Saturday, May 4, 2013

Big Red and Big Red

It's Kentucky Derby Day, and the eyes of the sports world and the horse-loving world will turn, at least for a few minutes (depending on how many commercials one wishes to endure) to the fabled "Run for the Roses."  One of the feature stories you're likely to see today will be on the fact that 15 of the 20 horses in the Derby are descended from Secretariat -- or, as TV commentators will (rightly) call him, The Great Secretariat.  He won the 1973 Triple Crown of racing (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes) and was, arguably, one of the best race horses who ever ran.

He had a lot of nicknames, including Big Red and Super Horse.  Legendary track announcer Chic Anderson described him as running "like a great machine."  I found a picture of Secretariat at a recent estate sale. 

It's by the artist Merry Kelly Stevens, who painted under the name "Kelly."  I think she did a good job of capturing him, although any painting of Secretariat standing still can't entirely do him justice.  Take a look at this video of his 1973 Derby win, and see if you don't get a little frisson of energy running up your spine: you're watching greatness.

Watching Secretariat run in 1973, people remembered another horse who had the nickname "Big Red."  Can you fill in the blanks?  Back in the day, people called Secretariat "the greatest race horse since ___ _ ___." 

Give yourself ten points if you responded "Man o'War." 

I found a postcard of the statue of Man o'War at a recent estate sale.  It was mailed in 1966, after the sender had visited his gravesite at Faraway Farm in Kentucky.  (The grave and statue have since been moved to the Kentucky Horse Park.)

Man o'War raced in the era right around World War I, but people still remember him today.  Blogger Anne Peters wrote of him:

His groom called him "de mostest hoss that ever was" and that about sums it up for Man o'War in the eyes of most American racing fans. Man o'War was not just a great racehorse -- he became the standard by which all runners have been compared then and ever since.

Here's a neat little documentary showing some rare film footage of Man o'War:

After Man o'War's career as a race horse was over, he retired to stud at Faraway Farm.  As the documentary points out, he was a tourist attraction.  People used to travel to Kentucky just to see him, hoping to pat his nose, have their picture taken with Man o'War.  They did the same for Secretariat in his day. 

Horse racing fans like to debate (or argue) about which horse was "greater," Man o'War or Secretariat, or some other famous Thoroughbred. 

I like 'em both. 

Perhaps one of Secretariat's most famous wins was the 1973 Belmont Stakes.  Watch this and feel a pang of pity for the other horses in the race.  Some days, the victory just belongs to the legend.

Here's a link to Anne Peters' tribute to Man O'War:

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