Back in 1990, I only occasionally wrote about horse racing. Mainly, it was high-school sports – football, basketball, wrestling, baseball, softball, whatever was in season, plus some semi-pro baseball (the Cecil Johnies were pretty strong) – while working for the Cecil Whig newspaper.
Yes, that was the newspaper’s name and yes it was 150 or so years old and yes it used to compete with a paper called the Cecil Democrat (the editor of the Whig once shot the editor of the Democrat in a duel), but that’s another story.
Every once in a while, the Whig sports beat merged with racing. One of those times came when I found Secretariat’s first foal on a farm in Rising Sun, Md. His name was First Secretary (of course) and he was an Appaloosa. He was the product of the 1973 Triple Crown winner and Claiborne Farm nurse mare Leola. Owned by then Claiborne farm manager W.K. Taylor, she had Indian reservation blood and was used as a test breeding for Secretariat. Taylor sold Leola to Minnesota horseman Jack Nankivil, and turned her colt into an Appaloosa stallion. Years later, Nankivil transitioned from Appaloosas to Thoroughbreds with the opening of Canterbury Park (then Downs) racetrack in his home state, and sold First Secretary. The stallion stood in Iowa, New Hampshire and was sold to West Wind Appaloosa Sport Horses in Cecil County, Md. – which is how I met him.
I remember a friendly, tall, horse with a white Appaloosa blanket and flecks of white throughout his chestnut/roan colt. When he was born, First Secretary was a solid chestnut (like his sire) with short white socks behind and that perfect white blanket across his back and hindquarters. Like most Appaloosas, he got whiter with age.
The photo copy of the article, stuffed in a file cabinet in my basement is less white than it was but brought back some memories – and made me realize I had a long way to go as a writer.
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Like father, like son
Secretariat’s first-born moves to Rising Sun
By Joe Clancy
Whig Assistant Sports Editor
Ken Griffey Sr. taught Ken Griffey Jr. ho to hit a curve ball. Mark Howe owes his slap shot to his dad Gordie. Even Cal and Bill Ripken picked up a few fielding tips from their father Cal Sr.
First Secretary – the first-ever son of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat – received nothing but good looks and bloodlines form his old man. No pointers on how to prance, prick his ears, look powerful, run across the field . . .
Despite the lack of parental guidance, the aptly-named Appaloosa stallion can do all that and more. Recently purchased by West Wind Appaloosa Sport Horses near Rising Sun, First Secretary stands among the top sires of his breed.
First Secretary’s sons and daughters excel in both Appaloosa racing and showing. Through July 1989, the striking 16-year-old chestnut/roan son of a two-time horse of the Year had sired 10 national show champions and numerous successful racetrack performers.
“He’s a real desirable stallion,” said new owner Ernie Morrell, who with his wife Meredith operates West Wind. “His mother was an Appaloosa with no cross-breeding in her so he’s got all Thoroughbred on one side and all Appaloosa on the other.”
The Morrells, who old hold down “real” jobs in addition to the horse business, oerate West Wind with an equine population of eight (including two of the famous stallion’s offspring). First Secretary is the farm’s first stallion and will most likely breed 15 mares next spring.
How First Secretary came about turned into a national incident as his breeding was something of an accident.
Retired to Kentucky’s Claiborne Farm in 1973 after an amazingly short – and successful – two-year racing career, Secretariat didn’t initially duplicate his racing brilliance in the breeding shed. The chestnut son of Bold Ruler initially possessed a low sperm count, which drew national attention and even some laughs.
New stallions are often bred to test mares, and Secretariat was no different. His first bride was an Appaloosa, however, creating even more news.
Leola, a Claiborne nurse mare (used to care for orphaned foals) with Indian reservation blood, turned out to be Secretariat’s first bride. Owned by then Claiborne farm manager W.K. Taylor, the pregnant Leola brought plenty of rich offers from Appaloosa breeders all over the country.
A proposed sealed-bid auction created more problems than solutions so Taylor sold the mare (and fast-approaching foal) to Minnesota horseman Jack Nankivil privately.
Nankivil intended to breed the offspring, whatever it turned out to be, and took a gamble. Syndicate members were sold lifetime breeding rights to the first Appaloosa colt with the lineage of Secretariat. Leola got it right the first time.
With CBS and NBC (Nankivil “never liked” ABC commentator Howard Cosell) television cameras rolling, First Secretary stepped into the world a celebrity on Nov. 15, 1974. Like his father, the colt was deep red in color with three white socks. First Secretary had something else, however, a sparkling white Appaloosa blanket of spots on his rump.
The championship pedigree doesn’t present itself right away as Secretariat’s name cannot appear in the Appaloosa Horse Club of America registry. First Secretary’s sire is officially “unknown Thoroughbred horse.” There’s no doubt who it is, however, and the Canadian Appaloosa Registry officially observes the famous connection.
First Secretary called Nankivil’s Sahaptin Farm in Winona, home for his first 13 years, 10 as a top stallions. He also stood in Iowa for a time while leased on by Nankivil. In 1987, Nankivil sold the horse to New Hampshire breeder Randy Floyd, who recently sold First Secretary to the Morrells.
“He was everything we wanted out of a deal,” Nankivil said from his Minnesota home. “We were thrilled with him.”
With his November foaling date and standard Jan. 1 birthday for all horses, First Secretary was always a year behind other Appaloosas so he never raced.
He never needed to.
“He went to stud as a 3-year-old,” Nankivil said. “Racing would have been too big of a risk, all we wanted were his bloodlines. With his breeding, he had nothing to prove.”
Not just a novelty act, First Secretary attracted a top group of mares in his first years and was fertile enough to artificially inseminate others. His foals produced victories on the track, including a champion raced by Nankivil, championships in conformation classes and wins on the show jumping circuits.
“His offspring were better racing at longer distances (half-mile and over) and they don’t run too many Appaloosa races that long,” Nankivil said, “but he’s done even better as a sports horse sire. He was always bred to an outstanding group of mares and I think that helped him as a stallion.”
Despite his stature (a full inch larger than his father at 17 hands), First Secretary’s disposition resembles that of a small pony. An imposing figure becomes a pleasant new friend with a little attention. A few pats on the neck and First Secretary seems as if he’d follow you home.
The Morrells show off their acquisition with pride while Nankivil might have liked to keep him.
“I was really fond of the horse and I really enjoyed him,” said Nankivil, who shifted is interest to Thoroughbreds when Minnesota’s Canterbury Downs opened. “If I could have afforded to keep him, I would have made him a pleasure horse.”
With a little help from Dad.
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First Secretary died of colic in 1993, but left a long legacy. He sired 247 horses. On the racetrack, his 39 starters included eight winners and one stakes winner. In the show ring, he was even more successful. His son Jetta Rue was a national and world show champion in 1990 and became a sire. Others sons and daughters with show-ring success included Something’s Sweet (a 1983 world champion in the trail category), Helen Wheels (1984 hunter hack world champion), Nanny Brow (1985 world champion in senior hunter hunter under saddle), Suite As Sugar (the high point horse at the 1985 national show) and Ms. Secretary (1987 reserve national champion as an open jumper). Internationally, In The Black was an Australian national show champion while State Secretary won a similar award in New Zealand. First Draft became a prominent Appaloosa stallion in England while Secretary Royal won championships in Switzerland.