Search result for 'secretariat'.

Secretariat Wins Again

entertainment and popular culture

In a somewhat slow decision, the Maryland Racing Commission has awarded Secretariat the record for running the all-time fastest Preakness Stakes. This means Big Red is the record-holder in all three triple crown races. His official time for the 1973 race is now 1:53.

Jockey Ron Turcotte didn’t use a whip. After blowing past the field beginning at around :40, Secretariat cruised the rest of the way.

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War on Christmas: Status Update

Obama Administration

What strikes you about this paragraph?

The congressman is among a growing number of conservatives who have vowed to resist “the war on Christmas” that they say threatens to turn the holiday into a secular celebration. Many of them have charged, for example, that it’s become less politically correct to use a Christmas greeting exclusively.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, announced early this month that lawmakers are now allowed — for the first time in 40 years — to send holiday cards to constituents that say “Merry Christmas.”

OK, I boldfaced the part that struck me. This has been going on for 40 years? And it’s just now bothers you?

I’m assuming that when Miller says “not allowed” she means “not allowed to use their free franking privilege for religious purposes.” So who decided my tax dollars can underwrite somebody else’s religion? Don’t these people ever red the flipping Constitution?

Part of the problem here is that the Christianist tribe has expanded the idea of a “religious” holiday to include elements like shopping mall decorations and Santa Clause (but only if white) as “Christmas,” and therefore “religious,” and then they complain that “liberals” are trying to turn Christmas into a “secular” holiday as opposed to a religious one.

We don’t have to try, dears. You did that yourselves, a long time ago.

Now, I realize that the legend of Santa Claus evolved from stories about Saint Nicholas (270-343), but at this point the Jolly Old Elf resembles the Saint about as much as My Pretty Pony resembles Secretariat. (Among other legends, Nicholas is said to have punched out another bishop at the Council of Nicaea.)

Yes, Nicholas was said to have given secret gifts — to the poor — which has little to do with rioting WalMart shoppers trying to snag the last marked down iPad. And the practice of leaving presents under a decorated evergreen tree is relatively recent; the German tradition of decorated Christmas trees didn’t spread elsewhere until the 19th century.

Next they’ll be telling us there’s a “war on Easter” (a holiday possibly named after Ēostre, an Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess — bunnies? eggs? hello?) and a liberal disrespect for Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross because somebody doesn’t like pastel-colored marshmallow baby chicks.

This year some dippy woman defended Christ by assaulting a Salvation Army bell-ringer for saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” This has got to be a peak example of missing the point.

I would be absolutely thrilled if Christians did re-claim Christmas as a religious holiday, emphasizing prayer, church attendance, and charity, and let the rest of us tone it down to a nice family get-together with less hype and expense.

However, there is evidence we are winning. First, the Pope is on mostly our side now. And then there’s this:

A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Group points to a shifting toward such pluralism, with close to half of Americans (49%) surveyed agreeing that stores and businesses should greet their customers with “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” instead of “merry Christmas”, out of respect for people of different faiths. This number is up from 44% when they conducted this survey in 2010.

That said, I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays as best you can.

See also “A Merrier Christmas for Liberal Christians.”

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Is the Fix In for Mittens?

Obama Administration

Charles Pierce on yesterday’s Republican candidate debate:

In brief, Saturday night may have been the most naked piece of point-shaving and game-throwing since the 1919 World Series. I’ve seen fixed prizefights where the issue was more in doubt. The other candidates went so far into the tank for Willard that they may not dry off until next August. In the 1950’s, Frankie Carbo would have had them all killed because they made it look so damned obvious. Where was the promised Gingrich assault on the frontrunner? Where was the blood, the guts, the glory? Where was the damn slasher film we all anticipated? This was a waltz, and a clumsy one. If the people in that audience had any pride at all, they’d have attacked the ABC platform and demanded satisfaction for this massive piece of consumer fraud.

However, news stories say that today the remaining Seven Clowns — they’re down to Five Clowns now, since Perry chose not to drop out just yet — went after Mittens today, so maybe they aren’t folding just yet.

Nate Silver says that Mr. Frothy’s surge may already have stalled.

Romney has a lead in New Hampshire worthy of Secretariat; it’s going to be a landslide. He is comfortably ahead in the polls in South Carolina, which will hold its primary on January 21. If he clobbers the rest of the field in those two contests, which is possible, it’s going to be very hard to stop him from being the nominee. Not that I mind.

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Another Belmont Stakes Post

American History, entertainment and popular culture

[Update: The filly won! Whoopee!]

One filly, Rags to Riches, will be running in the Belmont Stakes today. A filly hasn’t won the race in over a century. Rags to Riches is a daughter of A.P. Indy, who won the Belmont Stakes in 1992. A.P. Indy was sired by Seattle Slew. His dam was Morning Surprise, a daughter of Secretariat.

Rags to Riches is one of the favorites, after Curlin and Hard Spun. Hard Spun is a descendant of Man o’ War and War Admiral, through his grandma Pas de Nom. He is also a grandson of Northern Dancer (winner of the 1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness) and a great-grandson of Alydar, famous for running second to Affirmed in all three races of the 1978 Triple Crown. Curlin is a great-great grandson of Northern Dancer, as is Rags to Riches on her ma’s side.

Update: Rags to Riches’s ancestry also goes back to Man o’ War, through her great-grandpa Buckpasser.

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Once Upon a Time

American History, entertainment and popular culture

So we know there won’t be a Triple Crown winner this year, but thanks to video we can watch a Triple Crown Belmont Stakes victory anyway.

First, a story. Once upon a time, two thoroughbred breeders made a deal. They agreed that the owner of pedigree brood mares would send two mares to the champion stud owned by the other owner. They flipped a coin, and the winner of the coin toss got first choice of the two foals. Then the same two mares made the same trip the next year, and the loser of the coin toss got the first choice of the second two foals, except one of the two mares failed to produce a foal the second year.

So, the winner of the coin toss took home one foal, a filly that proved to be unexceptional. The loser got the second choice from the first year — a colt, also unexceptional — and the only foal born the second year. That foal was Secretariat.

If you saw the videos of the 1973 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, you might remember that in both those races Secretariat was in last place early in the race. Then he moved up to take the lead in the stretch. According to William Nack in Secretariat: The Making of a Champion, this was how the big horse ran most of his races. Jockey Ron Turcotte felt Secretariat usually needed to settle into his stride early in a race. But once he was in his stride, he kept accelerating. For example, in the 1 1/4 mile Derby he ran each quarter mile faster than the last one. This is unusual.

Beside Secretariat, there were only four other horses in the Belmont Stakes — Pvt. Smiles, Twice a Prince, My Gallant, and Sham. Only Sham’s owner admitted to thinking his horse could beat Secretariat. Sham had run great races in the Derby and Preakness and might well have won any other year. In fact, in the Derby he would have beat the track record had not Secretariat just set a new track record.

The Belmont Stakes is the longest of the three Triple Crown races — 1 1/2 miles. Sham’s owner instructed the jockey, Laffit Pincay, to go to the lead at the beginning of the race and to try to keep the pace moderate. They probably expected Secretariat to hang back at the beginning of the race, as he usually did. But Ron Turcotte decided that if no other horse set a strong pace he’d let the big horse go to the front and set his own pace.

So, in the video below (there’s a bigger version here) you see Sham and Secretariat both going to the front at the beginning, and they pull away from the other three horses. As they go into the first turn, they both pick up the pace. Pretty soon the two of them are running as if they were in a sprint, not a 1 1/2 mile race. Pincay knows that Sham is running too hard, but he had been ordered not to let Secretariat get ahead. Turcotte, meanwhile, feels the big horse running easily and figures he can keep it up for a while. So the two horses sprint, and reach the half-mile pole at 0:46 1/5, which was the fastest opening half mile in the history of the race.

By now Secretariat’s owners and his trainer are tearing out their hair, convinced that Ron Turcotte has gone out of his mind and will cause the horse to collapse of exhaustion before he gets to the wire. But because Secretariat is running so easily, Turcotte doesn’t realize how fast the horse is going.

At about five-eighths of a mile, Sham begins to fall apart. They’re still running at a faster pace than Man o’ War, Count Fleet, or Citation had run at that same point in the race. Over the next eighth of a mile Sham struggles, and Secretariat just glides along. At three quarters of a mile into the race, Sham is done. He drifts back and eventually finishes last. But Secretariat maintains the same sprint speed. His owners and trainer still think the horse will break down any minute. But Turcotte hasn’t taken out his whip or pushed the big horse; he is just letting him run, still not realizing they’re going at a record clip.

Now Secretariat opens the lead. On the video, you can hear the announcer Chick Anderson:

“Secretariat is blazing along! The first three-quarters of a mile in 1:09 4/5. Secretariat is widening now. He is moving like a tremendous machine!

Secretariat pulls further and further away from the rest of the horses. His frantic owners watch for any sign the horse is hurting or stressed. There is no such sign. As he turns into the home stretch, Secretariat is running faster than he ran past the half-mile pole. The lead widens. The horse maintains his record pace. At about the point Secretariat is 26 lengths in front — I’m sorry you can’t make this out in the video — Turcotte glanced behind and saw the rest of the field in another county. Then he glanced at the timer and realized he was ahead of record pace. So at the very end of the race, you can make out that he is pumping his arms — for the first time since early in the race — to be sure Secretariat doesn’t slow down at the end and blow the record.

Secretariat goes under the wire at 2:24, 31 lengths in the lead (the announcers says 29 lengths, but the horse was so far out in front it was hard to count). The previous record had been Gallant Man’s 2:26.6, set in 1957.

Since then, the second-fastest clocking is shared by Easy Goer (1989) and A. P. Indy (1992) at 2:26, while Risen Star (1988) and Point Given (2001) hold the fourth-fastest time at 2:26 2/5, it says here.

OK, now you can watch the race. (Or click here.)

You can read about the rest of Secretariat’s life here. In short, the big horse was retired to stud at the end of the 1973 racing reason and euthanized in 1983 after developing laminitis. On the whole his offspring were not exceptional, but his daughters have an outstanding record as brood mares. The fillies got all his good genes, it seems.

Sham was also retired to stud in 1973, after a leg fracture ended his racing career, and died in 1993. In 1978, Ron Turcotte fell from a mount during a race and was paralyzed from the waist down.

To this day, many people still consider Secretariat’s 1973 Belmont Stakes race to be the greatest single performance by a running horse. Certainly, it’s the best performance ever captured on film.

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First Saturday in May

American History, entertainment and popular culture

It’s been thirty years since one of the last Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew, ran in the Kentucky Derby. Yep; Slew won the Triple Crown in 1977. Slew had the misfortune of being something of a follow up act to the Greatest Animal of All Time, Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown in 1973. But being a horse, I’m sure Slew didn’t care.

I’ve been trying since last night to post YouTube videos of Secretariat’s and Seattle Slew’s Derby runs, but they aren’t coming up. (Sometime next week six Seattle Slew videos will probably appear and clog up the site.) You’ll have to go to YouTube — Here’s the Secretariat run, and here’s Seattle Slew. You can see a Triple Crown race today, no matter what happens in Kentucky.

The favorite today is a horse named Street Sense. Hmm — Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Street Sense. SS, anyone? [Update: Street Sense wins.]

We were thoroughly spoiled by the time Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978. Will there ever be another?

Related: A half-brother to Secretariat saved from the slaughterhouse.

Update: Let’s try this —

Update: Here’s a trivia question — who is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner? Bonus question: What does this horse have in common with only two other winners?

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