July 4, 1972 ~ Maiden Special Weight ~ 5 1/2 furlongs ~ Aqueduct Race Course
Secretariat’s first race came on the Fourth of July, in 1972. The race could be likened to a string of exploding firecrackers. Pow! Bam! Boom! The Big Red horse didn’t win – he was fourth, but was rocketing after the leader as they came to the finish line. Everyone likes to win, rather than finish fourth, but owner Penny Chenery, trainer Lucien Laurin, and the Meadow Stable crew must have been thrilled with what they saw on that Independence Day.
Twelve horses were entered in the second race at Aqueduct Race Course a “maiden” race. As the name suggests, was strictly limited to horses who have never won a race. In fact, not only had these 12 horses never won a race, only five of them had even BEEN in a horse race. As you can imagine, races like Secretariat’s first race, are often viewed as a learning race, for young “green” horses not fully knowing what they’re doing. Surely Secretariat learned something from his experiences in his first racing encounter.
The official chart of the race produced by Daily Racing Form observers noted that Secretariat found himself in plenty of traffic, throughout. He was tenth of the 12 horses soon after the start, but under the patient handling of jockey Paul Feliciano, who would ride Secretariat in his first two races, the horse worked his way out of tight quarters and came on at the end. The Form’s chart caller reported Secretariat was “impeded after the start, lacked room between horses racing into the turn, ducked to the inside after getting through into the stretch and finished full of run along the rail.”
Everyone, including Secretariat, must have been very encouraged. This first test was run at a very short distance just 5 ½ furlongs, or just over 5/8ths of a mile around the turn and a dash home. It was one of those kinds of races that bang, it starts, and then it’s over with plenty of action along the way.
Secretariat was sent off at 3-1 odds, the longest odds he would ever be in his career and the only race he failed to hit the board. It was just a beginner’s maiden race, but plenty of fans were in the stands that day and even more would later claim to be present for the historical debut. However, all would take note as the big copper colt with three white stockings ignited an explosion in Thoroughbred racing that still reverberates today.
Appropriately, on July 4th, 1972, the racing career of “America’s Horse” was born. From that moment on, Secretariat would provide fireworks as the center of attention in every race he ran.