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The Outside Rail

Creased, scratched, faded, turned up on the corners and with a dime-sized hole in the center of the cover photo, the magazine saw plenty in its 44 years. But nobody had seen it for five years, maybe more, until Jack Clancy opened a plastic container in an unused room in my Fair Hill office last month.

The Blood-Horse, June 18, 1973. Secretariat is on the cover, all alone save for Ron Turcotte and eight people standing on the turf course, at the finish of the Belmont Stakes, the completion of the first Triple Crown in 25 years and the conclusion of one of sport’s greatest achievements.

When my son Jack brought it to me, I let out an automatic “Whooooaaaa.” The word was reverent, said with honor. This merger of ink, paper, skill and (a little) technology felt like a time capsule – left for someone to find. I think my brother Sean put it in the box. I know he put the box in the office because the office was full of boxes he put there and those boxes were full of such treasures – photos, letters, art, scraps, a horseshoe on a wooden plaque, trinkets and trash. The magazines were mostly old editions of The Chronicle of the Horse, and this one wayward Blood-Horse. There’s no subscription label, but that could have easily fallen off. The magazine was originally sent to our father or perhaps our uncle, Lewis Waggaman because his name was on a few other publications in the maw.

And, don’t worry, we didn’t toss much – just relocated boxes to the first floor (from the third) to save the second-floor ceiling.

No matter, the 68-pager (The Blood-Horse used to number its pages through the whole year and this edition went from 2,059-2,126) makes an impact. It even smells like it’s important, or at least old – I think I’m allergic to important/old however as I’ve sneezed a half-dozen times.

There’s that cover. By today’s standards, it’s kind of plain. The traditional green top remains, with The BLOOD-HORSE also in green on a white oval. There are two small silhouettes – one of horses racing, another of a mare and foal – just below the magazine name. The photo takes up the middle. Secretariat is on that funny, one-front-leg stride Thoroughbreds have, but otherwise he’s majestic and powerful and in total command. Those eight people on the turf course assume various poses and duties. One is a photographer. One is a security officer of some sort as he’s looking back toward the infield (he missed some race). Two are obscured by Secretariat. One stands by himself to the far left of the photo, alone in the moment. Three others stand closest to the finish line, soaking it in. Beneath the photo is a small cutline that simply says, Secretariat In The Belmont—31 Lengths And 2:24 (no period). Below that in all caps is AFTER 25 YEARS, A TRIPLE CROWN, then the 50 CENTS cover price and the date. There’s no photo credit.

Inside, 14 pages cover the Belmont – a What’s Going on Here by editor Kent Hollingsworth, a main feature on the race by managing editor Ed Bowen with the headline JOINING THE GIANTS, an excerpt of the J. A. Estes poem Big Red (which is about waiting for an heir to Man o’ War) with the capper “Perhaps the wait has ended,” the official Daily Racing Form chart, a Belmont Thoughts piece by Hollingsworth and a one-pager called Reactions by New York correspondent William H. Rudy. Twenty-five black-and-white photos and one pencil sketch illustrate it all.

The content is magic.

Hollingsworth’s What’s Going On Here predictably sings. It starts with:

This one we saw. Seeing is believing, but Secretariat’s Belmont challenged credulity. He ran so far beyond known reference points, he left us with no measurable comparison. We saw it, believed it; we are having trouble, however, comprehending the preternatural.

From there, the editor weaves it all together – starting with the race build-up and flowing through Belmont Day with its early-arriving crowd at the paddock rail, owner Penny Tweedy’s reputation as the “queen” of American racing. Finally, he gets to the race and provides a glimpse of the New York racing fan watching it all unfold.

It was a contest between a horse and apprehension.

Fantastic stuff. As Secretariat and Turcotte doled out fast fractions, incredulous railbirds predicted a great unraveling only to watch Secretariat put in a performance for the ages.

To see that which never before has been seen is an emotional experience. And we figure to be quite snobbish about having seen it. So when old racing men begin to reminisce of Buckpasser’s Suburban, Kelso’s International, the Ridan-Jaipur Travers, Swaps’ Sunset, Tom Fool, Native Dancer, Citation, Count Fleet, Alsab against Whirlaway, War Admiral and Seabiscuit, Equipoise; Gentlemen, we will say, let me now tell you about a non-pareil, a genuine racehorse I saw win the Belmont by a sixteenth of a mile without working up a lather.

I read that last paragraph with joy and felt Hollingsworth’s fervor for the moment. I imagined watching that race, then writing about it – in a hurry, on deadline. I’d have been hitting the keys hard, and I imagined Hollingsworth doing the same. Wow.

Bowen’s “game” story covers every base from the fast fractions to meaningful quotes from Turcotte and trainer Lucien Laurin. The Canadians bantered about whether Secretariat knew he was running 1 1/2 miles or not (Turcotte thought yes; Laurin not so much) and the conversation made me think of what it would have been like to interview those two guys then.

Bowen pays credit to the noble Sham who finished second in the Derby and Preakness and struck the front early in the Belmont only to be matched and soon overwhelmed by Secretariat before finishing last.

Like John P. Grier in an age before, Sham was committed to the battle – long though the odds – and he meant to take it to the end. He got his nose in front, then the length of his dark head, his neck, half his glistening body. Now Secretariat would have to catch him.

Sham’s moment was brief. Secretariat the stretch runner lost no equilibrium in being in front. This was not Gallant Fox and Whichone setting it up for a Jim Dandy, not even Canonero II and Eastern Fleet locked in a private duel that would last to near the end. This was a great horse letting a good horse have his run, and then he would smash him.

The Blood-Horse being The Blood-Horse, the article ends with a nod to Meadow Stud in Virginia. Secretariat’s birthplace was a Thoroughbred nursery like many others, but Bowen turned it into a mystical place with the article’s final paragraph paying homage to the farm, the horses and long-time farm manager Howard Gentry.

Of all the spring evenings that have wafted down over The Meadow, there was one of particular import. Of all the foals that Gentry and his men have attended as they snuggled in their damp newness next to their dams, there was a certain one foaled on March 30, 1970, of all the possible March 30ths, of all the possible stalls on all the possible farms. He was to win the Belmont by a larger margin than Count Fleet did, bridge the gap from Citation-to-present, tear down the caution of horsemen in their appraisals, and sing to the hearts of those who knew him.

I dare you to look at a new foal this spring and not think of that paragraph.

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• • •
Turn the page and a notes package by Hollingsworth greets the reader. I love this stuff. The story starts with a “What now?” question and hints at a predictable schedule including the Jim Dandy, Travers, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Hollingsworth suggests something far different.

If there is a challenge left in all of racing worthy of this super horse, it most probably is the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe to be run the first Sunday in October at Longchamp for the world’s greatest racing prize.

Secretariat, of course, never made the Arc. He didn’t make the Jim Dandy or Travers either. His post-Belmont schedule included a win in the Arlington Invitational June 30, a loss (to Onion) in the Whitney at Saratoga, a win over stablemate Riva Ridge in the Marlboro Cup at Belmont in September, a loss (to Prove Out) in the Woodward at Belmont, a powerhouse turf score in the Man o’ War (1 1/2 miles in 2:24 3/5) over Tentam and finally a win in the Canadian International also on turf to cap a Hall of Fame career.

There’s a rudimentary chart with fractional times of the six fastest Belmonts ever (Secretariat was, predictably, faster at every call), along with several paragraphs comparing the 2:24 time to the world’s best times at 1 1/2 miles. The only faster marks came on turf of varying consistency – downhill at Santa Anita, undulating at England’s Newmarket, flat at Laurel Park. Secretariat’s Belmont mark broke the record by more than two seconds. And still stands.

The 1973 Belmont undercard was something of a nod to the future. Future Horse of the Year Forego won an allowance. Sprint star Spanish Riddle, trained by Laurin, won going a mile. Key To The Kingdom broke his maiden. The two-pager ends with a paragraph about the only amateur jockey to ride in the Belmont. Pete Bostwick, a top polo player and jump jockey, finished fourth in the 1928 running aboard Broom Whisk. In 1973, Bostwick’s daughter Dolly rode in the day’s second race.

A two-page photo spread comes next and includes images of fans in homemade Secretariat shirts, a band in the backyard, jockey Angel Cordero Jr., Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and the winning margin from behind.

Finally, Rudy’s one-page article called Reflections caps the Belmont coverage. In the story, the writers interviews trainers about the great horse.

The opening sentence sets the tone.

Veteran trainers, notoriously a “show me” lot, were shown by Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes.

Not that Rudy found many skeptics. Among those interviewed are John Gaver, who won three Belmonts; Syl Veitch, who won two Belmonts; Sherrill Ward, “a horseman’s horseman;” and Woody Stephens, who would go on to win five Belmonts.

Ward – who had Forego in his barn at the time – summed it up well.

“I think he is the most tremendous horse I ever saw race. I always felt that way about Citation. But I think this race as one of the greatest exhibitions I ever saw. The Derby was a fine race, the Preakness a fine race. This was just phenomenal. I don’t ever expect to see anything like it again.”

Late in the story, Rudy turns to a relative newcomer.

Allen Jerkens is not quite the veteran that some are, but there is not a trainer in the country who does not have great respect for him. Said the Hobeau Farm trainer: “I never saw a performance like that. He looks the part and he is bred the part. He has got the champion sire and a champion broodmare sire, both in the right spots in his pedigree. A good trainer, good groom, good boy, a good operation – and it takes a little bit of luck, too.”

• • •
And that was that. The next page of the magazine covered the English and French Derbies, then came obituaries, 2-year-old maiden winners, a leading sires list, coverage of the Argonaut Handicap, several pages of stakes winners led by Secretariat and including Twixt, Live Forever, Annihilate ’Em, Mo Bay and Raise A Cup.

The advertisements are as fun as the articles. Claiborne Farm is on the inside front cover (of course). Laurin touts the power of Absorbine liniment in a full-page ad. Virginia’s Llangollen Farms promotes its yearling consignments. Keeneland has a full page. Fasig-Tipton takes a third-page for its horses of racing age sale at Belmont Park in a week. Florida farms are everywhere and include Waldemar, Grosse Pointe, Mare Haven and Shady Lane. Spendthrift Farm has two double-truck ads – one for Majestic Prince, another for Raise A Native. Spendthrift was not playing. In another two-pager, Gainesway Farm promotes stallions Crimson Satan and Bold Bidder. Mereworth Farm mares Allie’s Serenade and Justakiss – and their foals – grace the back cover. Justakiss’ foal, a daughter of Buckpasser late named Passakiss, would go on to produce $390,000 earner Tonzarun. In 1977, Justakiss produced Ten Cents A Kiss, the dam of Travers winner Corporate Report. Colorado’s Elk Ranch Estates advertises training horses at high-altitude, complete with a 1 1/8-mile straightaway training course and “beauty, peace, grandeur.”

You can buy an Equimist automatic fly sprayer, a Frank Imperatore aero-liner horse van, Foulex thrush treatment, a half-sister to Native Charger, something called Tuttle Elexer, books, halters, bits, a 72-acre farm south of Leesburg, Va. for $225,000 and a full-brother to the dam of Sham. One advertiser in area code 703 has horses of all descriptions, “Whatever your need, we have the steed.”

• • •
As it does now, the magazine listed its staffers and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association directors and staff.

The names jump off the page.

In the TOBA section, are president Jacques Wimpfheimer, vice president E. Barry Ryan, secretary John A. Bell III, treasurer L. P. Doherty and assistant secretary Dorothy Cole. The Executive Committee consisted of Allaire du Pont, Peter Fuller, Fred Hooper, Edward Lasker, E. P. Taylor and Reginald Webster. The Publication Committee included Bell, Doherty, F. E. Kilroe, Lasker and Bayard Sharp. The TOBA headquarters was at Belmont Park.

On the editorial side, there were of course Hollingsworth and Bowen, giants in the game. Charles Stone was the executive editor, Erbert Eades the advertising manager. Dan Mearns, one of my first editors when I freelanced for the magazine, was on the staff. Correspondents included Rudy, Robert Hebert in California, Art Grace in Florida, Joe Agrella in Chicago, Don Zamarelli in New Jersey, Gerry Strine in Maryland.

A subscription cost $20 a year, $21 in Kentucky to cover the tax. Whoever paid for this one got their money’s worth.

Click on the cover image below for a slideshow of pages from the magazine.
{gallery}Secretariat Blood-Horse{/gallery}