This is the most dramatic moment in thoroughbred racing’s history. By the 1973 Belmont Stakes, the horse Secretariat had already won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Only four horses joined Secretariat for the June 9, 1973 Stakes, including Sham, who had finished second in both the Derby and Preakness, and who would eventually finish the last in the Belmont. Three other horses were thought to have little chance by the bettors.
Secretariat with its jockey Ron Turcotte races into history by winning the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. In doing so, Secretariat became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years and only the 9th in history. Everyone expected it to win (the odds were overwhelming 1-10), but what wasn’t expected was the performance Big Red would give — “the single most astonishing performance in American racing history,” as The New York Times later noted.
On its dashing gallop towards the Triple Crown, Secretariat broke the margin-of-victory record set by Triple Crown winner Count Fleet (25 lengths). In front of 67,000 people, Secretariat ran the fastest 1.5 miles on dirt in history, and was so far ahead of the others — eventually 31 lengths — that the cameraman couldn’t even keep him and the next closest horse in the same shot. Famed track photographer Bob Coglianese took the above photo, the only one which included Secretariat and the other horses.
Other horses compiled better records than his 16 victories in 21 starts, and his earnings never approached record levels, but Secretariat was indubitably the greatest race horse of the last 40 years. During the 1972 season, he appeared on the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated, the only horse to achieve that honor.