A year ago at this time there was a good deal of talk about the failure of Secretariat to sire an outstanding runner from his first crop of 26 2-year-olds, nine of which were starters in 1977. Given a multiple-choice quiz asking how Secretariat was doing: a) excellent, b) good, c) barely adequate, or d) abysmal, even the staunchest of Secretariat's many fans would have drawn a big ring around d).
Because Secretariat became the first Triple Crown winner in a quarter of a century when he won the 1973 Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, there was every expectation that his progeny would be enormously successful. However, two of his first get were among the worst high-priced clinkers in the history of racing, Canadian Bound and Grey Legion. Canadian Bound was auctioned for $1.5 million and has yet to win a race; Grey Legion, who was sold at auction for $550,000, never even made it to a race. In December Sacrebleu became the only Secretariat to win a race in this country, a seven-furlong event at Laurel. Sacre bleu, indeed!
Not only had Secretariat's first crop failed to reflect its sire's looks, ability or demeanor, but it also was, in large measure, burdened with a grotesque collection of names: Acratariat, Seclusive, Sexetary, Sociologue, Centrifolia, Dactylographer and Feuille d'Erable (maple leaf). The last two were winners, Dactylographer in England and Feuille d'Erable in a cheap race at Woodbine in Canada.
However, during the past several weeks two strapping chestnut 2-year-olds from Secretariat's second crop have come out running. Really running. Both are undefeated, and between them they have triumphed in the major 2-year-old races run thus far in New York and California. Each looks exactly like Pa. And each has already proven itself a gate attraction. On Labor Day, for example, the largest crowd ever to clog the walking ring at Del Mar ogled Secretariat's smashing daughter Terlingua before she went out and won her fourth straight stakes race, the $122,440 Debutante. She returned 20¬¨¬®¬¨¢ for each $2 win bet. Nine days earlier, at Saratoga, Secretariat's son General Assembly had won the $81,000 Hopeful Stakes and paid a paltry $2.60, the price his father had paid in the same race six years before. In three starts, General Assembly has won by a total of 12¾ lengths, while Terlingua has won her four races by 19¼.
Oddly enough, both horses race in similar green-and-white silks and are ridden by the same jockey, Darrel McHargue. "Both of them have exceptional ability," McHargue says, "and they both get better every time they go onto the racetrack. What can you really say when you get lucky enough to ride two such 2-year-olds in the same year? And both by Secretariat. I only saw him run once, the day he won the Belmont. I just sat in awe. General Assembly is the best 2-year-old colt I've ever ridden, and he's going to get better. As for Terlingua, well, she was born with wings."
Last week Terlingua was shipped to Belmont Park to face the best Eastern fillies in the $100,000 Frizette Stakes on Oct. 2. Terlingua's trainer, 42-year-old D. Wayne Lukas, says, "I could see her before I ever laid eyes on her. I read about her in a yearling catalog before the 1977 summer sales at Keeneland. After looking at her credentials, I went to Kentucky to try and buy her. Before going, I talked to one of my owners [L. R. French of Midland, Texas] and told him I knew what the horse would look like and that maybe we could get her for around $250,000 to $300,000.
"When I got to Keeneland, the first time I saw this filly being walked I knew who she was. I never asked anybody to bring the horse out for my inspection, just stood off to the side when anyone else would examine her. As the days of the sale went on, the prices for all the horses were going out of sight, and I didn't think we'd get near her for what we had in mind. I called French back, and he said 'Wayne, this sounds crazy, but just bring her back with you.' When we got Terlingua for $275,000, it stunned me."
General Assembly was bred by Diana and Bert Firestone in Virginia and races under Bert's name. The Firestones have had great success in recent years, most notably with Honest Pleasure, Optimistic Gal and What A Summer. General Assembly's dam is Exclusive Dancer, a daughter of Native Dancer. Trainer LeRoy Jolley has moved slowly with General Assembly, knowing that the road to the classic 3-year-old races is a rocky one. "General Assembly has a ton of talent," Jolley says. "He'll probably race only two or three more times this year, and then we'll rest him before starting to get him ready for the Kentucky Derby if all goes well."
Terlingua, who is named after the tiny (pop. 100) Texas town that once hosted the world championship chili con carne cookoff, is a daughter of Crimson Saint, who in 1973 set the five-furlong record of :56 at Hollywood Park.
Lukas is new to thoroughbred training, following a spectacular career in quarter-horse racing. Since 1970 he has led the country in winners or money won, or both, five times. "I guess you could call me a hyper," he says. "I work about 20 hours a day. I'll go from the thoroughbred tracks in the afternoons to the quarter horses at night. This year I bought a Mercedes because I thought it would be easier on me to get around, but it's rattlin' now because I've pushed 28,000 miles out of it just going down freeways."
In his first full year as a thoroughbred trainer, Lukas has won four $100,000 races, as well as another worth $97,475. He seems full of patience and will sit on the puffs of straw outside the stall and watch a horse for hours, trying to figure out how best to deal with it. "They do tell you things," he says. "You just have to keep looking for what they are trying to say."
Terlingua started her first race in a stakes, the Nursery, and won. "When the race was over," Lukas says, "I brought her back near the gap on the backstretch and let her listen to the noise of the crowd. I thought it might make her a little bit better horse."
Before the Nursery, Lukas was invited to go on a short vacation at Jackson Hole, Wyo. with his old friend Al McGuire, who coached Marquette, the 1977 NCAA basketball champion. "I needed some time off," Lukas says, "and so I flew from Los Angeles to Denver to meet Al before going on to Jackson Hole. When I got to the airport, I waited for about a half hour and stall-walked the whole time. Finally, I went up to one of the passenger agents and told him to give Al a note that I was too nervous about Terlingua to take any time off."
After defeating the top fillies in California in the Nursery and Hollywood Lassie Stakes, Terlingua met the best 2-year-old colts in California, Flying Paster and Exuberant, in the six-furlong Hollywood Juvenile Stakes. She won easily in 1:08[4/5]. By comparison, Affirmed won last year's Hollywood Juvenile in 1:09[1/5].
Very few stallions sire the top 2-year-old colt and filly of the same year. In 1947, the 2-year-old champions were Calumet's Citation and Bewitch, both of whom were begot by Bull Lea. Not until 1964, when Bold Lad and Queen Empress, both sired by Bold Ruler (also the sire of Secretariat), were the champion 2-year-old colt and filly, was the double achieved again. General Assembly and Terlingua may very well make Secretariat's second crop as memorable as his first is forgettable. But as far as Lukas is concerned, the second crop is noteworthy, indeed. Terlingua has to earn only $43,735 more to pay off her purchase price of $275,000. Such gambles are rarely won.
McHargue says General Assembly is the best 2-year-old colt he has ridden.