ELMONT, N.Y. – The two people who knew Secretariat the best knew he was going to win the Belmont, even days before the race was run.
Exercise rider Charlie Davies and Hall of Fame jockey Ron Turcotte both could tell that Secretariat was set for an epic run at the Triple Crown in the week leading up to the race. After sitting back in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, Secretariat ran a race for the records books and won by more than 31 lengths – a Belmont record that still stands to this day. He was so dominant down the final stretch that Turcotte remembers hearing Secretariat run and likening it to a locomotive, such was the sound of his breathing.
The night before the Belmont Stakes in 1973, Turcotte and trainer Lucien Laurin went out for dinner and inevitably, the topic of the next day’s race come up. Turcotte remembers sitting at the table, less than 24 hours away from the third leg of the Triple Crown and knowing that his thoroughbred was set to make history. He didn’t have a single doubt that Secretariat was going to win the 1.5-mile race the next day and end what was then a 25-year Triple Crown drought in the sport.
“I told Lucien that if we didn’t win, I was going to hang up my badge,” Turcotte told Yahoo! Sports. “I knew the way this horse was running, that Secretariat should win. It was the best horse I’ve ever ridden in my life. You could just tell. You could just tell. He was ready to run that race.”
Two horses have won the Triple Crown after Secretariat – Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978 – but no horse has been as dominant or as loved as “Big Red.” His workouts leading up to the race showed a horse in peak condition, primed to conquer the three elite races.
As his exercise rider, Davies rode Secretariat throughout the week heading into Belmont and saw a horse that was ready to take on the small field in that race and set the pace early. He remembers sitting with the other exercise riders, on their mounts, watching the race and he knew that the early push out of the gate was no fluke.
It was an improbable margin set by Secretariat at the first turn but even as others shook their heads, doubting that the horse could sustain it, Davies knew better. He remembers leaning over and telling one of the other exercise riders that he "knew it was all over. I knew it, it was all over. Fellas, he’s just cruising now.”
It was a premonition from a week’s worth of morning workouts that gave Davies such confidence.
“People ask me ‘How do you know he was going to win the Belmont?’ Well, he was training stronger and stronger each day,” Davies said. “Me and Secretariat, we had a bond. He watched my back, I watched his. He was telling me ‘I’ve got this.’ He sure did.”
It has been 40 years since Secretariat swept through the Triple Crown to go down as one of the best in horse racing history. A Disney movie certainly added to his pop culture appeal but it is amazing that Secretariat’s appeal has only grown since this dramatic performance at Belmont four decades ago.
Turcotte has seen the love for Secretariat grow and he hopes that another horse will take the Triple Crown and elevate the sport’s status again.
“He seems to bond with people, even those who never saw him race live. Secretariat, he was the one and only. I believe he ran as fast as he wanted to run. He always liked a challenge. That’s hard to imagine 40 years ago that he would be so popular but you can see as the years go by, I’m getting more mail and more mail and there hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed – not that some horse shouldn’t have won,” Turcotte said. “We should have had a few Triple Crown winners recently and I hope we have one next year.”