We heard a lot about Secretariat over the weekend. Secretariat lost the Wood and won the Triple Crown; Uncle Mo’s owner Mike Repole told reporters Saturday afternoon that on Friday night, he watched Secretariat (“It was probably a stupid idea,” he added).
I wondered about the reaction to Secretariat’s loss in April of 1973, wondered if it conveyed the same apocalyptic overtones, the same sense of the unthinkable that the weekend coverage of – or at least reaction to – Uncle Mo’s conveyed.
The field for the 1973 Wood was eight; on the morning of the race, Joe Nichols reported that 11 would go to the post, including the Frank Martin entry of Knightly Dawn, Beautiful Music, and Sham. As Steve Cady reported, two of them didn’t enter the starting gate.
…the “rabbits” that might have assured an honest pace were scratched from the program yesterday after Frank (Pancho) Martin, Sham’s trainer, read a column in the Daily Racing Form quoting [Secretariat’s trainer] Laurin as having said: “The only way they can beat him is to steal it.” The article then noted that the stewards were given “assurance that nobody is going to purloin the race.” The implication evidently drawn by Martin was that Knightly Dawn and Beautiful Music, both owned by the man who owns Sham, Sigmund Sommer, would try to gang up on Secretariat.
Reportedly annoyed, Martin decided to take Knightly Dawn and Beautiful Music out of what had been a three-horse entry.
The focus of the post-race coverage was indeed on entries…but not so much on Martin’s as on Laurin’s, because it was Secretariat’s own stablemate that “stole” the race from him. Angle Light set a slow pace and was allowed to gallop home first; Steve Cady reported that after the race, Secretariat’s owner, Penny Tweedy, said to Laurin, “’You and I are going to talk. The pace was too slow. Just nowhere.’” Cady described Laurin as speaking through “grimly set lips.” Angle Light’s owner, Edwin Whittaker, is not quoted in the article.
In a column two days later, Red Smith related pre-race conversations with Sham’s and Secretariat’s owners, regarding the entrants and the scratches.
“I’m tickled to death [Martin] took them out,” Sig Sommer said about the scratches…“Lucien will scratch Angle Light. He won’t burn up the speed with his own horse.” Angle Light stayed in.
“This is the big one, the crucial one,” said Mrs. Tweedy, whose colt had not yet tried a mile and an eighth, had never raced around two turns and had never hooked up with Sham.
Sommer’s tune was slightly different after the race. “I should have put Knightly Dawn in,” Sommer said, no longer tickled to death. :The slow pace killed us.”
The talk, then, following the 1973 race, was not about Secretariat’s conditioning. It was not about Secretariat’s ability. It was not about whether Secretariat was the horse his fans had thought he was. It was about strategy and gamesmanship, and the discomfiture of a trainer who served two owners in the same big race.
Secretariat came into the Wood with 11 races on his record. He had raced twice that year, winning the Grade 3 Bay Shore and the Grade 2 Gotham. Uncle Mo came in with four lifetime races, nearly two-thirds less than Secretariat, and just one this year. There is no comparison.
There’s no comparison between the way that Secretariat lost the Wood and the way that Uncle Mo did. But the similarities may well begin here: both horses lost the Wood and pointed to the Derby; Uncle Mo will leave for Kentucky next week. And who knows? Perhaps in a month, or two, we’ll mention these two horses in the same breath, in the same sentence, in the same historical context.
But not now. Now, there’s no comparison.
Sources quoted and consulted
Cady, Steve. “Cashing Tickets Wasn’t Enough for Secretariat’s Backers.” New York Times, 22 April 1973. Web.
Nichols, Joe. “Secretariat Favored in Wood.” New York Times. April 21, 1973. Web.
Nichols, Joe. “Secretariat Finishes Third as Angle Light Captures the $114,900 Wood.” New York Times, 22 April 1973. Web.
Smith, Red. “The Horse is Only Human, or Is He?” New York Times, 23 April 1973. Web.