‘Seems like yesterday’

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The clock stopped at one minute, 59 and 2/5 seconds when Secretariat crossed the finish of the 1973 Kentucky Derby. Two weeks later the red chestnut won the Preakness Stakes and three weeks after that he romped in the Belmont Stakes to sweep the Triple Crown. Ron Turcotte was in the saddle each time and even though it’s been 40 years, he remembers it like it was yesterday.

Turcotte gets a reminder every year when the Triple Crown comes around, when 3-year-olds attempt to complete the series that hasn’t been swept since 1978. He’ll get an even bigger reminder later this month when the National Film Board of Canada’s documentary title Secretariat’s Jockey, Ron Turcotte is shown for the first time in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the Preakness victory. The Maryland screening, presented by the Maryland Jockey Club and Secretariat.com, will be Tuesday, May 14 at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Md., and information on tickets is available here.

Turcotte spent some time earlier this week to talk about the documentary and the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s Kentucky Derby victory with the Horse Racing Radio Network’s Mike Penna, Kurt Becker and Chad Summers.

Horse Racing Radio Network: Can you believe it’s been 40 years since Secretariat won the Triple Crown?

Ron Turcotte: It sure doesn’t seem that long. Seems like yesterday.

HRRN: What goes through your mind when you see the replay of that win?

RT: I’ve seen it so many times it just feels wonderful that I’m still here to see it and to see the 40th anniversary.

HRRN: How special was it to win the Derby?

RT: The horse got beat in the Wood Memorial. I had to play it a little more cautiously with him, to use him and save his energy until the end. We ran every quarter faster than the previous one and down the lane when I set him down at about the quarter pole he really took off after that other horse. Once I passed him I just gathered him up and hand rode him to the wire. It was a tremendous feeling. He proved himself the horse we always thought he would.

HRRN: You can still hear the affection in your voice talking about him. What was that relationship like with Secretariat?

RT: He was such a wonderful horse. There was only one horse like him. He was a very kind horse. A very generous horse. I think when Secretariat was born they threw away the mold. I rode a lot of other nice horses. I loved Riva Ridge but Secretariat was beyond anything.

HRRN: How does young man growing up in Canada end up in the U.S. riding a horse like Secretariat?

RT: I started with Mr. [E. P.] Taylor at Windfields Farm. … That’s where I learned to ride. The break horses, gallop horses. Then I moved on.

HRRN: The name Northern Dancer comes to mind as one of, if not the most influential sire in racing, were you around him at any time?

RT: Yes, I was the regular rider of Northern Dancer as a 2-year-old. But being I was a Canadian they wanted an American rider to ride him. That convinced me I needed to come to the United States to show that I could compete at their level. Northern Dancer was a great horse. I think he was probably the second best horse I rode. Him and Riva Ridge are hard to separate. He was the greatest Canadian horse of all time.

HRRN: Why did it take so long for a documentary to come out about your life and career?

RT: We’re a very private family. My wife and I. She was a schoolteacher before we got married. We actually were asked many many times to OK a documentary or make a movie. In fact back in 1978, 1979, somebody wanted to make a movie on my life. We decided against it. Finally last year we said OK. I guess we’re getting a little softer with our age.

HRRN: When you turn your TV on Saturday and hear the playing of My Old Kentucky Home, will you get goose bumps?

RT: Oh sure. They played it yesterday when I was at the track and I got goose pimples for sure.