Remembering a tremendous machine

Fifty years on, Secretariat is still a draw

Published June 9, 2023

A statue of the race horse Secretariat and his jockey, Ron Turcotte, stands proudly across the street from a Burger King.

Secretariat had it his way. (credit below)

UPDATE: A version of this story was originally published June 14, 2022, on the news page of Questionist’s parent company, Geeks Who Drink. Today marks the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s clinching of the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes.

Here’s a fun fact that you can share at your next dinner party, colonoscopy, or wig fitting: only three parts of most racehorses are kept after they die. In the majority of cases, only the horse’s head, heart, and hooves are buried, representing their intelligence, their courage, and their speed. But when a horse is truly incredible — like 1973 Triple Crown-winning superstar Secretariat, for example — he goes into his grave (mostly) intact. 

“When they brought Secretariat into the lab [for a necropsy], there were [eight or 10]  people from the farm that came with him,” Thomas Swerczek, DVM, Ph.D, the veterinarian who examined the horse after his death, said. “They all had plastic bags with them. They wanted to take every bit of Secretariat back with them to be buried.” (Swerczek initially thought that Secretariat would’ve been “the perfect horse” to preserve through taxidermy, so he could be displayed “for future generations to admire.”)

Secretariat was euthanized in 1989 at age 19, after developing a painful, incurable hoof ailment called laminitis. He was memorialized with a private funeral in the horse cemetery at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky, and was buried near his dad and granddad. (His dad… er, sire, Bold Ruler was a good racehorse, but apparently an even better breeder: of his 360-plus named offspring, over 60 percent of them went on to win at least one race.)   

According to the visitors’ bureau of Lexington, Kentucky, hundreds of people visit Secretariat’s grave each year, many of them leaving gifts of apples, flowers, or peppermints on his tombstone. (if you’d like to add to that number, their website recommends calling Claiborne Farms to make an appointment.) 

Secretariat also left behind an extended family of more than 300 kids and, according to ESPN, more than 260 roads have been named in honor of the horse, which is more than “any other athlete, human or otherwise.” When he died, some believed that the flags at Belmont Park – where Secretariat still holds the record for the fastest Belmont Stakes finish — should’ve been lowered to half-mast. 

“He wasn’t a horse,” one person sighed to the New York Times. “’He was Secretariat.”

Featured image: Fralambert, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0