Secretariat and Uncle Mo

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.

13 thoughts on “Secretariat and Uncle Mo

  1. I agree, there is really no comparison here, other than as Gary Stevens said, it may be the biggest upset in the Wood since Secretariat. I’m not sure any modern day thoroughbred should ever be compared to the Big Red machine, nor do I think any such comparison is necessarily fair. Not too many people were alive to see both Man O’War and Secretariat, nor do I think I will live long enough to see another Secretariat in my lifetime!

    I do hope to see another Triple Crown winner someday though 🙂

  2. PS. I do like Mike Repole’s attitude about the whole thing. May as well go on to Kentucky and see what happens. The Derby is a crapshoot at best anyway.

  3. I agree with you The only valid comparison is they both lost The Wood And I also agree that if Mo is healthy and sound he should go ahead and go to the Derby He earned the money and he’s only 3 once I never got on his bandwagon because I didn’t think he was a mile and a quarter horse and felt he also lacked in foundation races As for Triple Crown I have been alive for 4 Lucky me But I fear that with the way horses are bred and trained these days there will never be another And I truely wish that wasn’t so

  4. I do not know what happened in the Wood. Watch the head on veiw of stretch in the BCJ and then the Wood and you will see a huge difference. In the Juvenile Mo drops his shoulder and quickened his stride, spurting away. I could understand being caught if he had done the same and Toby -who is a very underrated colt- still got him, but he didn’t Mo did not drop his shoulder and extend he ran the exact same. I do think he was a short horse, but I also think he did not like that track. There was no bounce in his step like there was at CD or Belmont, or even Gulfstream. It was litterally flat looking.

  5. Teresa, I’m surprised there was no mention of Secretariat’s mouth abcess at the time of the race. It is conjectured that the friction from the bit may have caused him to, uncharacteristically, lose the Wood Memorial. Ron Turcotte was never apprised of Secretariat’s problem. He is quoted as saying, that had he known that, he would have ridden Secretariat differently in the race.

    There are suspicions about Uncle Mo’s soundness, and why he was given a ridiculously “soft” 3 year-old prep campaign. And, that’s not to mention only 1 Indian Charlie progeny ever won a graded stakes race at the distance of a mile and an eighth, and beyond. That would be Fleet Indian in 2006.

  6. The betting public had not given up on Secretariat come Derby Day, as he still went off at odds of 3/2. I think Uncle Mo’s loss in the Wood guarantees that he won’t come even close to that line. Maybe he rebounds in KY if he came out of the race sound (by all accounts, he did)and rewards those who still believe that he has greatness in him.

  7. By not all accounts, has Mo been deemed sound. Couple that, with Pletcher having the reputation of getting horses to run and win races but, at what price? I was shocked to see a list of his horses, that were retired early due to injury and, granted he trains a lot of horses and, thoroughbreds may not be bred with the same stamina as their forefathers. If I can get a hold of the list, I’ll print it but, I was shocked to see it.

    In the meantime, opinions on Mo’s unsoundness are out there:

  8. Perhaps the Red Smith quote somehow was out of context, but Secretariat ran around two turns in both of his final two starts as a 2YO, at Laurel in the Futurity and Garden State in the Garden State.

    Otherwise I’ll cut Red Smith some slack. He was pretty good.

  9. Thanks for all the comments, folks.

    Linda, racing couldn’t have asked for more than Repole’s reaction afterwards. He was indeed gracious in defeat.

    August, my research was not exhaustive, but in the few days after the race, there was no mention of his mouth.

    Mike, thanks for that…I nearly always check the Vault, and I missed it this time.

    Gillenrf: I didn’t read anything about a shoe change, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

  10. This year’s Wood reminded me of last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup. Last October, I traveled from Boston to Belmont for the day to see a horse I felt was peaking perfectly in the second half of the year to be the leading contender in the Breeders Cup Classic: Blame. When Blame lost to NY bred Haynesfield without even contesting the race, I gave up on Blame. Then a month later, I was at the wire at CD for the Breeders Cup, expecting a Zenyatta/Lookin at Lucky/Blame finish. Having watched Blame win the Classic in a strong field, denying Zenyatta her 20th win, makes me think twice before I write off Uncle Mo in this year’s KY Derby. Final note: Nehro and Dialed In may have a shot at the Derby this year as strong closers.

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