It was only the third race on the Saturday afternoon card at Keeneland Race Course, but it seemed like the Kentucky Derby. Under the old oak trees in the saddling area, perspiring fans elbowed, shoved, snapped Instamatics and strained for a glimpse of the golden filly with the most god-awful name this side of Seattle Slew. Never mind that she had never raced, or that her challenge this day was only a 4½-furlong sprint with a chicken-feed purse of $6,500. This was one for the history books. This was the first race ever run by a son or daughter of Secretariat.
The record crowd of 22,303 in Lexington was there in part because of the continuing public fascination with Secretariat, the colt that had captured the nation's heart by winning the 1973 Triple Crown. Syndicated before his 3-year-old season for a then-record $6.08 million, Secretariat was retired to stud at Claiborne Farm near Paris, Ky. Ever since, the racing industry has been waiting to see if he can match at stud his performance as a runner. At least some horsemen believe he will. Last summer, for example, a Secretariat yearling colt out of Charming Alibi sold for a world-record $1.5 million.
Of the 28 living foals in Secretariat's initial crop, the first to make it to the races was the last foaled, a filly out of Spa II that has been stuck with the name Sexetary. When F. Eugene Dixon Jr., owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and one of Secretariat's 32 shareholders, failed to come up with a mare to breed that first season, he agreed to give Catesby Clay of Runnymede Farm and Howard Noonan, his partner, the right in exchange for 50% of the foal.
Clay and Noonan sent Spa II, a half-sister to Arc de Triomphe-winner Prince Royal II, to Secretariat. On May 21, 1975, the mare dropped her filly at Runnymede. The foal's golden color and white stockings marked her as her father's daughter. However, as she grew, she developed a crooked right front knee.
When Clay and Noonan sent her through last summer's select sale at Keeneland, the bad knee was so noticeable that she brought a bargain price—$75,000. "We had the distinction of selling the lowest-priced Secretariat," said Clay, dryly. The buyer was Andrew Adams, an Appalachian coal baron who was plunging into the thoroughbred business. "I had admired the horse when I was visiting Runnymede," says Adams, "and made up my mind that if she didn't go for more than $125,000, I was going to buy her."
Adams, who recently sold his eastern Kentucky coal operations for a reported $20 million, shipped the filly to Trainer John Ward to be broken. He asked his wife Reny to name her, and she came up with Sexetary. "At first it was kind of a joke," said Mrs. Adams. "Then we knew we really couldn't call her anything but that. I'm sort of proud of it."
Last November, Adams sent Sexetary to Trainer Dave Kassen, an ex-jockey who has 40 or so horses in a public stable, but has won only two stakes in his six years as a trainer.
Kassen took Sexetary to Hialeah and began galloping her. In mid-January, he began breezing the filly an eighth of a mile once a week. He was impressed with her appearance ("Just like her old man") and her temperament. "Secretariat was big and kind," says Kassen. "And this filly has a lot of sense. She doesn't do anything silly. You can breeze her slow or fast."
He considered starting her at Hialeah, but finally decided to wait for Keeneland, which is only 20 miles from where Secretariat stands at stud. The week before the race he worked her a half-mile in 48⅖ and that convinced Assistant Trainer Dale Bender that she was going to win her debut.
"The way she trained, I think she shows a lot of promise," said Bender. "She's in perfect shape. We're sending her out on her own. She's not getting any medication. Just Ace bandages and a lot of hope."
An hour or so before the race, groom Ned Suter went into Sexetary's stall to wrap her ankles. As he worked, the Emmylou Harris version of the old Chuck Berry song You Never Can Tell blared from a nearby radio. That, said Kassen, summed up the business of racing 2-year-olds. "She's trained good," he said, "but I think she'll be a little better going farther. She has speed, but she isn't quick. Her crooked knee has straightened up so you can't see it. If her knee had looked as good at the sale as it does now, she would have brought twice as much."
About 20 minutes before post time, Sexetary was taken out of her stall and led to the saddling area. As she neared the grandstand and heard the roar of the crowd, she perked up so much that she began to rear. Taking the shank from the groom, Kassen calmed her enough so that she willingly walked into the teeming crowd in the saddling area.
While Sexetary was being readied and taken to the paddock, where stone-faced Jockey Don Brumfield climbed aboard, the crowd bet her down to 1 to 2. Adams, flanked by his wife and daughter, sent a friend off with instructions to buy 50 two-dollar win tickets. If Sexy won, said Adams, he would give the tickets to friends as souvenirs.
The field arrayed against Sexetary didn't seem too imposing. A soft spot to make the first Secretariat runner look good, muttered insiders. Breaking on the rail, Sexetary took the lead midway through the first (and only) turn and continued on top into the stretch. Then Hot Commodity, ridden by Mike Bryan, challenged. Those who had bet on Secretariat's blood waited for class to show. Instead, Hot Commodity pulled away and Sexy began to fade, badly. By the time they got to the finish line, Sexetary was fourth, beaten 2½ lengths by a filly called Set A Limit. Hot Commodity was second with Gypsy Legend third.
Kassen fretted that Brumfield had been forced to rush the filly out of the gate, using her too early. Asked for a comment on the race, Brumfield seemed indifferent, almost sullen. "She just got outrun today," he said. "If she had been by any stallion but Secretariat, nobody would have been disappointed. I can't see any reason to condemn her or praise her. She's just a horse, that's all."
Indeed, only the foolhardy would attempt to make a case on Secretariat's get—or on Sexetary—on the basis of a single short race. Though he is new to the business, Adams understands. For probably the first time in racing history there was a press conference for the owner of the fourth-place finisher in a third race. In the press box, Adams said gallantly, "We didn't need her to win. In his first start, her daddy was fourth, too. So she's right on schedule."