Rested few await American Pharoah in Belmont Stakes
Much like the iconic Wrigley Field in Chicago, the walls of the grandstand at Belmont Park are covered in ivy. Much like Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and now-gone Ebbets Field, old Belmont Park has seen its share of colossal events and some of the sports world’s highest profile individuals.
But when it comes time in any given year to detail thoroughbred racing’s Belmont Stakes, it’s only an excuse to remember in writing the greatness of the four-legged phenom, Secretariat — maybe the best thing to happen to any sport in the history of American games and competitions.
“Big Red” was Secretariat’s nickname. Yes, he was tall and his coat shone like a just-minted copper penny. But he was “Big Red” because he stood so high above any other thoroughbred of his age group or of his era.
Secretariat could take the citizenry’s collective minds off the Vietnam War or the crumbling administration of Richard M. Nixon. Controversy seemed to control the national mindset. Spiro Agnew had resigned the vice presidency in disgrace. Watergate had slowly made its way to the forefront of our senses.
And then came Secretariat. His story was that of a thoroughbred who almost single-handedly saved from bankruptcy Meadow Stable of owner Penny Chenery.
When he posted an all-time record in winning the Kentucky Derby, the media pounced on him as an angelic replacement for Nixon and his group of confidants. Time Magazine put him on its cover in chestnut color. After another record-setting victory in the Preakness Stakes there came magazine covers on Newsweek and Sports Illustrated.
It was time for the lengthy Belmont Stakes and its 1 1/2-mile distance. “The Test of Champions” touted Belmont’s publicity machine.
“The Graveyard Where Triple Crown Hopes Come To Die” others said and wrote.
Secretariat loomed like a mythical figure over the sporting world, and over the field that would challenge him in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
Over 100,000 people came to Elmont, New York on Long Island to see if Secretariat could indeed vanquish his rivals and keep the country’s many troubles at least a little ways out of sight for another weekend.
“Big Red” and jockey Ron Turcotte did not disappoint.
As the track’s race caller excitedly gasped, “Secretariat is running like a tremendous machine”, the much-favored horse and rider nearly took the audience’s breath away as they led by 12 lengths, then 16 lengths, then 24 lengths and finally a withering 31 lengths.
Secretariat had broken the Belmont Stakes record by over two seconds. He had won the Triple Crown in a tour de force effort that hypnotized the sporting world.
Secretariat was without blemish. He had become what America wanted the rest of the world to believe this country stood for.
And now its an all-too-short 42 years later.
The 2015 Belmont Stakes has a Triple Crown possibility in American Pharoah. The sleek brown colt has pocketed wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
His rivals on Saturday may number only seven. Who could beat him? Materiality some say. Others look toward the gray Frosted, a winner in the Wood Memorial. Madefromlucky has won the Peter Pan at Belmont Park, and Tale of Verve was second in the Preakness.
Keen Ice and Frammento were both badly beaten in the Kentucky Derby. The unlikely Mubtaahij comes from Dubai to test his luck.
American Pharoah is the 14th thoroughbred to win the first two legs of the three-race series since Affirmed was its last Triple Crown winner back in 1978.
It doesn’t matter.
The running of the Belmont Stakes means bringing back Secretariat to the surface of our memory bank.
A giant chestnut vision with a lethal stride whose heart was more than twice the size of the average thoroughbred . . . and whose exploits warmed the hearts of millions and even brought tears to the eyes of the most hard-boiled of cynics and naysayers.