Happy Birthday Big Red!

March 30, 1970….a legend was born on a storied piece of land called The Meadow in Caroline County, Virginia. His fame would extend far beyond its pastures and paddocks.  Decades later, his legacy and the loyalty of his legions of fans remains undiminished by the passage of time.

Writers and commentators exhausted their adjectives in trying to describe Secretariat’s astounding career.  But here is a sampling of quotes from an ESPN documentary that captures that essence:

Secretariat came to us as a shining example of aristocracy, big, handsome and full of charge. He walked with style, stood tall, and displayed the best manners. On paper he wasn’t perfect, losing 5 of his 21 races as if to say, I’m only human. To the eye, he was perfection itself. And when he performed, he took your breath away. Yet some may ask, how could he have been voted among the 20th century’s 50 greatest athletes? The answer:  because he was Secretariat, more than just a horse.”  Chris Fowler, ESPN narrator

“In another quarter of a mile, he might have taken to the air and flown, which was obviously what was in his blood. ”   Heywood Hale Broun, CBS commentator, on Secretariat’s Derby.

He went into another level of consciousness in the public eye. There were actually kids standing on the rail as he came by. He had now captured the public, not just the racing crowd.”   Ed Bowen, The Blood-Horse

I believed in Pegasus that day, because I saw. I mean I never saw anything like that in my life. 31 lengths? That’s unbelievable. It was like they were racing on two different tracks.”  Jerry Izenberg, the Star-Ledger

And as the horses came out of the final turn, you could see Secretariat alone in front, and steam was blowing out of both nostrils with each exhale like a locomotive. It was an incredible sight. And that was the final competitive moment of a career that probably could have known no limits had he kept racing.”  Jay Hovdey, Daily Racing Form, on Secretariat’s last race at Woodbine

We waited a long time for him. We waited since Man O’War. I don’t expect in my lifetime to see another one like him. We might see another Affirmed or another Native Dancer or something. But he was perfect.”  Bill Nack, author of “Secretariat – The Making of a Champion. 

And here is a sampling, 42 years after he was born, of what Secretariat still means to his fans  (from our Facebook page) :

“I screamed and shouted in my living room, watching on black-and-white TV, then ran outside to tell someone, anyone – but nobody was home but me! I found a soft rock and wrote on the front walk, “Secretariat wins Belmont by 25 lengths – Triple Crown!” so everyone would see it when they came home! (I was 10, what do you want??) Oddly, not everyone was as excited as I was! For that entire summer, my pony’s name was not Thunder, but Secretariat (or “Big Red”), and I relived that thrill every single day! Now I remember it like it was yesterday, and I get goose bumps when I see footage. At that point in the Secretariat movie, I was sobbing in the theater, even though I knew the outcome.”  Rose Beebe

My favorite memory was seeing him in Kentucky after he retired to stud. He was not available to the public yet but we knew the farm manager and went to see him. He strolled around the field and went to his waterer for a big drink. Then he lifted his head and turned toward us for a “photo op”. What a magnificent horse!”  Anne Tucker

“Secretariat won my heart forever with his triple crown races especially after his amazing Belmont. I was 16 and took my huge wall poster of Secretariat in the Derby with me to Va Tech. I had that picture with me for 4 years where I could see it every day in my dorm room. Whenever I had difficulties or a bad day I always had Big Red to cheer me on. He really did help me realize I could get through anything. Now I have a Secretariat wall in my home.”  Susanne Di Carlo

 “I was chasing after a 2 year old in 1973 and did not know much about thoroughbred horse racing. But, I vividly remember flashes on the colored TV of a beautiful blonde lady in a white dress standing next to a gorgeous chestnut horse with a white star on his forehead. That glorious picture made me stop in my tracks. Secretariat and Mrs. Penny Chenery came to mean so much to America. They represented the best America has to offer. And, they still do.” Vera Conwicke

And that says it all.  Happy Birthday, Secretariat!  The Big Red flame burns brighter than ever.

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land,  The Family, The Legend

copyright 2012


One thought on “Happy Birthday Big Red!

  1. God, how much do I love this horse! Happy, happy birthday you tremendous machine! Big Red, you have changed my life in so many ways, I just get teary thinking about it. What a beautiful, supernatural, and charming horse you were! I went to your birthday party this weekend in Ashland! Love you love you love you.

    Happy Birthday Big Red! Even though I couldn’t meet you in real life, I am looking forward to meeting you in Heaven.

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