible for the Belmont.

Trainer Lucien Laurin worked Secretariat hard for the last leg of the Triple Crown, leaving nothing to chance. I was aboard for those drills and liked everything about them. He was thriving on a heavy workload, eating everything put in front of him and he was loaded with energy.

The morning after his final workout, he was so much on the muscle we decided to put the tack on him and walk him around the shedrow to settle him down. Then the morning of the Belmont, when we walked him again for 30 minutes, he was rearing on his hind legs and trying to get away from exercise rider Charlie Davis, who was doing his best to hold onto him. That was the fittest I had ever seen him and we knew he was eager to run.

I know strange things can happen in a race, but I could not have been more confident. After the last work, I told Lucien, “If he gets beaten in this race, I'm going to hang up my tack.”

I always looked at the Belmont as the easiest of the three legs. If your horse stumbles, if he gets shut off, the mile-and-a-half distance gives you time to recover. That being said, I sure hoped for a clean trip.

Lucien did not give me any instructions in the paddock before the race. He never did. All he said was, “Ronnie, you know the horse. You know what to do.”

My plan was to sit behind Sham in the early going. That changed when I felt the power beneath me and Secretariat broke sharply. I let him get his feet under him and picked his head up entering the first turn.

Sham and jockey Laffit Pincay decided to try to stay with us early, but I knew there was no way Sham could stay with Secretariat, whose tremendous stride allowed him to cover a great amount of ground. I never felt such strength under me as I did that day. We were flying along. We covered the opening half-mile in 46 1/5 seconds, three-quarters in 1:09 4/5 and the mile in 1:34 4/5.

Lucien and others in the stands thought I was crazy. But I am the one on the horse. I knew he was well within himself. He was doing everything easily. His stride was beautiful. His breathing was good. Everything was going to my liking. My job, as I saw it, was to be a good passenger and stay out of his way. The only encouragement I gave him was to occasionally whisper in his ear. “Easy boy,” I would tell him.

I knew we were putting Sham and the rest far behind us with Secretariat's long, loping strides. I knew he was going to have no trouble getting the mile and a half. I peeked and the other horses must have been 15-20 lengths behind.

Bob Baffert, trainer of Triple Crown candidate Justify, greets Ron Turcotte at Belmont Park

Now, the only race was against the clock. After the Preakness timing controversy, I wanted Secretariat to set a record that would stand a long time. With 70 yards to go, I chirped to him to make sure he did not lose focus. He responded by finding still another gear.

Sure that the race was won, that Secretariat would be the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, I was able to soak in everything. The crowd that was going wild. The teletimer. Track announcer Chic Anderson's memorable race call.

“Secretariat is widening now. He is moving like a tremendous machine!”

When I peeked that last time, it was not to see where the other horses were. I was looking for the time. When I finally pulled up Secretariat and the outrider came to meet us, he said, “Do you know how fast you went?”

“Yup, 2:24 flat.”

I am not one to draw attention to myself. But I was so touched by the excitement of the fans after our 31-length romp that I took off my helmet several times and bowed to acknowledge them. Each time, they exploded.

Eddie Sweat, the groom, and Lucien greeted us when we returned to the winner's circle. Incredibly, Secretariat was not blowing hard. He was not perspiring at all.

“What did I tell you, Lucien? We did it!” I exclaimed.

The record, of course, still stands. There was not a horse in the world that could have beaten Secretariat that day.

(VIDEO BELOW OF SECRETARIAT'S BELMONT STAKES)

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