On the morning of Preakness Day last week Penny and Jack Tweedy sat at a dining-room table for two steeling themselves for the agonizing wait until the 5:40 post time. At a corner table for four, Lucien Laurin, Mrs. Tweedy's trainer, was hosting two nuns, Sister Yvonne and her friend Sister Bernadette. "Is this the prayer division of Meadow Stable?" Trainer Laurin was asked. "Well, you must admit," he replied with a grin, "it won't hurt."
That afternoon at Pimlico, there were the smiling and somewhat bewildered Sisters at their very first horse race, rubbing their clerical robes against legions of Meadow Stable owners and fans. And even they must have sensed nobody had a prayer of beating Mrs. Tweedy's Secretariat. With a Maryland record racing audience of 61,653 looking on, the magnificent chestnut struck down rival Sham for the second time in two weeks and ran two-thirds of the way to the Triple Crown. Just as in the Derby—which Sham's people felt he might have lost because of a mouth injury in the gate—the winning margin was 2½ lengths. This time there could be no excuse, not for Sham or any of the others in the field of six. If there are still any racegoers who are not convinced that Secretariat is the best 3-year-old in the land, one hardly knows where to search for them. And should they be found, June 9 will rout them all. That is the day when, by winning the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes, Secretariat will become only the ninth Triple Crown horse ever and the first since Citation achieved the feat 25 years ago.
Secretariat's Derby act seemed nearly impossible to follow, but his Preakness was no letdown. True, he broke no track record as he had at Churchill Downs, but he was sensational enough. His Preakness was the third fastest ever, and it demonstrated the tremendous versatility of the colt. In the Derby, Secretariat came from last place to nail Sham in the stretch. This time, just like his daddy Bold Ruler 16 years earlier, Secretariat was allowed to run on his own and he played catch-me-if-you-can masterfully.
One reason for the record crowd was the natural rivalry between Secretariat and Sham, who stood even at one win each and who, as at Churchill Downs, were in the same barn where their trainers, Laurin and Frank Martin, were urged to predict, recap, insult, shake hands and come out fighting. To the credit of both, they mostly tended to business, although Martin allowed that he was far from convinced that Secretariat was the better colt. Had it not been for that starting gate accident that left Sham looking like a four-legged hockey player, Martin said, he would have won the Derby and he would win the Preakness.
"The gate episode hurt Sham," Martin said. "He came out shaking his head and stunned. He usually breaks well on his own, but this time Laffit [Pincay] had to use him right away to get position. His whole race plan was affected.
"This time will be different. I think from the three-eighths pole home my horse will outfinish any horse in the country. Never mind the tight turns; they still have nearly a quarter of a mile of homestretch. Sham should be laying second most of the way and can go to the front anytime the leader tires."
All of which is logical racetrack strategy, and Saturday at least the first part of Martin's plan worked. Sham was second most of the way. The only hitch was that the leader, who happened to be Secretariat, forgot to tire. In fact, by the end of the mile-and-three-sixteenths Jockey Ron Turcotte had neither used the whip on Secretariat's massive backside nor even bothered to shake it at him. The pair of them, in perfect harmony as they coasted to the finish line, looked as though they could have gone around again and then set off cross-country.
Laurin, in his quiet way, was as confident as Martin before the race. "If he doesn't win this race," he said, "I swear I just don't know what to do with a horse. Secretariat is coming up to this better than any horse I have ever seen. If I can't win the Preakness this time, on my fourth try, I won't win it in 100 years."
When starter Eddie Blind clanged the gates open for the six survivors of the original 194 Preakness nominees, a speedy number called Ecole Etage took the lead. Sham was third and Secretariat last. Turcotte, sensing that Secretariat was in a running mood, rolled him around the first turn outside of two horses, a maneuver that lost him considerable ground. But it mattered little. Secretariat took the lead starting up the backstretch and never lost it. "He was galloping so easy," Turcotte said, "I just let him go."
Pincay had moved Sham into second place by the time they got to the half-mile pole, and it was clearly time for his own serious move. "I thought I still had a chance," he said after the race. "It wasn't until I noticed that he never cocked his stick that I thought I might be in trouble." Pincay used his whip most of the way around the final turn and down the stretch, but he might as well not have bothered. "My horse," he said, "can go any distance, but I'm not sure he can ever beat that other horse."
"That other horse" finished 2½ lengths in front of Sham, who was another eight ahead of Our Native, as he had been in the Derby. The only question raised by the race centered around the running time. The track's electric timer ticked off fractions of 25 seconds for the first quarter, :48[4/5] for the half, the six furlongs in 1:12, the mile in 1:36[1/5] and the final time of 1:55, which is one second off Canonero's 1:54 track record. Although this will go down as Secretariat's official time—electric equipment is considered gospel at U.S. tracks—two Racing Form clockers, operating independently of each other, had identical splits: 24[3/5] seconds at the quarter, :47 at the half, six furlongs in 1:10⅖ the mile in 1:35[2/5]. The final time was 1:53⅖ bettering Canonero's mark. So there will always be those delicious doubts.
Now Secretariat, winner of 11 of 14 lifetime starts, moves to Belmont. Barring injury, he will join his sport's most exclusive club—Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault and Citation are the present members—if he can handle the classic 1½-mile distance. But six times in the last quarter-century colts have won the Derby and Preakness, only to fail in the Belmont. Some new horses may turn up for the Belmont, and Sham may not. As Pincay's wife Linda said of Secretariat in funereal tones, "He's too much horse, that's all. Too much horse." That seems a sound assessment.
Born for speed—and airborne—Secretariat needs no encouragement from Jockey Ron Turcotte as he flashes past delighted infield spectators.