Big Red Bounces Back in the Marlboro Cup

This is the story of how Secretariat managed to recover from an illness suffered in the Whitney Stakes in time to once again make history in the inaugural running of the Marlboro Cup, paving the way for an unforgettable fall season that solidified his greatness. ~ Steve Haskin

Big Red Bounces Back in the Marlboro Cup

By Steve Haskin


In the spring of 1973 Thoroughbred racing was basking in the glow of Secretariat’s epic sweep of the Triple Crown. Not only had he become the first horse in 25 years to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, he did it with such flair, accomplishing feats never before seen, it raised the Sport of Kings to new heights and turned this equine Adonis into a national celebrity. When he appeared on the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated the week before his mind-blowing victory in the Belmont it set new standards of journalism by making a horse the most newsworthy celebrity in the country.

But by August a cloud hung over the Sport of Kings; the cloud of uncertainty. How did this seemingly invincible force of nature who had tread where no other Thoroughbred had ever gone throughout his record-breaking Triple Crown manage to get beat in the Whitney Stakes by an allowance caliber sprinter named Onion? And how would his shocking defeat at Saratoga affect the running of the newly conceived Marlboro Cup with its lucrative $250,000 purse, which originally was designed as a match race between Secretariat and his illustrious stablemate Riva Ridge?

There was no doubt that Secretariat’s defeat in the Whitney was a major setback for the new Marlboro Cup. And in the following weeks more questions arose that could have put an end to the race before it began.

The Marlboro Cup already had a dubious foundation, with its rich purse and its sponsor, the Philip Morris Corporation, proposing a match race between two stablemates, which didn’t sit well with a number of racing fans who saw this as just payday for the colts’ owner Meadow Stable’s Penny Tweedy. This mile and an eighth event, scheduled for September 15, would mark one of the first times a sporting event would be sponsored by and named after a corporation. But it seemed as if forces were conspiring against it.

Secretariat was more than just the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. He already was a legend, an icon that had transcended his sport. As good as the kind-hearted, loppy-eared Riva Ridge was, Penny Tweedy and trainer Lucien Laurin knew he was not quite up to the task of beating Secretariat. But for $250,000, they weren’t about to turn down the proposal. They knew Riva would at least make it competitive and put on a show…up to a point. And many believed that Penny’s heart was with Riva Ridge, who had helped save the farm during a time of financial crisis and the death of Penny’s father, Meadow Stud’s founder Christopher Chenery.

Although some took exception to the race, many were intrigued at the prospect of seeing the two Kentucky Derby winners meet. This would be Riva Ridge’s chance to knock off the horse in whose shadow he had existed for almost a year.

Then something happened that made marketing director Jack Landry and the other top executives at Philip Morris start chain smoking. When Riva Ridge was upset by a 56-1 shot named Wichita Oil in an allowance race on the grass on August 1, it took a good deal of interest out of the match race. No one could understand why he had been put on the grass at that time, especially an allowance race, following back-to-back victories in the Massachusetts Handicap and a world record-breaking performance in the Brooklyn Handicap.

Then came the Whitney debacle only three days later. With Secretariat proving to be mortal after all, the Marlboro Cup pretty much lost its luster. The brain trust at Philip Morris had to do some quick thinking. They decided to continue on, but changed plans, altering the purse structure, and making the race an open invitation, inviting the best horses in the country.

But their problems were far from over. There were still major questions hanging over the race. It was announced several days after the Whitney that Big Red had developed a virus. The stress of competition apparently had brought it to a head. But it later came out that Secretariat had been sick before the Whitney. And there was a record crowd expected. If he had been scratched it would have been a major blow to the New York Racing Association and racing in general, with so many seats already sold.

It was not only the one-length defeat to Onion, but finishing only a diminishing half-length ahead of the vastly inferior Rule by Reason that convinced everyone Secretariat was nowhere near his best. He came out of the race with a 105-degree fever, his appetite declined and he acted sluggish for several days.

Secretariat’s hotwalker Steve Jordan added, “He was definitely sick for the Whitney. I can’t recall any trepidation going into the race, but most of the time these things explode from the stress of a race. And I’m sure he was incubating something going into the race. Afterward, we just walked him for eight to 10 days.”

There was no choice but to skip the Travers Stakes, which was won by four-time stakes winner Annihilate ‘Em with red-hot Ron Turcotte picking up the mount at the last minute.

The Whitney was now history, and all the attention turned to the Marlboro Cup. Could Secretariat rebound big-time and prove to everyone that it was indeed the illness that compromised his chances? Could he even recover in time from his illness to make the Marlboro Cup? Was Riva Ridge’s defeat on the grass an aberration and he would return to form on the dirt?

Although there was still a question surrounding Secretariat’s status, it was time to start scouring the country for horses worthy of competing for the megabucks and in the highest level of competition.

There was a slight ray of hope when Riva Ridge rebounded from his defeat to win an allowance race back on dirt on August 21, but just barely holding on to defeat Halo by a half-length. It wasn’t the kind of dominating performance everyone had hoped for, but it at least erased that blot from his record and put him back on the right track.

The big question, and on what the entire race hinged, was whether Secretariat could make it back in time and return to his Triple Crown form. It was going to be touch and go. Lucien Laurin felt he had to get four stiff works in the colt, with the last one being brilliant enough to convince him Big Red was ready to perform at his best coming off an illness and a six-week layoff.

Steve Jordan recalled, “One morning I was standing in the yard with Lucien and (assistant) Henny Hefner and Lucien said, ‘I don’t know, this is really squeezing on this horse to make this race after being as sick as he was. This is a big task facing all these good horses.’ Henny always had a way of putting things in perspective, and he shrugged his shoulders and just said, ‘Well, boss, then we’ll just win in it with the other horse.’”

Jordan walked Secretariat each day and could feel him getting stronger.

“I was out grazing him one morning, and back then we used only a single chain,” he recalled. “Out of nowhere, he started raising hell and rearing up right near the old wooden manure pit. The first thing I did was look to see where my car was parked, because I knew if he got loose I’m going right to my car and saying sayonara to the racing game; I’m gone. I jumped inside the manure pit to brace myself, and he finally settled down. I was ashen and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I looked up and saw Penny and Lucien standing at the end of the shedrow and they’re both smiling. Lucien yells to me, ‘Stevie, you can bring him in now. I guess he’s feeling better, isn’t he?’”

Jordan had discovered earlier just how strong Big Red was when the colt literally lifted him off the ground just by sneezing.

Daily Racing Form columnist Charles Hatton described Big Red’s march toward the Marlboro Cup as only he could: “Returned to Belmont to point for the $250,000 Marlboro, the sport’s pin-up horse looked bloody awful, rather like one of those sick paintings which betoken an inner theatre of the macabre. It required supernatural recuperative powers to recover as he did. He was subjected to four severe preps in two weeks. Astonishingly, he gained weight and blossomed with every trial. He had to work in time approximating track records just to keep fit, and trainer Lucien Laurin never got to the bottom of him actually. The colt had a most accommodating appetite. Not to be vulgar, but one of Laurin’s contemporaries quipped, ‘Either he is a good doer, or he’s got a tapeworm.’”

With Secretariat seemingly healthy and feeling good and Riva Ridge back in the win column, the remainder of the field began to come together.

There was Riva Ridge’s archrival, the 3-year-old champion Key to the Mint, winner of the Suburban Handicap and second in the Met Mile, as well as being victorious in the previous year’s Brooklyn and Whitney against older horses followed by victories in the Travers and Woodward Stakes. In the latter he snatched the 3-year-old championship away from Riva Ridge by beating him soundly.

Then there was the ageless California invader Cougar II, a star on grass and dirt who was destined for the Hall of Fame. Even at age 7 “The Big Cat” was still going strong, having won the Santa Anita Handicap earlier in the year and the Sunset Handicap on grass in his start before the Marlboro Cup, in which he missed the course record by two-fifths of a second carrying 128 pounds. In his seven starts that year, all of them Grade 1, he finished in the money in all of them. Cougar had been sent east for the 1971 Woodward Stakes, in which he romped by five lengths only to be disqualified in a very controversial decision. In all, he had won 14 stakes and placed in 16 others since coming to America from his native Chile.

Also accepting an invitation was Kennedy Road, champion in Canada at ages 2, 3, 4, and 5, including Horse of the Year in 1973. Sent to trainer Charlie Whittingham in California in 1973, he won the Hollywood Gold Cup and San Antonio, San Diego, and Cabrillo Handicaps, giving Whittingham a powerful one-two punch with Cougar.

The field was completed with Travers winner Annihilate ‘Em and Big Red’s Whitney nemesis Onion. The seven runners assembled in what was now being billed as the “Thoroughbred Race of the Year” had earned a total of $4,539,335 and won 63 stakes, including six classics counting Kennedy Road’s Queen’s Plate victory, and 13 championships.

The last and most important piece of the puzzle would be Secretariat’s final work three days before the race. He was a horse who carried so much muscle and flesh he needed to work fast before a race to get sharp, both mentally and physically.

So Laurin sent out Big Red for his all-important final work, needing to see a fast time and strong gallop-out. If he didn’t demonstrate the sheer brilliance his trainer was looking for, there was a chance of him being withdrawn, which would have proved to be a disaster…for the race and the fans. But the last thing anyone wanted was for Secretariat to have a relapse because he came back a week too soon. With that $6,080,000 million syndication tag still hanging over his head, back-to-back defeats was unthinkable.

Any fears or trepidation that may have existed disappeared in the vapor trail Secretariat left as he rocketed his five furlongs in :57 flat, galloping out six furlongs in 1:08 4/5. There was no doubt now that he was ready, even though Laurin felt he was still a week away from being 100 percent.

Laurin was quoted as saying, “It hasn’t been easy. I could have used another week. I know I’ve got the two best horses; whether either wins is another question. I do know that if Secretariat were coming up to this race as well as Riva Ridge has, they could put 135 pounds on him and I wouldn’t be worried.”

In weighting the race, racing secretary Kenny Noe assigned Secretariat 124 pounds, with the 4-year-old Riva Ridge carrying 127. With the five-pound weight allowance for 3-year-olds, Secretariat was giving his stablemate two pounds on the scale. Cougar II and Key to the Mint would carry 126, down to 3-year-old Annihilate Em and the 4-year-old Onion at 116.

An all-night rain hit New York the night before the race, but the sun and wind dried out the track quickly, making it wet-fast, and then just plain old fast. That made the backers of Riva Ridge, who detested the slop, and Cougar II, who did his best on a fast track, very happy.

The 48,023 fans in attendance got a peek at what was to come the race before the Marlboro Cup when the brilliant filly Desert Vixen, riding a seven-race winning streak, including runaway victories in the Monmouth Oaks, Delaware Oaks, Alabama, and Gazelle, all by more than six lengths, romped by 8 1/2 lengths in the Beldame Stakes, running the mile and an eighth in a sizzling 1:46 1/5 and equaling the track record, while demolishing one of the greatest fields of fillies and mare in memory; a field that included champion Susan’s Girl, Summer Guest, Convenience, Light Hearted, and Poker Night. If this was the prelude to the big show, everyone knew the track record was about to fall in the Marlboro Cup.

The Meadow Stable entry, the original two opponents for the race, was sent off as the 2-5 favorite, with Key to the Mint at 7-2 and the late-running Cougar II 4-1.

Riva Ridge broke on top under jockey Eddie Maple, but was quickly joined on the inside by Onion, who attempted the same tactics he used in the Whitney by charging to the lead, with Riva in pursuit, followed closely by Kennedy Road and Annihilate Em. Sitting right behind them in striking position was Secretariat, as they blazed along the opening half in :45 3/5.

Heading into the far turn, Riva Ridge moved up to challenge Onion, as Ron Turcotte let out a notch on Secretariat and he began closing in from the far outside. It soon became apparent that the race was going to be between the two Meadow Stable colts, just as the Philip Morris people had envisioned. Cougar II was still far back and Key to the Mint for some reason wasn’t firing on this day.

Following a rapid 1:09 1/5 for the three quarters, it was now all Secretariat and Riva Ridge. Big Red headed his stablemate approaching the top of the stretch, with Turcotte keeping him well off the rail, while looking over his left and then right shoulder to see if there were any threats being mounted. There was no one even close on his outside, so he gave one last peek over at Eddie Maple on Riva Ridge and saw that he had them measured.

Turcotte never once went to the whip and let Secretariat open up on his own, passing the eighth pole with a two-length lead in a scorching 1:33 flat. Turcotte continued hand-riding Secretariat through the final furlong and just waved the whip at him briefly approaching the wire. Big Red crossed the finish line 3 1/2 lengths in front of Riva Ridge, who was two lengths ahead of the fast-closing Cougar II under Bill Shoemaker. The final time of 1:45 2/5 shattered Desert Vixen’s short-lived record by four-fifths of a second and established a new world record.

After the race, Steve Jordan was standing on the track waiting for both colts to return and found himself next to the great Charlie Whittingham, trainer of Cougar II and Kennedy Road, who was waiting for his two horses. Cougar was the first to return and when Shoemaker jumped off and pulled off the tack, Jordan, standing no more than five yards away, heard him say to Whittingham, “Charlie, those are two runnin’ sonofabitches that beat us.”

Secretariat, with such a brilliant performance, had made his Whitney defeat inconsequential, as if it never happened. The Big Red Machine was back operating at full power, with Secretariat pointed for the Man o’War Stakes on grass in three weeks, but that is a story for another day. As for the Marlboro Cup, it would continue to be one of racing’s most sought after prizes, run at different distances, until it was discontinued in 1988, having been won by the likes of Forego, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid, and champions Slew o’ Gold, Chief’s Crown, and Turkoman. It was also where Forego carried a staggering 136 pounds to victory and where Triple Crown winners (Seattle Slew and Affirmed) met for the first time.

But it will be best remembered as the race in which the legend and greatness of Secretariat was resurrected against an all-star field, adding to Big Red’s list of track and world records. And he did it bouncing back from an illness. It showed once again that Secretariat was and always will be the sport’s greatest showman.

Photos courtesy of New York Racing Association / Bob Coglianese

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.



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91 Responses to “Big Red Bounces Back in the Marlboro Cup”

  1. Lynda King says:

    Condolences to the family and loved ones of Brererton Jones, former Governor of Kentucky and founder of Airdrie Farm.

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about his passing, Lynda. I met him — or rather recognized him and nodded — at Saratoga a couple of summers ago.

  2. Mike Sekulic says:

    DESERT VIXEN, who ran on the Marlboro Cup undercard, and who was mentioned above, certainly was a fantastic filly. She beat some of the best fillies and mares with such ease it was unreal.

  3. Todd Vaughn says:

    Taiba, Zandon, and Arabian Lion are each being retired to Spendthrift. And that is the problem: three pretty good racehorses who weren’t sound enough to stay on the racetrack will be bred to hundreds of mares. What could go wrong?

  4. Terri Z says:

    Thanks again for the story about Secretariat and Riva Ridge in the Marlboro Cup. I could never tire of the stories of those two fabulous horses bred by Meadow Stables. It’s sad that Secretariat had to retire so young due to estate taxes. I would have loved to see him travel to England to race at Royal Ascot. Both of his grandsires were from Ireland and Secretariat raced beautifully on the turf.

    • Sarah Rowe says:

      Mrs. Chenery could have chosen other courses to deal with estate taxes than syndicating Secretariat not to run after his sophomore season. There was even another deal to let him race as a four-year-old and then retire to Ireland, but it didn’t happen.

      • Gloria says:

        The grim reaper had had his sights on Penny’s father, Christopher Chenery, for years, so the situation was somewhat expected. The tax rates back then were something like 75% on estates worth over ten million. Riva and Secretariat alone put them in the top. Then there was the farm of over 2000 acres, the remaining horses, art, machinery and equipment, and Lord knows what else. With such a monumental task, the family had the top appraisers and lawyers, plus the Hancock family who had just been through the same situation, advising them, but ultimately it was the family’s own decisions to make, no one else’s to second guess or judge.

        The champions were likely at their peak value and each and every race is a mighty risk. I grew up on a farm with Belgian work horses, and to this day, I can’t watch races live for fear for those “toothpick legs,” as my Dad would say. And there was Mr. Chenery’s will, which had been very generous to people and things even beyond the family, and whose interests had to be preserved. So, there were many options, probably endless, but they made the choices they had to – and that’s all she wrote.

      • Terri Z says:

        To Sarah Rowe, thanks for the information. However, Secretariat was an American horse and icon. Ms. Chenery would never go to stud in Ireland. Oh my, there would be some outcry about that. He was content to put on a show in his paddock at Claiborne and be the King of Kentucky.

  5. Helena says:

    I’m still blown away by the weights these horses used to carry. Great story, Steve. Thank you.

  6. Matthew W says:

    Just an anomaly….today at Aqueduct and Los Alamitos (Night Quarter Horses) at both tracks the #2 horse in race six—-is named Mitole Magic….both by Mitole, one out of a Quarter Horse mare….

  7. Ms Blacktype says:

    Back from my sailing adventure watching harbor seals and porpoises from the deck of an historic schooner. What a treat to read this masterful piece on Secretariat and the Marlboro Cup, Steve. I remember vividly watching Desert Vixen’s record setting race and knew Secretariat broke her record, but I did NOT know how sick he had been and how brilliantly he’d worked before the race. A horse who worked 6 furlongs in 1:08 and 4 would break down these days, yet Big Red thrived on it. And that story from Steve Jordan was terrifying and terrifically funny at the same time. Thank you so much for sharing those gems with us.

    • Lynda King says:

      Welcome back. Sounds like you had a trip.

      • Ms Blacktype says:

        Yes, it was fun, Lynda — even when everything was wet. Managed to dodge Hurricane Lee and safely back home now.

        Checked past results for races in the US and was surprised to find a lot of tracks were dark this week. Looking forward to seeing the results and replay of the Pocahontas and Iroquois Stakes — first steps on the road to the classics in 2024. (It’s much too soon!)

  8. Lynda King says:

    Great article about Cougar ll on America’s Classic Pedigrees.
    I saw that Mike Sekulik is credited with providing information and the photo for the article.
    I find reading the “biographies” on these horses to be so enlightening.
    Mention was made of a documentary Mary had made about Cougar ll that was narrated by actor John Forsythe. Mary only gave copies of the documentaries to friends and fans. I tried to find it but no success. Surely someone still has a copy somewhere???
    Cougar ll was certainly an exceptional looking horse.

    One thing I so like about your posts Steve is that they stir my curiosity about horses in races that I really never knew much about.

    • Nelson Maan says:

      I was positively surprised to see a great number of South American horses listed within the Horse Profile section of the America Classic Pedigree website… but even with that comprehensive list of notable horses the site is missing a brilliant runner named Wajima there…!

      • Lynda King says:

        Nelson she was in the pedigree for Cougar. Not sure why Wajima was left off.
        I think Cougar had a very illustrious pedigree. I went way back for many generations. Most interesting.
        I did see that he went back to Selene through Afghan.

        • Nelson Maan says:

          His sire, Tale of Two Cities, was the fruit of two giants of the European breeding (Aga Khan and Marcel Boussac) … thousands of golden pages are written about their feats.

          Cougar II ran his last 3 furlongs of the Marlboro Cup in 35 seconds … watching the replay of the race one can only be amazed by the closing power of the Chilean icon… but the Big Cat was not as great as the Big Red that day or on Woodward day …

          With great performances at the age of 7, including his last two in New York, Cougar II proved to be a true iron horse !

    • Matthew W says:

      Lynda I saw Cougar II many times, and up close …RUNNING he was exceptional looking, with the long tail, head held high…sprinting finish—up close he was nondescript looking, really—some greats like Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Curlin, Alysheba, Point Given, Tiznow were head-turners….Cougar, his son Gato Del Sol, Beholder, Riva Ridge, Holy Bull—were “regular looking” horses, of emense talent..

      • Lynda King says:

        MatthewW, I defer to your opinion of Cougar since you saw him “in person”. I have only seen the photos.

        I do agree with the description on ACP however.

        He was, in my opinion, a classic example of a Thoroughbred with a European pedigree. He was refined in that since with beautiful head and eye. He endeared himself to many fans because of his personality. When walking past cheering fans he would often stop, turn amd look at them. He would also stop at look at things that caught his eye in the distance.
        His high leg action made him equally talented on turf as well as dirt.

        One of my hobbies is to look at paintings and rare photographs of European Thoroughbreds. Most were dark bay or black bay with little chrome. In my mind Cougar looked very much like those paintings.

        Sometimes beauty is in the eye of the beholder as the old saying goes. Just using Justify as an example, many feel that he is a beautiful horse to which I disagree. Beauty does not equal talent and brilliance on the race track. Several horses including Seabiscuit and Carry Back were not considered to be much to look at. Carry Back was often described as being a “scrawny, plain brown horse” but he was a talented and had a long successful racing career.

        If I were to name a couple of horses (stallions) that are living today that are absolutely stunning with beauty beyond the sublime both Honor Code and Union Rags would be on my list.

        All this is just my opinion of course.

  9. Nelson Maan says:

    When the planned Secretariat-Riva Ridge match was announced in July of 1973 many people deemed the race to be unsavory especially because no betting would be allowed. As Steve explained, inviting the best horses of the time was a welcome decision.

    One of the most vocal detractors of the match was Al Scotti, the trainer of Linda’s Chief, who said: “This match race now is ridiculous and will prove nothing. It’s like having two brothers fight for the world boxing championship.” Yes… both horses were owned by Meadow Stables but two brothers fighting for a boxing championship is still a very appealing spectacle…

    Anyway, Scotti resented that Jack Crumpe (the president of the NYRA) did not want to negotiate a match between Secretariat and Linda’s Chief. The son of Chieftain had been bought by Aaron Jones in early July paying a record $2 million for a 3-year-old colt.

    Linda’s Chief was the only horse to be a betting favorite (in the Hopeful) against Big Red and regarded as the second best 3-year-old by summertime.

    At the end, any chance to invite Linda’s Chief to the Marlboro Cup vanished after his 5th place in the Monmouth Invitational Handicap …

    On the other side of the coin, was the case of 4-year-old Tentam, who was invited to the Marlboro Cup but his owner and trainer decided to avoid facing Secretariat on dirt.

    It was a good decision as Tentam went on to win the Bernard Baruch Handicap (in a new world record time for 1 1/8 mile of 1:45 2/5 on turf), Governor Stakes(G1), is Stakes record time on dirt, and the United Nations Handicap (G1).

    Tentam finally faced Secretariat in the Man O’ War Stakes, but Big Red, debuting on turf, was too much for the six rivals and won very easily in record time for the 1-½ mile contest. Big Red was 5 comfortable lengths in front of Tentam who left Big Spruce 7.5 lengths behind in third.

    The Man O’ War exploit and another easy win in the Canadian International Championship Stakes was enough to name Secretariat the 1973 Champion Grass Horse on top of Champion 3-year-old colt and Horse of the Year honors.

    No other 2-year-old or 3-year-old colt have achieved more accolades in US horse racing…

  10. Nelson Maan says:

    Today is the 50th anniversary of a historic Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap. That first edition came to fruition thanks to the staggering popularity of Secretariat; and then established as the second leg of the Fall Championship Series (kicked off with the Woodward and ended with the Jockey Club Gold Cup) at Belmont Park.

    The field of 1973 Marlboro Cup was the finest one in its 14 years of history; followed by the 1978 edition when Seattle Slew defeated Affirmed marking the first clash between two Triple Crown champions. The 1979 Marlboro Cup would have been the first bout between Affirmed and Spectacular Bid, but Lazaro Barrera scratched the TC champion. He did not like at all the 133 pound-weight assigned to Affirmed against the 124 lb. on Spectacular Bid.

    The collective record of the contestants in the 1973 Marlboro Cup shows the following:

    More than 5 million dollars in earnings ($35 million in money of the day) product of 106 races won, 67 Stakes wins including two Kentucky Derbies, two Belmont Stakes and one Preakness; a Triple Crown winner (Secretariat); two millionaires (Cougar II and Riva Ridge); Secretariat, Riva Ridge and Key to The Mint had been already syndicated totaling $16 million in value ($110 million today). Onion was perhaps the least decorated in the field but his Whitney win over a debilitated Secretariat earned him an invitation. Onion had already defeated another Derby winner (Canonero II) in an Allowance at Saratoga the previous year.

    So, there was no better race to confirm Secretariat’s greatness specially because Laurien said that he needed one more week to make Big Red 100% fit against such a great field…

    Both Riva Ridge and Secretariat were training like horses approaching peak form. The last workout for Riva read 5 furlongs in 57 1/5 finishing the 6 furlongs in 1:09 3/5. Secretariat final work was a scintillating 1:08 4/5 for 6 furlongs… interestingly enough, there was also 4/5 of a second separating them in the Marlboro Cup.

    Lucien Laurien had just done enough for Secretariat to break a track record for the fifth time…

    One can only imagine how challenging it is keeping a “tremendous machine” fine tuned all the time.

  11. Kat says:

    Will never be another big red

  12. Mark Wiljakainen says:

    A great horse touches something in your soul and it stays with you forever.

  13. Matthew W says:

    Yes, millionaires were few back in the 1970’s….from the 1970 crop there were four US based millionaires, Secretariat, Royal Glint, Ancient Title, Forego—three geldings, because back then there were few $100,000 purses ….

    • Matthew W says:

      ..and a horse needed lots of starts, to reach that number..

    • Mike Sekulic says:

      I started noticing an increase in purses in 1975, with Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meeting offering the National Thoroughbred Championship at $350,000, and purses got even bigger as the decade went on. Then, in the early 1980’s, we got the first million dollar race. It has become easier and easier for a horse to become a millionaire. But when COUGAR II, RIVA RIDGE, and SECRETARIAT did it it was quite difficult.

      When I was a kid I was sure no one would ever pass KELSO for the #1 spot. Of course I was 10 years old and knew nothing of inflation, the gold standard, printing money like crazy, bas fiscal and monetary policy, etc. The dollar sure isn’t what it used to be. And so many of today’s equine millionaires, if they had raced in the 1960’s or early 1970’s, would never have become millionaires. I can start naming them off, but I won’t.

  14. Mike Sekulic says:

    Back when the US dollar actually held some value it was awfully difficult for a racehorse to win $1 million in career earnings. It was so difficult, in fact, that Horse of the Year FORT MARCY became a millionaire on November 11, 1970 by winning the Washington DC International Stakes at Laurel. The American Stud Book was started in 1968, so that means that after roughly 100 years of recognized racing in the USA there were only 10 millionaires.

    It was not until May 5, 1973 that COUGAR II became the 11th millionaire in racing history by winning the Century Handicap (Gr-1) at Hollywood Park. He probably would have gotten more attention for this incredible feat but halfway across the country, on the same day, SECRETARIAT won the Kentucky Derby in track record time and got all the attention.

    Then, on July 4, 1973, RIVA RIDGE set a world record of 1:52-2/5 for 1-3/16 miles while winning the Brooklyn Handicap (Gr-1) at Aqueduct Park.

    So when the field loaded into the gate for the historic Marlboro Cup of 1973 horse racing had a select dozen elite runners who cracked the million dollar mark, and two of them – COUGAR II and RIVA RIDGE – were in the starting gate that day. SECRETARIAT would become million #13 by winning the race. It was the first race with two millionaire participants going in, and three mllionaires coming out.

    • Mike Sekulic says:

      CARRY BACK and KELSO were equine millionaires in the 1960’s. CARRY BACK became a millionaire while defeating KELSO in the 1962 Metropolitan Mile Handicap, while KELSO became a millionaire in his last start of 1962 (December) at Garden State Park.

      The 1967 Woodward Stakes had 3 future millionaires, but BUCKPASSER was the only millionaire who entered the starting gate that day. DAMASCUS (the winner) and DR. FAGER would join the millionaires club in 1968.

    • Mike Sekulic says:

      I should have pointed out that RIVA RIDGE became millionaire #12 on July 4, 1973.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks for running up the numbers. And thanks to Cougar II. I’m glad you have interest in the race. LOL

      • Mike Sekulic says:

        Yes, other than Mary F. Jones, I must be the biggest COUGAR II fan out there, although he had many fans in his day! I also loved SECRETARIAT, and cheered him on through the Triple Crown. I was 10 years old when SECRETARIAT and COUGAR II faced off and I was rooting for COUGAR. Yes, I was mad when SECRETARIAT beat my hometown hero, both in the Marlboro Cup and Woodward, but all was forgiven by the time the Man O’ War Stakes and Canadian International came along and I happily rooted for SECRETARIAT.

        • Matthew W says:

          I saw Cougar II beat Never Bow, in the ’71 Californian….also saw him get drubbed, at 4/5 in the ’72 San Antonio….he often stopped and looked at the crowd, in the grandstand, which caused huge roars, from the big crowds …Long tail ..head-up style….big finish….The Big Cat was a big draw!..

          • Matthew W says:

            Old Joe Hernandez loved him! Against Drumtop, the mare and Fort Marcy the stalwart gelding— he came running past, Joe’s call ‘and HERE COMES THE COO-GARR!!!…”…

    • Mike Sekulic says:

      I made a typo above! The American Stud Book was started in 1868.

  15. Meghan Coleman says:

    What a riveting story: you do the great showman proud, Steve.

    “And when you’re gone, Who remembers your name, Who keeps your flame, Who tells your story?”
    Red has the flame-keeper that he earned.

  16. Mike Sekulic says:

    This is a SECRETARIAT website. Steve has written a fabulous article about SECRETARIAT’s greatest win outside the Triple Crown and there are only 18 responses so far? I would have thought there would be a hundred comments by now! There’s so much about this race that was interesting and noteworthy. A world record run by the Triple Crown winner and greatest horse in history, with perhaps the greatest field ever assembled, televised for a national audience, seems worthy of attention.

    When I say it is the greatest field ever assembled I do realize that the 1967 Woodward, with DAMASCUS, BUCKPASSER and DR. FAGER was quite magnificent as well.

    But getting back to the Marlboro Cup of 1973, not only did we have SECRETARIAT, there was RIVA RIDGE as well! The rest of the field was fantastic! COUGAR II was as classy and consistent as they come. ONION was pretty good. ANNIHILATE’ EM was a multiple stakes winner. KENNEDY ROAD was a champion many times over in Canada and even brought his A-game to California and won the Hollywood Gold Cup and several other stakes. Then there was the very good east coast runner KEY TO THE MINT.

    I think there’s a lot to talk about here with all these wonderful horses.

    • Steve haskin says:

      I’m not surprised. For some inexplicable reason my columns on Secretariat get the fewest comments of any column. It’s a real head scratcher. But if they have nothing to say what can you do? Youre the first person to actually discuss the race and its not just on here. I have one more Secretariat column on his 50th anniversary and that will be on the Canadian International.

      • Lynda King says:

        Steve, that is one that I am so looking forward to.
        Call me crazy but I think that the CI is one of his best.
        I have watched the rerun of that race almost as many times as the TC races.

        Mike I read every word of your post and so appreciate your input.

        You guys have way more expertise on analyzing his races than I do.
        When I watch replays all I see is Secretariat. To this day I am in such awe of his power, his moves, his beauty that it brings chills.

        Riva and Secretariat’s TC races were the first I got to watch. I lived way out in the boonies and either the local station did not show the races or the reception via rabbit ears was such poor quality all I could see was a bunch of snow.

        When ABC started carrying the races and I moved out of the rural area there was much better reception and less interference from the mountains.

      • Gloria says:

        I’ll bet many, like yours truly, don’t comment because so very much has been said and we all feel that others “know more.”

        But one thought I have about the Marlboro is how it was run with Secretariat’s racing days numbered and few. Riva went to Claiborne on the same plane, but I don’t think that was a done deal before the Marlboro. There is something melancholy about everything he did after he was syndicated, I think.

        I am so glad to have found enough pieces written and photographed of Secretariat’s days at Claiborne to believe he was content there. Praise God! Turcotte is one who really wished he could run another year, at least, and I’m sure he wasn’t alone (Elizabeth Ham comes to mind). But we can only fantasize about the races never run. And I remind myself of the possible tragedies that were made impossible while Secretariat ran around his Kentucky paddock in the snow or rolled in the mud puddles. I have some B&W pictures of him all dirtied up, and I love them, even though though I’ll admit the glamour shots are the best.

        • Gloria says:

          I mean races after the Triple Crown, since he had been syndicated.

          • SJ says:

            Gloria, I’m sure you are aware Secretariat AND Riva Ridge were syndicated early in 1973 prior to the resumption of their racing careers. Riva also was destined to Claiborne, along with Secretariat, to Claiborne Farm when their racing days ended that fall. Thank you for your continued support and continue to comment.

            • Gloria says:

              No, I was unaware that Riva Ridge was syndicated that early. Riva is so very secondary in all the books and articles I’ve read about Secretariat. Even Raymond Woolfe’s book has a picture labeled “Eddie watches over Secretariat on the flight to Kentucky” on page 185, but I think it is him watching Riva, with Elizabeth Ham at Secretariat’s head in the crate behind.

              I know Penny had to make a move because there was so little time to pay the estate taxes, but I thought Secretariat’s fees were sufficient. Later, I read in Penny’s daughter’s Meadow book that the farm and/or the remaining horses had to be converted to cash to meet the obligations bequeathed in Christopher Cheney’s will on top of the estate taxes.

              I read the old “Ask Penny” section here and someone asked a big question I had: “Whatever became of Billy Silver?” Even Penny didn’t know. I suppose he went at the Estate Disbursement Sale …

              • SJ says:

                Gloria, actually Billy Silver stuck around with the Laurins. He was owned by Lucien, and then Roger took over. Billy was eventually retired to a farm in South Carolina, for a well deserved life of leisure. Few realize old Jughead was Riva’s pony, who shared him with Secretariat in his younger days. You’ll see Jughead in photos, big chestnut with big blaze, and a look of Eeyore. Ask and you MAY receive :].

                • Gloria says:

                  So the Laurins owned Billy Silver. Now that makes sense. And it is good to know he wasn’t lost in the confusion of a dispersal, where he would be low on the totem pole. Retired to a life of leisure … very welcome news!! Many thanks!

              • SJ says:

                Astute observation. Edward is with Riva in the picture you reference. How can you miss that face? Glad you read Raymie’s book, a terrific account in photos & text. Belongs there with Bill Nack’s account. You can sense Mr. Woolfe was a horseman, and a quite accomplished one which provided him with the access provided him by Lucien & Penny.

  17. Matthew W says:

    1972 Hollywood Park had Triple Bend’s 1:19 4/5 and Cougar’s 1:39 1/5….1973 had some freaky fast times, by Secretariat, 1974 had Tri Jet’s 1:47 flat Whitney …Desert Vixen ran her race …some fast tracks those years, some fast horses as well…

    • Matthew W says:

      Forgot 1972’s Hollywood Gold Cup 1:58 1/5 by Quack, they really had that track fast ..

    • Mike Sekulic says:

      COUGAR II ran that 8-1/2 furlongs in 1:39-1/5 on dirt – barely missing the world and track record of 1:39 set by SWAPS – and then came back 3 weeks later to set a North American Record (NAR) of 2:11 for 11 furlongs on turf! You don’t see that everyday.

      • Mike Sekulic says:

        I got the dates reversed on my previous post. The great COUGAR II first set the NAR of 2:11 for 11 furlongs on turf, on April 29, 1972, and followed that up 3 weeks later, on May 20, 1972, with the 1:39-1/5 on dirt.

        • Mike Sekulic says:

          If one of today’s horses were to set a New American Record (NAR) or New World Record (NWR) at any distance on turf, especially the near-marathon distance of 11 furlongs, and then miss the World Record by 1/5th in an 8-1/2 furlong dirt race 3 weeks later most everyone would be hailing him as the greatest horse of all time. But one of today’s horses will not accomplish this feat, so we don’t have to really worry about it.

      • Mark Wiljakainen says:

        Cougar has always been an underappreciated horse, unless you had the great fortune of watching his brilliance at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park as I did so many moons ago.

    • Deacon says:

      Lets also remember the 1998 Breeders Cup Classic. That was a who’s who field.

      1. Skip Away
      2. Silver Charm
      3. Awesome Again (winner)
      4. Touch Gold
      5. Coronado’s Quest
      6. Victory Gallop
      7. Swain
      8. Arch
      9. Gentlemen

      Between all these champions, they earned close to $30 million dollars. IMO, top to bottom the best best field ever. Preface on top to bottom.

  18. John Goggin says:

    Thanks Steve, you put into words exactly as I remembered. The only regret I have is that Secretariat never made it to California to race at Santa Anita or Hollypark…would of been great to see ‘Big Red’ venture out west like Dr. Fager, Damascus and Buckpasser previously had done and years later by Seattle Slew.
    Also recall that Charles Hatton wrote that Cougar II (the Big Cat) had the only excuse being boxed until the top of the stretch and then launching a belated rally.
    I lost track of the many cigarette sponsors that have left the sports scene, voluntary or not, like the Winston Cup Series of NASCAR or Lucky Strike and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
    And if I remember correctly wasn’t there at least two dozen track records that were established, broken, re-established and broken again at both Aqueduct and Belmont Park from 1973-1975…in the words of one turf writer saying those racing surfaces were ‘lightning fast’ and another writes compared it to concrete.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Pehaps theey rememberd wat happened to Riva Ridge after he went to Calfornia and had to run his guts out under 129 pounds. The great horses like Buckpasser and Damascus who ran in California did it at 4 in the Strub seriies

      • Matthew W says:

        And then in 1977 Seattle Slew came for The Swaps, I was among 68,000 fans, on a stifling hot day—watching, at the top of the stretch as Shoe and J O Tobin left them in his wake—as he came back to be unsaddled the grandstand stood and applauded Slew, a very touching moment…

        • Deacon says:

          I as well was at Hollywood Park to see J.O. Tobin defeat Seattle Slew. In fairness I believe was not at 100%.
          I was also at Hollywood Park to see Dr. Fager’s Californian against some pretty good horses carrying 130 lbs.
          Gamely, Rising Market the fast sprinter Kissin George & Barb’s Delight.
          The Doc flew in on Friday, raced on Saturday & flew out on Sunday. In the paddock area of the Californian before the race I was able to see the Doc up front & personal. I breifly spoke to John Nerud only to say what a great horse you have. He smiled & said thank you. That made my day.
          Mostly my best highlight of being a staunch horse racing fan.
          Dr. Fager carried 130 lbs plus in many of his races, much like we would carry a bag of potato chips.
          I jhave seen most of the all time greats race. In my humble opinion Dr. Fager & Spectaclur Bid were the 2 greatest horses I ever saw race. I will say that Secretariat probably ran the single greatest race that being the Belmont Stakes.
          Damascus was a great horse as well, Steve helps in keeping him alive in our memories with his blogs. To this day I do not believe that any horse that ever lived would have beaten Damascus in the 1967 Travers Stakes. Talk about power, do yourselves a favor & relive this memory.

          • John Goggin says:

            Deacon, I agree with you. If people put Dr. Fager at the top of the list (all time greats) I have no qualms. Dr. Fager passed the tests….he beat the best, ran the different distances often in record times and most importantly carried the weight…what does a champion also have to prove?

          • Deacon says:

            Would NOT have beaten…… bad, sorry

      • John Goggin says:

        Actually, I was there at Hollypark that day to see the HP Derby and if my memory serves me correctly Riva Ridge and Secretariat’s trainer Lucien Lauren complained afte the race that 3 or 4 horses ran like a track meet passing the baton and taking turns to run at RR.

        • Matthew W says:

          That is what happened ..Finalista, then Quack, finally Bicker…by Round Table—made a final surge…

          • Matthew W says:

            Two weeks later Quack made that big move around the field of 15 and won the Hollywood Gold Cup by 5 1/2, after hanging in the Hollywood Derby…..

            • Mark Wiljakainen says:

              I was there that day to witness the son of T.V. Lark vanquish the field in the Gold Cup.

              • Matthew W says:

                That was the race where at the top of the stretch …track announcer Harry Henson—normally conservative….called him “Cooo–WHACK!”

          • John Goggin says:

            If that was the case then where is the problem? It’s called racing. Whether a ‘rabbit’ is put into a race to ensure an honest pace or a field is specifically slowed down to a pedestrian crawl it is still racing.
            In other words Riva Ridge did not get his perfect trip yet still won which is a congrats to the winning connection but should not have influenced their ‘possible’ thoughts about taking Secretariat west. Just my opinion, of course.

    • Matthew W says:

      You reminded me of the post parade of the Marlboro Cup, they played Elmer Bernstein’s theme to “The Magnificent Seven”, which was the same theme for the Marlboro cigarette commercials..

  19. diane kwolek says:

    Another great write about my favorite ” red machine”, Steve. I learned a few new details about this race, “Red” and “Riva”. Lucky to have been around to see him run. While my sentimental favorite is Kelso, saw him race at Aqueduct, he was ornery but he sure could run. My all time favorite is Secretariat – the Best there ever was and ever will be. Sure do wish we could have seen him run as a four year old !!! What a sight that would have been !! Thanks again Steve for another wonderful story.

  20. RobinM says:

    Fabulous article, Steve. Some of this info I knew, much I did not. I’m glad the hard-knocking Riva took the place spot. The only Marlboro Cup more exciting to me was when Seattle Slew prevailed over fellow Triple Crown winner Affirmed in a time nearly as fast as Secretariat. I bet you’ve got a great story about that one, too.

  21. Mike Sekulic says:

    This is an excellent and wonderful article, but you cannot expect less from Steve Haskin! I like the in-depth analysis and the attention to detail, as it really expands the story.

    I use this race as a barometer and example of greatness. When I see a Grade 1 that looks more like an allowance race, I might say, “Well, that wasn’t exactly SECRETARIAT, RIVA RIDGE, and COUGAR II!”

    I wonder why the race wasn’t run at the classic American distance of 10-furlongs? I mostly wonder that because COUGAR II would have been second! He really was rushing in at the very end. SECRETARIAT’s performance was sublime.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks Mike, wgat was surprising was that they had th Marlboro Cup ai 1 1/8 miles then the Woodward at 1 1/2 miles two weeks later and tthe Gold Cup at 2 miles. No 1 1/4 mile race at all.

      • Matthew W says:

        Steve for a few years they ran the Governor’s Cup and Marlboro Cup weeks apart, both 9 furlongs, Ancient Title–in 1975 ran three races back there, all 9 fur—Whitney, Gov Cup, Marlboro Cup….

  22. Derek Manthey says:

    Another piece of work that reminds us who were watching of what we had and unfortunately what we have become. The Marlboro Cup was a great series and I’m glad I’m a Jersey boy so I got to see a few of them. You replied to Lynda that people are running out of comments on Big Red. I’m going to paraphrase some great words now. We lucky few, we a band of brothers and sisters have a bond. We witnessed GREATNESS, that I believe will never be achieved again. But WE DID. Unfortunately we’re dying off but the story will still be told fortunately by works like yours. PS Point Given RIP

    • Lynda King says:

      Indeed Derek, a band of brothers and sisters. Great analogy!
      I think that is what makes this story bittersweet, we did experience it, indeed we witnessed greatness that will most likely never be achieved again.
      Well said!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Well said, Derek. I say th privilege outweighs the historical collpase of the generations.

  23. Todd Vaughn says:

    I always enjoy stories from this era, as i was 10 years old and missed out on Secretariat and many other greats. The field assembled for the Marlboro Cup points to the contrast of a sport guided by sportsmen to the current industry run by bloodstock agents, many of whom were once trainers.

  24. Beth Koch says:

    Fascinating story, Steve. I knew a lot of this, but you’ve fleshed this story out as only you can do. As to your comment that Penny Chenery’s heart was with Riva Ridge, I once read that she said that after Riva and Secretariat had both retired, she would visit them at Claiborne, and to Secretariat she was just another face in the crowd, but that Riva always came to her when he saw her or heard her voice. She said something like (paraphrasing), “Secretariat belonged the people but Riva belonged to me”.

  25. Lynda King says:

    50 years later and I still get thrills and chills reading about him or watching his races. Will always remember Riva Ridge too. That was a very special time.
    I think I could read one your stories and remembrances about all the horses and the races and the jockeys, owners and trainers everyday.
    A bit sad though, it was an era I do not think we will ever see again.
    Again and as always, thank you!