Given his odds of 1 to 10, it was hardly a surprise that the 2-year-old champion colt Secretariat won last week's Garden State Stakes by 3½ lengths over entry mate Angle Light. What was a shock was the attitude of Secretariat's trainer, Lucien Laurin. He said the colt, now winner of seven of his nine races and $456,404 (including the Garden State purse of $179,199) might be kept out of the 1973 Kentucky Derby. Yes, that's right, the Derby!
What on earth could have prompted this sort of thinking? Laurin, who won last year's Garden State with another of Mrs. John (Penny) Tweedy's horses, Riva Ridge, explained, "This is something I feel strongly about. Last spring I cranked up Riva perfectly to win the Derby and the Belmont Stakes. No matter what he did after that, I believe that since he won two of the three prestige races for 3-year-olds, he is deserving of the championship. If Riva doesn't win the title after those performances, it must mean that the Derby is losing its prestige. If somebody else can win a championship either by skipping those races—or running and getting beaten in them—what's the use of running in the Derby? I hope I won't have to make this decision because I feel that Secretariat has an even better chance in the Triple Crown races than Riva Ridge had."
Penny Tweedy, sipping coffee on the morning of the Garden State, added, "I feel pretty much the same way right now. But it's late in the year and we're all tired. So naturally our thoughts are subject to change in the spring in Florida." Jockey Ron Turcotte, the regular rider for both of Laurin's stars, noted, "Secretariat is great, all right, but don't ask me to knock my first Derby winner. Naturally I'd like to ride a second one."
Secretariat, a magnificent large (16 hands, 3 inches, 1,100 pounds) chestnut, is a son of Bold Ruler and the Princequillo mare Somethingroyal. A half brother to the 1962 standout Sir Gaylord, Secretariat is described by Laurin as "beautiful—everything about him is out of this world. It's hard to say whether or not he is better than Riva Ridge, but overall he impresses me more because in all his races he has taken the worst of it by coming from behind, usually circling his field. A colt has to be a real runner to do this consistently and get away with it."
Secretariat ran the same way with the same success in the Garden State. Breaking last and from the outside post position in the small field of six, Ron Turcotte dropped the colt in behind the leaders going into the clubhouse turn, while brother Rudy Turcotte, riding Angle Light, dueled for the lead with Piamem, a Kentucky-bred but Venezuela-raced colt whose owner, Miguel Alfonso, spoke of as "possibly another Canonero." Secretariat began to move at the half-mile pole, and although to the inside of him two horses, Knightly Dawn and Impecunious, were involved in some rough stuff (resulting in the subsequent disqualification of Impecunious from fourth to fifth), none of this bothered Secretariat, who rolled up on the outside. He took the lead from Angle Light at the head of the stretch and galloped home, with Ron sitting pretty and looking sure of his riding fee of $17,919. Brother Rudy collected $5,973 for finishing second on Angle Light. Laurin will cash a check for $23,892 and now depart for his Key Largo, Fla. home—and six weeks of bonefishing.
And what of Secretariat who covered his mile and [1/16]th in a moderate 1:44[2/5] to clinch the 2-year-old colt championship? "He stands a chance of becoming Horse of the Year, I would think," said Laurin. (Secretariat lost his first start, in which he was bothered, and The Champagne through a disqualification, but otherwise he has looked invincible.) "But if he doesn't get that title—and the voters aren't prejudiced against 2-year-olds—you'd have to consider the filly La Prevoyante, unbeaten in 12 races."
Having done all he can to swing the vote in his favor, Secretariat now rests for a month. Until spring there will be no opportunities to meet La Prevoyante, Stop the Music (the colt awarded The Champagne after being bumped by Secretariat) or the pride of California, Groshawk, who is trained by Charlie Whittingham. "I intend to do the same with Secretariat during the winter as I did with Riva Ridge last year," said Laurin. "These decisions, mind you, are arrived at jointly by Mrs. Tweedy and myself. When things go wrong, as they did in the second half of Riva's 3-year-old season, I must blame myself. I know that if I advise Mrs. Tweedy not to run a horse in a specific race, she will never tell me that I have to.
"Secretariat will start his 3-year-old season a little sooner than Riva Ridge did because Hialeah will be operating earlier. This means he may appear in the Bahamas at seven furlongs on Jan. 31, the Everglades at a mile and ‚⅛th on Feb. 14 and the Flamingo, also at nine furlongs, on March 3. After that, if we're headed for the Derby, we'll aim for the Blue Grass at Keeneland, but if we skip the Derby we'll come back to New York for the Wood Memorial in late April."
Whether Secretariat makes it to Churchill Downs or not, there will be those, when the time comes, who will knock his chances. There is a real question what a son of Bold Ruler may or may not be able to do at three. Though he was seven times the country's leading stallion. Bold Ruler was at his best racing at less than classic distances, He was fourth in the 1957 Derby behind Iron Liege, Gallant Man and Round Table. After his retirement he sired more than 65 stakes winners, but precious few of them (the wonderful race mares Gamely and Lamb Chop were exceptions) have earned their reputations over Triple Crown distances. Bold Lad, for example, the champion 2-year-old in 1964, beat only one horse in the 1965 Derby, won by Lucky Debonair. The 1966 Garden State winner (and also 2-year-old champion) Successor was sixth in the 1967 Derby, beaten eight lengths by Proud Clarion. That season's 2-year-old champ, Vitriolic, never made it to the 1968 Derby.
Secretariat may change all this in Louisville next May. At the moment I certainly wouldn't bet against it.