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Secretariat’s Hall of Fame jockey Ron Turcotte has been answering fan questions and writing about his first-hand knowledge of the 1973 Triple Crown champion through our #TurcotteTuesday social media posts. We have compiled those posts below for easy reference. Ron’s detailed memories and horsemanship color this historical treasure trove, and he is looking forward to sharing more about that magical season. Look for #TurcotteTuesday on our Facebook page at @secretariatofficial. You can also find us on Instagram at @secretariatofficial and Twitter at @SECRETARIATofcl


6/23/20 – In the 70s, it was a special time for racing in New York, especially in terms of its talented jockey colony. You rode daily against some of the sport’s best. In fact in 1977 alone, on any given day you could have ridden against Jean Cruguet, jockey of 1977 Triple Crown winner aboard Seattle Slew, and Steve Cauthen, the future Triple Crown winning jockey the following year. What was it like having such fierce competition every time you saddled up? (Social Media Follower)

New York did have some of the best riders around, but then so did California, New Jersey and Maryland. A rider has to have faith in himself, and I always believed I could compete with any riders at any race track. You do not want to run around bragging about it, but deep down you have to have faith in yourself. You have to really believe that you are “as good as anyone and better than most,” as the saying goes. The other thing you can’t forget is that the horse does the running. There is another saying that goes, “Have you ever seen a rider cross the finish line with a horse on his back?”


6/16/2020 – In the 1973 Belmont Stakes, I heard the roar of the crowd was so great the grandstand shook. Did the noise affect Secretariat in any way? (Social Media Follower)

In the 1973 Belmont, Secretariat seemed to just be enjoying himself. Nothing seemed to bother him, not the noise or the crowd. He almost seemed to be running for the fun of it.


6/9/2020 – Belmont Revisited

“That giant wave of excitement just swept over the crowd. It is kind of humbling to think that we were responsible for such a moment in racing history.”

Read Ron Turcotte’s account of the 1973 Belmont Stakes in our previous 2019 postings from 6/4/ and 6/11 below.


5/26/2019 – Hi Ron, What would you say is your favorite trophy or possession from your days of racing? (Social Media Follower)

I guess you could say that anything associated with the Triple Crown is very precious to me. The most important thing to me, though, is the reputation I built throughout my racing career. I was known as the 2 dollars bettor’s best friend, as a jockey who always did his best for any trainer I rode for, no matter what horse I was on or what race I was in. I always gave 100% and was loyal to my customers no matter how big or small their stable was.


5/19/2020 – Preakness Revisited

“The first [sports writer] I met at the door was none other than Mr. Joe Hirsch, senior Daily Racing Form columnist, who asked me if I thought that the time on the infield board was right. My answer to him was, ‘HELL NO!'”

Read Ron Turcotte’s account of the 1973 Preakness and its timing controversy in our previous 2019 postings from 5/14 and 5/21 below.


5/12/2020 – How many times did you ride in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and could you tell me more about some of your mounts? (Social Media Followers)

Ron Turcotte: Here are my Derby mounts: 1965 – Tom Rolfe (3rd), 1966 – Rehabilitate (6th), 1972 – Riva Ridge (1st), 1973 – Secretariat (1st); and 1977 – Western Wind (14th).

My Preakness mounts were: 1965 – Tom Rolfe (1st), 1972 – Riva Ridge (4th); and 1973 – Secretariat (1st).

 And my Belmont mounts were: 1965 – Tom Rolfe (2nd), 1966 – Rehabilitate (8th), 1971 Good Behaving (11th), 1972 – Riva Ridge (1st), 1973 – Secretariat (1st), 1974 – Sea Songster (8th), 1975 – Just The Time (7th), 1976 – Aeronaut (5th), and 1977 – Make Amends (8th).

There isn’t much to say about the mounts other than Secretariat except that I tried my best as I always did on every one of them. Some of them I didn’t know that well as I wasn’t their regular rider and didn’t get on them every morning. Some of them were simply outclassed. Riva Ridge was the best of his fields by far on a fast track. Our bad luck was that it rained before the Preakness, and he simply couldn’t handle the mud.


5/5/2020 – Kentucky Derby Revisited

“I got the lead by the time we were passing the eighth pole, and the Derby was won by then. And what a sense of redemption after that dismal race in the Wood. Secretariat got the race and track record that day, running every quarter faster than the previous and the fastest last quarter in Derby history.”

Read Ron’s complete account of the May 5, 1973, Kentucky Derby in our previous posting on 4/30/2019


4/28/2020 – Secretariat was severely impeded at the starting gate early in his racing career. After that, it appears that he often hesitated momentarily before beginning his run. Could this have been a “learned strategy” on his part? I have read that Ronnie trusted this miracle horse to make his move when the time was right in every part of the race. In my opinion, he was the perfect rider for the perfect horse. Please share your insight. Thank you. (Facebook Follower)

Secretariat didn’t have any strategy other than to respond to whatever I wanted. He was the perfect horse to ride. He never refused to do anything I asked of him. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. The few times when he wasn’t up to the challenge were because he was either sick or not ready for a race. Secretariat didn’t fail anyone; we humans failed him. If you watch the films closely, you will see that he would come out of the gate with the rest of the field. I used to give him time to get in stride because I knew that he would be ready whenever the time came. One perfect example is the Preakness where I asked him to move early then galloped him along after we got to the lead and he still had plenty left at the finish. In the Belmont, on the other hand, I asked him early and again he was right there and put on a performance that I don’t believe will ever be equaled.


4/21/2020 – Wood Memorial Revisited

Secretariat fans now know that a mouth abscess contributed to his surprising loss in the April 21, 1973, Wood Memorial. This week for #TurcotteTuesday, we are revisiting Ron’s account of the race.

“When Saturday came and I got a leg up on him for the Wood and tied my reins, he was kind of fussy about his head, kinda throwing it around then when we got to the gate, he didn’t like the assistant starter taking hold of him to load in the gate. When we did get in the gate, he threw his head and broke the gate open and ran through. We had to take him around the back side and reload him. He broke from the gate alright, but he wasn’t his old self and wouldn’t take hold of the bit throughout the race and finished third…”

Read the article in its entirety in our previous posting on 4/23/19


4/14/2020 – What was the biggest lesson that you have learned in your stellar career? (Instagram follower)

I guess it would be to live by the principles that my parents taught me as I was growing up: Stay true to yourself, don’t let success go to your head, keep doing the best you can do, and try to help others along the way.


4/7/2020 – The Gotham Stakes

The morning after the Bayshore, I went to see Lucien [Laurin] in his office. We discussed the race over a cup of coffee and talked about the upcoming Gotham Stakes.  We thought that now might be a good time to try Secretariat on the lead. He had been coming from behind up to now. I was sure that being on the lead wouldn’t matter but still, you really don’t know until you try.  We didn’t want to come up to the Kentucky Derby without knowing how he’d react if all of a sudden he found himself in front. With a race as important as the Derby, one wants to be prepared for all possibilities. We wanted to get him used to different styles of running so that the opposition would never know what to expect.

Now it was on to the races again. When the gate opened, I left Secretariat alone for a few yards until he got his feet under him, then I sent him to the lead. He responded beautifully and since nobody challenged us, I just let him gallop along in front until we turned for home. He was going along good and relaxed. I was just cruising on the lead.

At the 3/16 pole, I checked under my arm and saw Mike Venezia on Champagne Charlie making a run at us. I let him get within a length of us and tapped Secretariat asking him for more. He responded beautifully and we pulled away to win by 3 lengths, equaling the track record.


3/31/2020 – Ronnie, can you explain to us what secrets you had to be so successful in winning so many longer distance races and on horses that didn’t look like they were able to win in races that were longer than 7/8 of a mile? (Chuck, Facebook)

Timing is everything. All my life, I’ve always felt that running distance races was easier on horses than sprint races. Sprints are much harder on horse’s legs. For myself, I loved riding longer races, because they were so easy to ride. All you have to do is warm them lightly and don’t get them excited when the gate opens. Keep them relaxed. If they come out running, don’t fight them. By the time they get to the first turn, most horses will drop the bit, relax and go to a long gallop, but for all that to work, the jockey has to know how to rate horses and understand timing. Now, if the horse is strictly a front runner you have to play it different. You send him to the lead and drop in as fast as possible after you have cleared the other horses. Thank you, Chuck, for your question.


3/24/2020 – Secretariat & Man O’ War

Two notable birthdays are coming up: Man O’ War on March 29 and Secretariat on March 30. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Man O’ War’s 3-year-old season and the 50th anniversary of when Secretariat was foaled. I’m often asked to compare the two horses, but I really do not feel that I am the right person to give a definitive opinion on the subject. You see, I never saw Man O’ War. Plus, as hard as I try, I am sure that I really couldn’t be completely objective on the subject. In my heart and mind, Secretariat will always be the greatest horse who ever lived. But that is not to take anything away from Man O’ War’s accomplishments. 

I have to mention the fact that the two horses raced in very different times. The track surfaces were different and the competition was vastly different. Man O’ War raced after the First World War, when there was a much smaller crop of 3 year olds than in 1973 when Secretariat ran. I also know that Secretariat was a kind and very manageable horse. You could do anything with him, come from behind, go to the lead, whatever the race called for. From what I have read about Man O’ War, he was harder to handle and more temperamental than Secretariat was.

On July 4, 1997, Joe Hirsch, one of the star reporters for the Daily Racing Form, wrote: “ON THE LIST OF GREATS, THERE WAS ONLY ONE SECRETARIAT.”

I also remember that following Secretariat’s Triple Crown victory, Hollie Hughes, the dean of America’s trainers in the early 1970s, was asked his opinion on the subject. Without hesitation he replied: “Secretariat is the best race horse I ever saw. He is also the best made horse I ever saw.”

Hughes won the 1916 Kentucky Derby with George Smith and had seen Man O’ War, Exterminator and all the other great horses of the time. To give his opinion some context, he was agreeing with Kenny Noe, the racing secretary in New York at the time, who had said, “Secretariat is the “Horse of the Century.” So I really have to put a lot of weight behind his opinion. The only thing I could add is that I wholeheartedly agree with him.


3/17/2020 – Bay Shore Stakes

It’s good to be back! I have been told that Secretariat’s fans would also be interested in his 1973 earlier races leading up to the Triple Crown, so I thought I would cover his three races leading up to the Derby. I will also be more than happy to answer whatever questions anyone may have.

Maybe I should first mention that as a 2 year old on his very first race July 4, 1972, Secretariat suffered a splint. What happened was that Secretariat was post 2 in that race, and a horse named Quebec was post 4. When the gate opened, Quebec ducked in sharply and caused a “jam” as the Daily Racing Form described it. The three horses on the inside were pushed together causing Secretariat to hit himself on the inside left leg. Luckily he didn’t go down, but he popped a splint. He ran with that nagging issue for the rest of the year. Repairing a splint requires a minor operation and the horse needs a short time for recuperation afterwards.

When he got back into training, Lucien had me take him out for slow works to start with, and I could tell that everything was well with him. He had fully recuperated from the operation.

At first, the team’s intention was to go the Southern route like we did with Riva Ridge. When Christopher Chenery passed away however, the plans changed. They had to wait for the syndication to go through so we took it easy with him and concentrated on maintaining his conditioning to keep him where he was at as far as fitness and not let him get too fat.

 Finally in early February, I started to put long slow works into him, then I let him work an easy six furlong in 1:12 followed with a seven furlongs in 1:23 galloping out one mile in 1:37:3/5 and a final 3/8 of a mile at Belmont in 32:3/5 three days before the Bay Shore Stakes, which is a 7-furlong race. Those fractions woud make good racing times, but for Secretariat it was just the kind of workout you wanted. He needed that final fast workout before a race. On my way back to the track to work another horse, I went by Mr. Vanderbilt who called to me, “Say Ron, I heard you burned up the race track this morning.” To which I answered, “No, I just dried it up a little bit.”         

 Now it was on to the race itself. We broke from the starting gate nicely and galloped to the 3/16 mile pole before I asked Secretariat to run, and run he did.  He went through a narrow opening like a rocket to win easy by 4 ½ lengths in 1:23:1/5 and all that on a muddy track! I knew then that he was the same Secretariat! He had made the transition from 2 to 3 year old just fine!


12/31/2019 – Thank you for following Ron Turcotte’s #TurcotteTuesday posts on our social media feeds this past year. Ron is taking a deserved break for a few months with plans to resume his weekly post early this spring. In the meantime, we encourage you to message us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and submit new questions for Ron to answer upon his return. Happy New Year!


12/24/2019 – Holiday Message

With the holidays approaching, I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I would also wish to take this opportunity to thank all of Secretariat’s fans and #TurcotteTuesday followers for their beautiful comments and replies to my great memories of the years 1971 to 1973 with the two very talented Meadow Stable stars Riva Ridge and Secretariat. Those memories are still very vivid to me, especially the 1973 season when we won the Triple Crown with record times for each of the three races. Those records are still standing today 46 plus years later. It warms the heart to realize that to this day, “Big Red” is still remembered so fondly by racing fans young and old everywhere!


12/17/19 – What makes a Thoroughbred change its lead foot? Is this something the horse would do in response to something you did? Or does the jockey have no control over this? (@ord_warrior, Instagram)

Some horses will change lead on their own. When they get tired on one lead, they will switch by themselves. When they approach a turn, they should be on their left lead if they are running counter clockwise. If they don’t, they will drift out or blow the turn completely. If there are any horses close on the outside, they carry them out. It could really wreck the whole field and create a mass pileup so the jockey has to be aware of that before reaching the turn. Contrary to one’s thinking, in order to make a horse switch to his left lead, a jockey has to turn the horse’s head out to his right so then the horse will put more weight on his right leg and fall on his left lead, or just a light tap behind their left elbow will be needed, but one has to know what he is doing. Ninety percent of the time, just a twist of the wrist will do it.  


12/10/2019 – Do you feel Red liked turf better than dirt? Do you think he ran better on turf? (Marti, Facebook)

As great as he was on dirt, Secretariat was even better on the grass. I’d like to reshare a passage from my post about our Man O’ War Stakes preparations.

      I galloped Secretariat to the three-quarter pole then stopped him and let him walk about 25 to 50 feet. I then let him start to pick up speed before I broke him into a run — and run he did! He was just skipping on that grass! I couldn’t believe it myself! He worked five-eighths of a mile in 0:57 flat and he galloped out an extra eighth in 11 seconds!

     Going around those dogs was like running five horses wide, which means that Secretariat was covering more than five-eighths of a mile! It was just unbelievable! I came back and told Lucien that as great as Secretariat was on the dirt he was at least 10 to 15 lengths better on the turf.

     It was incredible how much lighter he was on his feet on the grass. On the dirt, he had a tendency to be heavy headed and hit the ground harder. But on the grass he was much lighter on his feet. He was just skipping over it like a deer. 

With every successive race Secretariat ran on the grass, I became more and more convinced that he was even better on the grass than I had told Lucien that day.


12/3/2019 – Hello Ron, was Shuvee the best mare you ever rode? (@ord_warrior, Instagram)

I always said that Shuvee was the classiest filly or mare of my time and maybe longer. Show me another filly or mare who has won two Jockey Club Gold Cubs going 2 miles against males two years in a row at 4 and 5 years old as well as the Coaching Club American Oaks at 1 1/2 miles. She also became the richest money-winning filly or mare in the world in the middle of her 5-year-old season at Saratoga on Aug. 23, 1971. If you can show me another filly or mare who did all that, I will concede that she may not have been the classiest female horse of our time. I also have to mention that as a 3 year old Shuvee had won the Triple Tiara for 3-year-old fillies.

I have sat on some other top fillies and mares during my riding career — the likes of Dahlia, Fanfreluche, Desert Vixen, Dark Mirage (the first Triple Tiara winner), La Prevoyante, Lalezane, Summer Guest (who won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, Coaching Club American Oaks and the Monmouth Oaks), Amerivan, (the 1965 Kentucky Oaks winner, and Talking Picture (the 1972 Eclipse Award winner for 2-year-old fillies). Seven of those fillies are Hall of Famers, with three also in the Canadian Hall of Fame.


11/26/2019 – How would you describe Secretariat’s temperament? (Jane, Facebook)

What some people call his temperament, I call his disposition. Secretariat had the most even and kind disposition of any horse I ever knew. He was even tempered and always ready to respond to whatever move you asked of him. He was bold without being aggressive.  He was a very calm horse. He could be playful at times but always ready to respond to you. I’ll always remember the time he gave a playful buck because he was feeling so good and so full of energy coming back from a workout. I wasn’t expecting it, and I guess I wasn’t paying attention. I landed on my feet on the ground. He could have taken off but instead he just stood there and looked at me as if he was saying, “Hey, what are you doing down there?” He just waited for me to walk back to him. I passed the reins back over his head, padded him a little on the neck, grabbed a handful of mane and jumped back on.  He just kept going calmly back to the barn as if nothing had happened.

Maybe the most important aspect of his temperament or disposition is that he never sulked or refused to try in a race. He was always ready to respond to whatever move you asked. He was always ready to give you everything he had.


11/19/2019 – After Secretariat retired from racing how often did you visit him? (Nancy, Facebook)

I would visit both Secretariat and Riva Ridge every chance I got. Whenever I was in Kentucky for a race and had enough time, I would stop by the farm for a visit. It was very heartwarming for me to see that both of them always seemed to recognized me and came up to the fence to say hello. They would even stick out their tongue so I could grab it and say hello like I used to do at the track. The last time I went was in 1977 when I was there to ride L’Alezane in the Alcibiades Stakes.


11/12/2019 – Retirement Parade

After his easy win in the 1973 Canadian International Championship Stakes, Secretariat returned to Belmont the following day, Oct. 29. He walked around the shed row for two days then returned to the track. I had asked Lucien [Laurin] to let me get on him, to see how he had come out of the race, so Lucien told me to go once around the track at an easy gallop. I did just that and Secretariat seemed just as fresh as before the race. I told Lucien how frisky Secretariat was and that if he was going to run him in the Washington D.C. International as was planned, all we needed to do was to give him a good 6-furlong workout. I figured that would be all he needed to be at his peak since that race was 1/8 of a mile shorter.

Lucien just said, “We’ll see.” This was on Nov. 1, and we had nine days to the Washington D.C. International — a race in which Tentam, a horse that I played with in the Man O’ War Stakes, was going to be the favorite if we didn’t run, and I thought it would only be a gallop for Big Red.

After leading me to believe that we were going to run in that race, Lucien said that he wasn’t sure if they were going to run him or not. Finally, on Sunday, Nov. 4, he told me that since Secretariat had to be retired by mid-month, they had decided to put a stop on him and to wind him down for a week before flying him home to Claiborne Farm. Well, that was it for me riding him in a race one more time!

The next morning, Lucien asked me if I could drop off at the barn what are today among my most prized possessions — my riding saddle and the saddlecloth from the Arlington Invitational. It turns out, I would get to ride Big Red one more time — I would be taking him to the winner’s circle for his farewell parade that was scheduled the next day between the second and third races at Aqueduct Racetrack. 

NYRA President Jack Krumpe had organized a beautiful farewell ceremony! Eddie braided Secretariat’s mane and saddled him with that saddlecloth, which was embroidered with his name — a rarity at the time. So when Secretariat stepped on the track to parade in front of the stands, he was a sight to see and the ovation and cheers he received from the crowd just about drowned out the voice of Dave Johnson announcing, THE HORSE IS ON THE TRACK!”

There were speeches by Krumpe and others, including Mrs. Penny Chenery Tweedy, before and after I took him for his final gallop. Krumpe presented us all — Mrs. Tweedy, Lucien, Eddie, Charlie Davis and myself — with mementos, including big, beautiful photo collages from our Triple Crown win at the Belmont Stakes.

It was a very sad day for me and for Secretariat. He was disappointed that he wasn’t going to run that afternoon. He acted very irritated when I rode him back to be unsaddled in the winner’s circle without having had a good run around the track. It was so obvious that Mrs. Tweedy even commented on it. She said something like, “He’s ready to go; he can’t understand why he’s not running.”

Even though I was very disappointed that I couldn’t ride him in his last race, I had the satisfaction of knowing that I was able to prepare him my way to have him at his best for his last race. That is something that no one can take away from me.   


11/5/2019 –What kind of tack did Secretariat wear? (Bessie, Facebook follower)

Secretariat wore a plain D bit bridle, and I used a Lee Wincher saddle. It was a custom built saddle and I had four pouches built in to add lead weights depending on the weight my mounts had to carry. It could weigh between 5 to 12 pounds, depending on how much weight I needed to add. I could do up to 126 pounds with the lightest lead saddle pad. What I call a lead saddle pad is simply a felt and leather saddle pad with pockets added to insert the lead weights. A light pad could have two to four pockets where a heavy lead pad could have up to eight pockets. I owned both a light and a heavy lead pad so I could do up to 126 pounds if I needed to.

Secretariat also wore blinkers.For some reason, the stable team put them on to work one morning when I was out of town to ride another horse. I guess Lucien [Laurin] felt they helped in keeping Secretariat focused. I never thought he needed them; he worked great without them. I broke track records working him in the morning without the blinkers. As far as I was concerned, they didn’t make much difference either way, but they did give him a special look. He looked great in them.


10/29/2019 – Canadian International

As I mentioned in my post last week, I flew to Toronto to work Secretariat for the Canadian Championship. Upon my return to New York, I learned that I had been suspended for five days — from Saturday, Oct. 27, to Friday, Oct. 31. That timeframe, of course, included Oct. 28, the day of the Canadian International. The suspension was for an incident that led to the disqualification of my mount the previous day on a 2-year-old filly running for the first time on the turf.

 I called the stewards office and asked them if they would come to the film room to view the film of the race with me since I wasn’t there to defend myself when they made their decision to suspend me for five days. I asked them to show me why I should receive any suspension after making my best effort to grab my mount as soon as she ducked out from the odds board blinking light with no warning at all. I had straightened her out as quickly as I could, but the damage was done and she did interfere with the second horse and should have been disqualified. But since I did all I could do and there was no intentionally rough or careless riding on my part, I firmly believed that the suspension wasn’t justified. They agreed to meet me, and we looked at the film. However, I could still not understand their reasoning when it was plain as day that it had been impossible to do more than I had done and it was not my fault, so there was no cause for a suspension period.

 The stewards were Francis P. Dunne for the New York State Racing Commission, Nathaniel “Bud” Hyland for the Jockey Club, and Warren Mehrtens for the New York Racing Association.

Dunne stood up and said, “We’ve already made up our mind, it’s been posted and sent to the papers, and we’re not changing anything. If you have in mind to appeal, we will hold your hearing the same day as the Canadian race.” 

Hyland just nodded. Mehrtens, who rode the 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault, didn’t say anything but shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “I don’t agree, but I was outvoted.”

When I asked our Jockey Guild’s manager Nick Jemas for help, he refused to talk on my behalf saying, “I didn’t see the race.” I guess he didn’t like me, and I didn’t like him because I thought he was useless and had run our organization into the ground.

That’s when I realized I was whipped and decided not to pursue the matter any longer because, as much as I disagreed with them, I didn’t want to take authority away from the stewards — because we do need someone in authority. Maybe they remembered what I had told them about the terrible mistake they had made the previous fall when they disqualified Secretariat in the Champagne Stakes. Secretariat had taken the worst of a situation when he was bumped on the rear end, turning him inward, and I had to take hold of him to get him straight again. The collision slowed him down, but he still won with authority. The difference was that he won by two lengths instead of maybe three or four if he hadn’t been bothered.

The stewards knew that they had goofed. Even though they hadn’t suspended me after the Champagne Stakes, they had taken that win and first place money off Secretariat’s record. They had also taken away the win money from the people who bet on him in that race. 

Since I was unable to ride Secretariat in Toronto, I was thrilled when Lucien [Laurin] agreed to ride Eddie Maple on Secretariat in the Canadian International as I had suggested. I was happy to share with him any information that I thought could be helpful about Secretariat’s ways of running. He was a very easy horse to ride, but except for Paul Feliciano, I was the only jock to work him or ride him. I had done the same for Maple with Riva Ridge before the Marlboro Cup.  

On Saturday evening when Maple arrived at the hotel where we were staying in Toronto, he came up to my room. I had left a message at the front desk giving him my room number in case he wanted to talk to me about Secretariat and the race. When he entered, his first words were, “I’m a nervous wreck, Ronnie, Big Red better run big tomorrow, or I may not be able to get out of here alive!”  

“Relax, Eddie, and sleep tight,” I said, “You won’t have any problems tomorrow. Big Red is fit and better than ever, and I know that it’s been raining for two days, but it won’t bother him. He just loves this track, and the rest of the field will have to run on the same track. And this horse has improved so much lately. I can’t see him getting beat, plus you have a beautiful post position on the crown of the track and nobody outside of you. Just let him come out on his own and let him get in stride. Don’t take a strong hold on him. He will relax, and all you have to do is tighten up on the reins whenever you want to improve your position, then loosen up again and he will go back to galloping. You probably never have ridden a horse like that because you can make five and more moves with this horse if you need to, so don’t worry.”

The next day the weather was nasty, cold and raining. When the race time came, Maple and Secretariat went to the gate fine and loaded good. When the gate opened, all horses broke good. Kennedy Road under Avelino Gomez went to the lead and Secretariat laid an easy second, running good and relaxed for Maple until midway down the backside. Then all of a sudden, Kennedy Road veered to the outside and bumped Secretariat twice. That’s when Maple decided to get out of there before getting bumped again. He tightened up on the reins, and Secretariat took off like a rocket and opened up 12 lengths on Kennedy Road and the rest of the field. After that, Maple only tapped Secretariat once on his left shoulder when they came to an opening before the tote board where people walk to the infield. He did it just for precaution, then easily he switched his whip back to his right hand and waved it at him while running by the blinking lights. He passed the wire winning by five and a half easy lengths.

As a spectator in the stands, watching Secretariat running down the stretch with steam coming out of each nostrils was a sight to see. He reminded me of a freight train coming down the tracks.

 I was the first one to go shake Maple’s hand to congratulate him. I complimented him on his beautiful ride and great timing. 

“A tremendous machine alright!” Maple said. “I’ve never been on a horse like that!” 

Maple and I recently reminisced about the race, and he told me, “To this day I have never seen any horse to come close to him … the greatest horse ever!”


10/22/2019 – Preparation for the Canadian International

Now that the Man O’ War Stakes was won in handy fashion, it was time to get Big Red ready for the Washington D.C. International. It was the only race Mrs. Penny Tweedy talked about during the week after the Man O’ War. Secretariat was walked for two days after winning the Man O’ War then sent back to gallop on the main track as usual. Since we knew he loved the turf and ran exceptionally well on it, he would gallop on the dirt with the exception of his workouts, which would be on the turf. 

Secretariat went out to gallop on Tuesday and didn’t act like a horse who just ran a mile and a half. It was like that race never took anything out of him. He was playful and ready to go some more. So I suggested to Lucien [Laurin] that he find a sprint race of either 6 or 7 furlongs instead of putting a few long works in between. Because Secretariat’s next race would be five weeks away, I would have to work him a couple of short works and at least one or two long works to keep him real fit for his proposed race. 

But before the week was over, they had changed their minds. Lucien and Penny had decided to run him in the Canadian International at a mile and five eighths. The race would be run on Oct. 28. That was 12 days earlier than the Washington D.C. but still 20 days away, and I would have to put in one 6-furlong workout and at least one mile work with a strong gallop out, then his fast 5 furlongs three days before the race.

Again I said to Lucien that we should run him in a sprint and gallop him out strong after the race and that would count as a workout. Then he would only need his final work three days before the Canadian race. 

“Why do you want him to run him in a sprint so bad?” Lucien asked me.

“I think Secretariat could be the Eclipse award winner in all the categories he qualified for, so why not add Sprinter of the Year also?”  I knew he could do it — even setting a track record in the process.

Lucien thought I was crazy, and he refused by telling me to focus on the Canadian race. So I worked Secretariat one mile on Oct. 19 and again he worked a mile on the turf around the dogs faster than the track record. He then galloped out one mile and an eighth faster than the existing track record for that distance also.

 On Oct. 25, I flew to Toronto to give him his last fast ⅝ mile, which he ran in better of 0:57, over a full second faster that any clockers had ever seen in Canada. He was ready.


10/15/2019 – Running of The Man o’ War Stakes

I had something to prove in this race.

Lucien [Laurin] and Penny [Chenery] thought that in the Woodward, I should have opened up once I made the lead. I wanted to prove that if Secretariat had been a fit horse, he would have kept the lead easily in the Woodward!  

On the morning of the Man O’ War Stakes, I was at the barn early as usual to work a few horses for Lucien. I then made my rounds to see other trainers and worked a few horses for them. Before going home for lunch, I returned to Lucien’s barn and noticed that he was very nervous. 

He said to me, “I swear to my God, Ronnie, I am nervous. Are you sure he is that good on the turf? Those are all the top grass horses in the country!” 

“Relax, he will be top after the race,” I said. 

“Ronnie, I think you are over confidant,” Lucien replied. 

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I will see you this afternoon.”

 When I got to the paddock in the afternoon, I went straight to the stall where Lucien was saddling Secretariat. When he was done, [Eddie] Sweat took him out to the walking ring, and Lucien reached in his pocket for a cigarette. The only time I saw him smoke was when he was nervous after saddling a horse in a big race like the Derby or any of the Triple Crown races. 

When Secretariat returned, Lucien gave me a leg up and I told him again, “Don’t worry, it’s just another race. Just watch me.”

Like I said at the beginning, I had something to prove in this race.

Big Red went to the gate as calm as ever then broke very good, and I gave him time to get in stride and then went for the lead, which we took before we passed the wire for the first time.        

In the Man O’ War, Secretariat was a fit horse, and I more or less played with the top grass horse Tentam. I would let him come to me then easily pull away again — and again. Then finally, when Tentam came to me in the stretch, we just left him and went on to easily win the race in a new track record time. 

If you ever watch the 1973 Man O’ War, you will notice that I turned my whip and showed it to Secretariat. It wasn’t to make him go faster. It was so he would keep his attention on me instead of the tote board that was blinking next to us, but he wasn’t all out by no means.

When I returned to the winners circle, Lucien was standing with Eddie Sweat. I shook his hand and asked, “What did I tell you, Mr. Laurin?” 

He smiled and said, “You were right for once, Mr. Turcotte.” He then told Sweat to hand the shank over to Mrs. Tweedy and let her lead him to the winners circle. 


10/8/19 – Secretariat Festival

To all Secretariat’s fans, #TurcotteTuesday followers, readers and friends, I very much regret not being able to join you this coming weekend at the Secretariat Festival. I had been looking forward to this momentous occasion for the past two years, and I cannot find any words to express my disappointment that due to unforeseen circumstances, I cannot be with all of you for the unveiling of this beautiful monument. I feel that this bronze statue of Secretariat and me really symbolizes our run into history. Sculpted by none other than the talented and true perfectionist Jocelyn Russell, I believe it is a worthy testament to Secretariat’s greatness. I have enjoyed working with her and appreciate her meticulous attention to every detail.

I’m also very gratified and humbled that the statue is of both of us together. I know I would never have been able to win the Triple Crown without Secretariat. Even though some say that he may not have accomplished all he did without me, I don’t know about that. He was so great that I’m sure he could have won the Triple Crown no matter what. He may not have done it in the same fashion though. I had such confidence in him and knew him so well that I was willing to go for some very unconventional moves depending on how the races came up. It was very hard for the other jockeys to plan and predict what we were going to do. It also made for some very thrilling moments. Three different races with three different ways of running with the same result each time, a very convincing win and a new track record!  We were a team — who could ask for anything more!

I am thankful that my younger brother, Gaetan Turcotte, will be attending the Festival in my absence. Although I am not able to attend this year, I look forward to seeing the monument during my next visit to Kentucky and hope to see you all next year.


10/1/2019 – Woodward Aftermath

I was not surprised with Secretariat’s second place finish in the Woodward. He had given me all he had but he just wasn’t ready to go a mile and a half.

After my last ride of the day, I showered and dressed. Then my first stop was Barn 7, which was just across from the jockeys’ parking lot but well within walking distance from the jockeys’ room. I wanted to see how Secretariat was doing. I first spoke to the assistant trainer Henny Hoeffner, who assured me that the big horse came back OK. He had cooled off fine and couldn’t wait to dive into his feed tub as soon as Eddie [Sweat] gave it to him. I also spoke with Eddie and Charlie [Davis], and both echoed Henny’s words. I was pleased with what I heard, so I went home for dinner.

 Sunday morning’s report was the same — Secretariat had cleaned up his feed tub. Henny gave me the names of two horses he wanted me to work. I worked the two horses then went to John Campo’s barn to work a horse for him. I then returned home to change and go to Mass with my family and take them out for lunch afterward, as was our custom.

 On Monday morning, I again stopped by Lucien [Laurin]’s barn to see what horses we were going to work and at what time because trainer Elliot Burch had asked me to work one for him at 8 o’clock. Henny told me, “You go ahead, Ronnie, we won’t need you this morning.” I found that funny because Lucien had told me that he needed me to get on a couple of new horses that the other exercise boys had trouble with. But I went ahead and worked Mr. Burch’s horse. When I got off, he pulled me aside and told me he had heard that Secretariat might be getting a new rider next time out. 

“I would go talk to them right away if I was you,” he said. 

I felt he was right, so I went back to Lucien’s barn, where he was leaning on the fence rail.

“Good morning, Lucien,” I said. “What’s wrong? Are you feeling OK?” 

“Yeah,” he said, and then he told me that Penny wanted to take me off Secretariat. I knew that she was nearby because her car was in front of the barn so I asked Lucien if she was in the office. He said yes. 

“I would love to talk to her if it is OK with you,” I said. 

He told me to go ahead. I usually let Lucien do my talking, but this was one time when I felt I needed to speak up. I went to the office door and knocked. 

“Yes?” Penny answered. 

“May I come in?” I asked.

“Yes, come on in, Ronnie,” she said.

“Good morning, Mrs. Tweedy,” I said, “Is anything wrong?”

“Well, I don’t think you rode Secretariat too well Saturday,” she said. “You should have ridden him like you did in the Belmont.”

“I didn’t have the same horse on Saturday that I had on Belmont Day,” I said.

“You’ve been riding hard all year, our horses and horses for other people,” Penny said. “Maybe you’re tired and your judgment is off.”

“Before you make a change, I would think you’d give me the courtesy of watching the films of the Woodward with me and if you can point out to me what I did wrong, then I will accept that.”

She agreed to watch the film with me. So I made a call to the stewards to get permission to go to the film theater down the corridor from the jockeys’ room with Mrs. Tweedy. We watched the rerun of the race, and Mrs. Tweedy said nothing. I asked if she wanted to see it again. 

She looked at me and said gently. “You’re riding him.”

On Friday morning, Oct. 5, I took Secretariat to the Widener Turf Course to let him work on the grass for the first time. It was going to be a long 5/8 mile because the grounds crew had set up rubber cones, which we call “dogs.” They set those cones up 20 to 25 feet off the inside fence so horses working on the turf have to go around them. This way, they stay off the rail and the inside doesn’t get all chopped up. It keeps the track in good condition for the races in the afternoon, but we had to work about 20 to 25 feet off the inside edge or fence.

I galloped Secretariat to the three-quarter pole then stopped him and let him walk about 25 to 50 feet. I then let him start to pick up speed before I broke him into a run — and run he did! He was just skipping on that grass! I couldn’t believe it myself! He worked five-eighths of a mile in 0:57 flat and he galloped out an extra eighth in 11 seconds!

Going around those dogs was like running five horses wide, which means that Secretariat was covering more than five-eighths of a mile! It was just unbelievable! I came back and told Lucien that as great as Secretariat was on the dirt he was at least 10 to 15 lengths better on the turf.

It was incredible how much lighter he was on his feet on the grass. On the dirt, he had a tendency to be heavy headed and hit the ground harder.

But on the grass he was much lighter on his feet. He was just skipping over it like a deer. He felt like a horse who had suddenly matured in less than a week. I was very optimistic about the coming Man O’ War! 


9/24/19 – Woodward

After the success of the Marlboro, Lucien [Laurin] and Mrs. [Penny] Tweedy got together and discussed where they were going to go from there. Lucien wanted to give Secretariat a break. We had to put him through a lot of hard works to get him ready for the Marlboro. Add to that the big race he ran, and Lucien figured that Secretariat not only deserved a breather but probably needed it. Lucien and Penny also wanted to introduce Secretariat to the grass for the benefit of the European shareholders, so they were aiming for the Man O’ War.

As for Riva Ridge, they wanted to run him in the 1 ½ mile Woodward Stakes. Lucien told me of their decision a few days after the Marlboro. He wanted to work Riva a nice mile in 1:38 on Saturday or Sunday, Sept. 22-23, then blow him out an easy half mile around 47 to 48 seconds three days before the race. Lucien thought that should get Riva Ridge good and ready. He didn’t think Riva would need more than that because he had had a harder race [in the Marlboro] than Secretariat.

Then Lucien added, “On Wednesday morning, when they open up the turf course for training around 9 a.m., Ronnie, I’d love you to take Secretariat on the grass and jog him a ways and gallop him about a slow mile. Take it easy and just let him look around and take your time with him. We will not work him this week. On Friday (Sept. 28) or Saturday (Sept. 29), we’ll take him out on the turf for a good mile and let him gallop out a strong extra quarter mile. That should set him up for his fast blowout next week on Friday (Oct. 5), and he should be right on schedule for the mile and a half Man O’ War run on Oct. 8. What do you think, Ronnie?”

“That makes a lot of sense, Mr. Laurin,” I said. “I completely agree with you. Let’s stick to that plan, and I think that will be all he needs to be at his best for the Man O’ War.”

All went well with Riva Ridge’s schedule on the dirt. Secretariat was enjoying himself on the turf with slow gallops and a little play kicking now and then. He also really loved the footing. On Friday morning, I asked Lucien if we were still working Secretariat a good mile and then gallop out a strong quarter before pulling him up, or were we waiting for Saturday morning. 

He just said, “Let’s wait.”

When the entries for Saturday’s races came out in the afternoon, I was somewhat surprised to see Secretariat was entered with Riva Ridge to run in the Woodward Stakes. Since I was named as jockey for both horses, I didn’t think that much about it right away. Secretariat hadn’t been working at all to prepare for that race, so I was pretty sure that he wasn’t going to run. 

But I did ask Lucien what it was all about, and he said, “I just put him in to discourage other trainers. It will give us a smaller field. Don’t worry, he’s not running.”

“OK, but what are you going to do if we get rain and the track comes up muddy?” I answered. “Riva Ridge has proven many times that he is not a good mud horse, and Big Red has not trained for this race at all, not even a blowout or a breeze. He’s hardly fit enough to run a good mile and an eighth, only his class could carry him a mile and a quarter. There is no way he is ready to run a mile and a half.” 

Again Lucien said, “Don’t worry, he will be scratched.”

On the day of the race, it started to rain, and by scratch time we had a muddy track. That’s when Lucien stopped by the jockeys’ room to inform me that Penny had instructed him to scratch Riva Ridge and leave Secretariat in the race to substitute for him. And that’s what Lucien had done.

When he gave me a leg up in the paddock, Lucien’s orders were, “Just do the best you can.” I did just that, and Secretariat came up short. I had a very tired horse at the quarter pole. As usual, he gave me all he had and was game enough to hang on for second money. When I pulled him up, he was completely exhausted and came back to the unsaddling area blowing very hard. Once again, it was a case of asking him for the impossible, of asking him to give more that he had.

Now we only had eight days to get him ready for the Man O’ War, two days to walk him and two days to gallop, then his fast five-eighths mile blowout three days before race day. There was no room for error.


9/17/19 – What do you think of the new statue of you riding Secretariat in the Triple Crown races? (Debbi, Facebook)

 As usual, words fail me to express my feelings about such an honor. It is humbling to think that a young lumberjack from New Brunswick, Canada, would one day end up riding the greatest horse who ever lived. To think that we would be immortalized together in the racing capital of North America is beyond anything I could ever have dreamed of. I guess “Old Jimmy” Fitzsimmons was right. If you keep on dreaming big, you are motivated to keep working and trying for bigger and bigger things. I’d like to think that Old Jimmy would be proud of me and know that I took his advice to heart.  


9/10/19 – The Marlboro Cup

Riva Ridge and Secretariat both had outstanding final breezes for the Marlboro a few days before the race. I was very satisfied with the way both horses were coming up to the race. They were as good as ever, and I was getting more confident by the day that we were going to finish first and second. 

I had previously ridden two of the horses we were running against in this race — Key to the Mint and Annihilate ‘Em. I knew their abilities, and though they were talented horses, I thought they would need more than that to beat Secretariat and Riva Ridge. I had won the Travers Stakes with Annihilate ‘Em. And though Key to the Mint, who was named the 1972 champion 3 year old over Riva Ridge, had also worked a fast 5/8th that week, I didn’t think he could beat Riva on a fast track.

While Onion had a good run in the Whitney, I didn’t think he could beat either of the Meadow horses on a fast track when they were this fit and healthy. That left Kennedy Road, a Canadian turf champion who would earn the Canadian Horse of the Year in 1973, and Cougar II, the 1972 champion turf horse. Because he raced on the West Coast, I didn’t know much about Cougar II other than he could handle dirt as well. I knew I had to keep an eye on him after we left the gate to see how “the Shoe” [Willie Shoemaker] was going to ride him.

So the Marlboro Invitational turned out to have a fantastic field with several of North America’s best 3 year olds and older horses running at the time — a precursor to today’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Kennedy Road and Annihilate ‘Em, along with Onion, were speed horses who could set an honest pace. Despite all that, though, I still thought Secretariat and Riva were a cinch to finish 1-2, with Secretariat coming in first of course.  

The night before, I went to sleep thinking about the race and how I saw it being run. The next morning, Lucien [Laurin] and I met in his office as usual to discuss the race. We agreed that Eddie [Maple] and I should each ride our own race. Each horse and jockey for himself. I didn’t want Eddie thinking that he should chase anyone for the lead or try to soften them up for me. I knew Secretariat didn’t need any rabbit because he was ready, and I could do anything I wanted with him.

The race would have enough speed so that I could overtake Riva Ridge anytime I wanted to. Big Red was head and shoulders above them all and Riva was second best. They didn’t have to kill each other going for the lead, and I thought that Eddie should keep Riva Ridge back to have a fresh enough horse for a good run with Secretariat down the stretch — at least for a while. I told Lucien I was going to give Riva his best chance to prove he was the second best in North America on a dry track. I wanted to see him beat the rest of the field.That’s how I saw the race, and I approached it that way. As I left the gate, I let Big Red get in stride and waited to see how Shoemaker was going to ride his horse. When I saw him take hold of Cougar II and stay on the inside, I let Secretariat move closer to the rest of the field and creep up to a better position. Riva easily moved into the lead at the 5/16th pole, and I circled the field and joined him as we turned for home. We ran together for an eighth of a mile before I asked Secretariat to pull away, and we finished the race that way. Secretariat won by 3 1/2 lengths in a new world record time of 1:45 ⅖ for 1 1/8 miles. Riva Ridge finished second, two lengths ahead of Cougar II, and the rest is history. Bingo! It was exactly as I had imagined it, and it did turn out to be the match race originally envisioned between the two best horses in North America after all. Whoopee!

When we pulled up, I tried to shake hands with Maple, but he felt that it was illegal to touch another rider during — or after — a race. He didn’t want to take a chance. 

As we posed for pictures afterward, I remembered Penny [Chenery] had questioned me about my choice of horse in the race because Riva’s workouts had been so fast. I couldn’t resist asking her, “Do you still think I picked the wrong horse?” 

It was probably the most gratifying race in my whole career. I was so proud of both Riva and Secretariat, and I was so happy to see that Secretariat had regained his strength so quickly after the serious virus that had caused him to lose the Whitney. He not only recovered fully but also was able to come back 41 days later, with only 14 days of serious training, to set a world record. A lot of horses would have been ruined for the rest of the year and maybe their whole racing career. The fact that he was able to bounce back was really a testament to his iron constitution and his willingness to always give you his best.


9/03/19 – Marlboro Preparations

Since Secretariat bounced back so quickly after his virus, we felt comfortable that if everything worked out right, we could still have him ready for the Marlboro. Our schedule was to give him four workouts in 14 days to have him ready for the race. By Aug. 26, all the horses had returned to Belmont. On Monday, Secretariat and Riva Ridge walked then returned to their regular 1 1/2 mile gallop for the next three days. On Aug. 30, Secretariat worked a slow 5/8 of a mile in 1:01 and galloped out ¾ mile in 1:13 and change — a very good work when you consider that it was his first work in four weeks and he came back not blowing hard at all.

 Four days later on Sept. 3, Secretariat worked 7/8 of a mile in 1:24 ⅗, galloping out one mile in 1:38 — again a very satisfactory work. On Sept. 7, we worked him one mile in 1:37 and pulled up an extra eighth in 12 seconds to get the 1 1/8 mile in 1:49. I would call that an exceptional work, so we were right on schedule and exactly where we wanted to be with him.

 Secretariat was still a fit horse and seemed to have bounced back much faster than we had expected. In the meantime on Sept. 11, I took Riva Ridge out for a 5/8 mile, and he ran it in :57 1/5 — extremely fast for him but we were trying to have both horses at their peak for their confrontation. Afterward, Mrs. [Penny] Tweedy told me that I may have chosen the wrong horse. 

“No, no, no,” I replied. “I may have chosen the wrong day but not the wrong horse. I love Riva dearly and he will always have his place in my heart, but I want to win.”

The next day, Sept. 12, three days before the race, I took Secretariat out for his usual 5/8 of a mile and he did it in a very swift 57 seconds and pulled up ¾ of a mile in 1:08 4/5. These times were near records for both distances, and he hardly took a deep breath. It was amazing and reassuring to think that he was doing it all well within himself. To me, it meant Secretariat was back to his old self, and he was ready for the Marlboro. Those workouts were faster than a lot of afternoon races that were being run on those same days.

 When I returned to the barn, I told Lucien [Laurin], “Secretariat is still my choice for the Marlboro. That son of a gun must be made of steel. He came back wanting to play.” 

Incroyable, eh Ronnie. Incroyable (Unbelievable)!” Lucien replied. 

I also told him I was pretty confident that we were going to give Jack Landry the match race he was looking for because Riva Ridge was also coming up to this race exceptionally well. I don’t believe he had ever come up to any race that good, other than maybe the Belmont Stakes. I told him we could expect Riva to run the best race of his life if we got a dry track.

Lucien asked me if I had any suggestions as to who could ride Riva Ridge. I answered that it was up to him, of course, but he might consider Eddie Maple, who was a very good rider and a friend. We also shared the same quarters and valet, and I could talk to him about Riva or answer any questions he may have. I didn’t think that Riva could beat Secretariat, but I wanted him to have the chance to run the best race he could, and Maple was one of the best riders around.

 Next week, I’ll tell you about the running of the Marlboro.


8/27/19 – Dear Mr. Turcotte, in the Belmont Stakes, running down the backstretch, Sham got a neck briefly in front of you and Red; my question is did you say anything to Red that made him launch ahead? Did you “kiss to him” or cluck? Or did you just loosen the reins and he knew what to do? (Kim, Twitter)

No, none of the above, it was way too early. I left Secretariat alone so he could maintain his momentum without exerting himself any more than he was already doing on his own. He was in his long, ground-covering stride. He was doing it easy, not fighting me and breathing good, so I just left him alone sitting as still as I could, trying not to interfere with him or throw him off stride. We were a long way from the wire, and I surely would have wanted him to get ranked, so I just kept saying in a very low voice, “Easy, easy.”  

To me I was not that worried about the distance, any of the other horses, or Sham because he didn’t look like his old self. I guess you could say that it really wasn’t that Secretariat launched forward. It was more the fact that Sham just couldn’t keep up any longer. He had just been asked for more than he could give. He just couldn’t sustain that rate of speed any farther than he had.


8/20/19 – You are my favorite jockey of all time and a legend! Just curious if you had a jockey that inspired you? (Mary Ann, Facebook)

Thank you very much for your kind words, Mary Ann. No, I didn’t have any one special jockey who inspired me, but some were very helpful especially at the beginning of my career.

When I started riding in Ontario, Pat Remillard really impressed upon me the importance of being careful with my money. It is really easy to get carried away when all of a sudden you make more money than you ever thought possible. Pat always told me to save some for a rainy day, and to this day I am glad that I listened to him.

Then there was Chris Rogers, who was one of the best jockeys I ever knew. He was one of the few riders who Eddie Arcaro said he didn’t want to hook up with in the stretch. By the time I knew him, Chris had a problem with alcohol but he always told me, “Don’t do as I do, just do as I say.”  

Chris would lock me up in a stall and make me practice switching sticks sitting on a bale of hay for hours on end. He would tell me not to use it for nothing — just when it was needed. I learned early from him that if a horse is giving you all he has, the whip won’t help; it will only throw him off stride. He also taught me to have confidence in my ability as a jockey. He used to tell me, “Believe in yourself. You are as good as any and better than most but always remain a gentleman; it will take you a long way.”

There were also other persons around racing who I looked up to and who influenced my career. Gordon Huntley was the trainer who gave me my big break, and when I started riding, he gave a retired trainer in his 80s, Jim Fitzsimmons (not to be confused with “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons who trained two Triple Crown winners), a chance to feel useful and good about himself. Mr. Huntley gave him a job as foreman. Old Jimmy may have been old, but he had something that money can’t buy: He had a lifetime of experience and knowledge acquired from his years around every racetrack in Canada and throughout the “Leaky Roof Circuit” in the eastern United States.  

Old Jimmy was a great man, and he was tough. He used to say things like, “Don’t take any wooden nickels.” 

He also told me, “Never take any BS from anybody. Don’t ever let any jock push you around once because if you do, you will be pushed around until you quit. Stand your ground at all times. You have to be motivated to win, and the biggest source of motivation is your own thoughts. Think big and motivate yourself to win and you will. Keep winning. Think that you will win the Kentucky Derby one day, and you will motivate yourself higher and you will get there. Son, don’t ever think small because if you do, you will stay small.”

Well, Old Jimmy stayed around long enough to see me win the title for Canadian Champion Jockey for the only two years I rode in Canada. But it was a shame that he didn’t live long enough to see me win my first Derby and then keep going to see me win the first back-to-back Derbies in 71 years and, of course, the Triple Crown. Because he use to say, “The sky is the limit, son.”  


8/13/19 – Travers

Since Secretariat was out of the Travers, track officials asked Lucien [Laurin] if I could gallop Secretariat out in front of his fans on that day between the fourth and fifth race. Before agreeing, Lucien asked me to take him out for an easy gallop once around and let him know if I thought he was up to it. When I got him to the track, I was very happy to see that his energy was coming back and there was kind of a spring to his step, so to speak. I could see that he was well on the road to recovery. I knew I would be riding that day and his regular exercise boy, Charlie [Davis], had already told me he would love to parade Secretariat in front of the fans wearing the Meadow Stable colors, so I suggested to Lucien to let Charlie take him out instead. Lucien agreed and that is what they did.

In the meantime, I still had my other customers who also wanted me to work some horses for them. Coming off the track after working a horse for Greentree Stables one morning, my agent told me that Doug Davis was looking for me. He was a trainer I had ridden for in Canada back in the early ‘60s. Doug asked me if Secretariat was definitely out of the Travers. When I told him yes, he asked if I would do him a favor and work a horse for him. Of course I said I would do it anytime. The horse just happened to be Annihilate’ Em, who had just finished second to Our Native in the Monmouth Invitational. After I worked him, he asked me what I thought of the horse. I told him I was impressed with him, he had a lot of speed and I liked the way he moved. That’s when Doug asked me if I would ride him in the Travers. Of course, I told him I would love to and the rest is history. We won easily enough — on the rail again — defeating the favorite Stop The Music by 1:1/4 lengths. He was only 2/5 of a second off the track record.

In addition to the Travers, highlights of the meet for me included mounts on the filly Talking Picture in The Spinaway and the Matron Stakes.  She ended the year by winning the 1973 Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old filly.  

All and all, I guess that despite the few disappointments and worries over Secretariat’s health, Saratoga in 1973 still turned out to be a good meeting. Riva Ridge was doing well. After his loss on the turf, he came back to win an allowance race on the dirt beating two top horses. Secretariat was recuperating from his virus and back training well, and I ended the meeting as leading rider.


8/06/19 – Back to Work

After Secretariat’s loss in the Whitney, everyone had their own analysis of the race and the reasons for Secretariat’s loss. Some said that the rail was too tiring that day. Some said I kept him back too far or waited too long — and on and on.

Jack Landry, the Marlboro executive, was amused. He didn’t believe any of it and bet on me in the next race. When the horse won — on the rail — he said, “I knew it! I knew Turcotte would come back and show everyone that the rail is just fine!” I heard that he was waving his winning ticket around saying,“Turcotte’s revenge!” That wasn’t my intention; it was just the way the race came up, and I knew the rail was fine so I didn’t mind being there. It is strange sometimes how things have a way of working out. The fact is that the rail wasn’t the problem; Secretariat was a sick horse.

On the next Tuesday, I was lucky enough to repeat a feat I had accomplished the year before. I won five consecutive races out of six in one day and was the leading rider. I was the first jockey to do it twice at Saratoga. I had won five on Aug. 18, 1972, and then I did it again on Aug. 7, 1973. It sure helped lift up my morale, but I couldn’t forget the experience of the Whitney.

I busied myself with working horses in the morning, riding races in the afternoon for my existing customers and keeping an eye out for new ones.

With Secretariat being sidelined, I was without a mount for the Travers but that was the least of my worries at the moment. I will go into more details on the Travers and Secretariat’s recuperation next week


7/30/19 – Whitney Stakes

I always looked forward to the Saratoga meeting. I enjoyed the area’s many lakes and streams, majestic mountains and fresh air. The scenery was great and so were the people. As added bonuses, I had never had a bad meeting at that beautiful racetrack and I could also enjoy some fishing in what little spare time I had.

At 2 a.m. on Monday morning, July 30, 1973, I got into my motor home that was already hooked to my Jeep with my canoe on top and headed out for the three-hour drive to Saratoga so I could start working horses by 6 a.m. My first work was to be a half-mile breeze aboard Riva Ridge, who needed a race badly since Lucien [Laurin] had decided not to run him in the Suburban Handicap. Riva had been assigned 134 pounds compared to Key to the Mint’s 126 pounds, True Knight’s 118 pounds, and Cloudy Dawn’s low 113 pounds. Lucien thought that it was just too much of an advantage for the other horses.

As I was jogging Riva Ridge back to the mile pole before galloping him to the half mile, I spotted Charlie [Davis] galloping Secretariat. He was hollering and asking me, “What have you done to my horse?” He said something like, “Look at him dragging his feet!” 

When I saw Charlie the next morning, I asked him what had gone wrong. That’s when he told me that Secretariat was not himself. Charlie said that when he had returned to the barn, he told Mr. Laurin about his concerns, but Mr. Laurin told him that if he didn’t want to gallop Secretariat, he was going to put somebody else on him.

On July 31, I was surprised to see that Riva Ridge was entered to run the next day in a 1 1/16th mile allowance race on the turf. I was surprised because, after the terrible race he ran in the Washington D.C. International where he was beaten by 38 lengths, both Lucien and Mrs. [Penny] Tweedy had made a promise that he would never run him on the turf again. This time, he did run a credible race to finish second, 2 1/4 lengths behind the 50-1 long shot Wichita Oil, and he came back none the worst from it.

But on our way to the post with Riva Ridge for that race, I told Charlie that I had expressed my concerns about Secretariat to Lucien. I had ridden him earlier that morning for his final breeze before the Whitney and found he had no zip to him, no usual play, just nothing — and he was dragging his feet. That’s when Charlie told me that Secretariat had started to run a fever a couple of days before that had spiked to 104. He still had a 102 temperature when I took him out that morning, but it was there just before that race when I first heard about the fever. I thought back to that July 27 mile workout and realized Secretariat must have been incubating a virus at the time. Although they had clocked him so fast, I had been surprised because I didn’t think at the time that he felt just right under me. 

On Thursday morning, Aug. 2, I spoke with Eddie Sweat and he told me that Secretariat’s temperature had gone back up Wednesday afternoon. That is when I started asking Lucien not to run him on Saturday. I asked him again the next day — and again and again. On Saturday morning, I saw that Big Red wasn’t any better. I then pleaded with Lucien to scratch Secretariat. He then told me that if I didn’t want to ride him, he wouldn’t have any problem finding another jockey. I relented and told him that if he insisted on running Big Red, I would ride him to protect him. 

“You just don’t understand, Ronnie,” Lucien said. “I have to run him; I just have to run him. He only has to be 75% right, and he will beat those horses.” 

“Lucien, I am telling you this horse is sick; he’s not even 50% right. There is something wrong with him,” I replied.

In the post parade, Secretariat proudly held his head high, but during his short warmup he was very dull and quiet. We entered the third stall of the starting gate, and like in the Wood Memorial, he threw his head and broke open the stall door before the start. He then settled and broke well. I kept him in fourth place on the inside until we reached the three-eighths pole then eased up to second turning for home. I asked him for more coming to the eighth pole where we got within a head of Onion. That’s where he fell apart. 

He was getting wobbly. I switched my whip to my left hand not to hit him but to wave it at him, and that slight move on my part made him slow down instead. On a good day, that’s when he would really would have taken off with me, but on this day he had been asked for more than he could give.  We finished second to Onion, beaten by almost a length.

He returned to the barn with a temperature of 105 degrees, and that, my friends, is the reason for his defeat. Not the inside lane or the Graveyard of Champions. It wasn’t Onion either. It was the fact that he was sick and shouldn’t have been running.  

By then, I had been in racing a long time and had learned to take disappointments in stride. “You can’t win them all,” as the saying goes.  After the race this time, though, my emotions got the best of me. I felt so sad and yet so proud that, even in his condition, he never sulked or refused to run but still tried his best. For the first time in my life, I had tears in my eyes after a loss. 

I pulled him up short and walked him back to the unsaddling area. After taking my saddle off and weighing in, I had to walk to the inside fence, wipe my eyes and compose myself before talking on television and to other reporters to discuss the race. As sick as he still was, Secretariat had tried his best and gave me all he had. I felt so bad that he had been through such an unnecessary ordeal. I thought about it all the way home and couldn’t stop myself from tearing up again. I went to bed to get the best sleep I could and returned to the barn early in the morning to see Eddie Sweat and find out how Secretariat was doing. 

Sweat told me that the vet had treated Secretariat that evening and his temperature had come down overnight. He said that Secretariat had eaten a light dinner and then cleaned out his tub that morning. I was happy to hear that and hoped that Big Red would recuperate in time to get him ready for the Marlboro, which was still on.

Since both horses had lost their last race, the Marlboro people had decided to open the race and invite the best horses in training at the time. They then called it the “Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap.” So it was back to work we went.


7/23/19 – Summer Plans

Meadow Stable horses were doing great. Secretariat was fresh from winning the ninth Triple Crown, and on June 30, he galloped to a 9-length victory in the Arlington Invitational. His time for the 11/8 mile was 1:47, only a fifth of a second off Damascus’ world record while running in the center of the racetrack.

 Stablemate Riva Ridge was running well too. On June 17, he had won the Grade 2 Massachusetts Handicap (Mass Cap) in track record time. Then on July 4, he won the 1 3/16th-mile Grade 1 Brooklyn Handicap in the world record time of 1:52 2/5th giving him three wins in four starts since returning as a 4 year old. His only loss was the Grade 1 Metropolitan, which was run on a sloppy track, and he never could handle the mud or the grass as I discussed earlier.  

Both horses were on top of their game; it was just a matter of keeping them fit until a decision as to where to run them was made. On July 10, I took Secretariat out for a 6-furlong workout. He breezed an easy three-quarters in 1:13 3/5 and galloped out seven-eighths in 1:27. On the same day, I also breezed Riva Ridge a slow half mile in :49 and galloped out five-eighths in 1:01 3/5. Again, these workouts were just to maintain their forms while the owner and trainer deliberated their next move. They had many options like the Jim Dandy for Secretariat and the Suburban for Riva Ridge.

In the meantime, Philip Morris executive Jack Landry and Leo Burnett, the creator of the Marlboro Man, approached Penny Tweedy (Chenery) and Lucien Laurin with their idea of having Secretariat run in a match race with the best horse in training at the time. That horse was to be chosen by a vote from every racetrack’s handicapper. Marlboro was to sponsor the race with a purse of $250,000, winner take all. The result of the vote was that, after Secretariat, Riva Ridge was the best horse in the country.

So the match was set to be run at 1 1/8 mile on Sept. 15. I attended the press meeting along with Penny and Lucien. Since I was the regular rider for both horses, I was given my choice of which horse I wanted to ride. After the meeting ended, we were all asked different questions and the one addressed to me was, which horse was I going ride? I told them that I was going to reserve my decision until a few days before the race so I could choose the horse who was training best or was at his best at the time of entries for the race. I knew very well which one I would ride, but I kept my options open.

Both horses worked every five days to maintain their fitness. When they decided to run Secretariat in the Whitney Stakes instead of the Jim Dandy, I went to Saratoga to work Secretariat one mile on Friday morning, July 27. It had rained all night, and the rain continued until mid morning. That left the track muddy with a lot of big washouts along the inside rail. Secretariat was going one mile, so as I entered the track I had to jog him back to the head of the stretch, which gave me a good chance to look the track over. When I saw the condition the track was in, I decided not take to any chances of hurting Secretariat by working him on or near the rail. I decided to work him near the crown of the track where its cushion was pretty well washed out but I could see that there was no washout or holes that far out. I eased him into his work coming to the mile pole and just sat still on him going real easy the first three-quarters of a mile then let him pick it up the last three-eighths. I let him gallop out an extra eighth before pulling him up easy in the next quarter mile.

I then walked him back to the barn where Frank Tour, who was with the New York Racing Association, was already there waiting to pick me up for the drive back to Belmont Park. That’s when I heard how fast the clockers had timed him, and I couldn’t believe it then, and still to this day it’s hard for me to believe the fractions he gave me: the first quarter mile, :22 2/5; the half mile, :45 2/5; the 3/4 mile, 1:09 1/5; the mile in 1:34; and galloping out 1 1/8 mile in 1:47 4/5. Those figures beat the track records for both the mile and the 1 1/8 mile.

I always knew that Secretariat loved running in the slop and the mud. He showed it as a 2 year old by winning the 1 1/16 mile in the Laurel Futurity on a sloppy track by 8 to 10 lengths, only missing  the track record by a fifth of a second and doing it easily.

Even though his workout was outstanding, I felt there was something that wasn’t right. On our way from Saratoga to Belmont, I told Tour, “I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but I don’t believe those fractions.” I couldn’t put my finger on it, but he just didn’t feel like the same horse under me. I will explain further next week


7/16/19 – Is there any race you wish you could experience again with Secretariat? (@impress.equine, Instagram)

I would say the Preakness. It was a perfect example of why it is important to have a free hand as to how you handle your horse during the running of a race. Every race can present you with situations where you have to be able to use your own judgment and react instinctively on the spur of the moment. Because there was a quick decision that had to be made in the Preakness, I had to do just that. When I saw that they were trying to slow down the pace, I took Secretariat to the outside (see the 5/21/19 #TurcotteTuesday post). This way, I had him in the clear with no risk of being trapped on the rail with nowhere to go. I could then do as I pleased to control the race. He reacted so beautifully that to this day, I still consider it my best ride on him, and it really showed his power, versatility and his ability to make an explosive move like that before he came back to me and relaxed then galloped away from Sham and the rest of the field who were in a hard drive to the finish.


7/9/19 – How far did Secretariat gallop out after each Triple Crown races? (@mmdepalmo, Instagram)

In the Kentucky Derby, I started to ease him up a few yards after we passed the wire because he had sustained such a long run in catching up with the top contenders and then had a long hard battle with Sham that I thought he had done enough plus the Preakness was run at a shorter distance and he didn’t need any more endurance preparation.

 Then in the Preakness, I let him gallop out all the way to the middle of the turn because the Belmont was a longer race, and he would need more endurance fitness.

 Finally, in the Belmont, I let him gallop out pretty fast to establish the record for 1:5/8th mile, then I pulled him within the next 1/8th because we were going to let him unwind and try to give him a rest. 


7/2/19 – Compared to your other rides, did Secretariat feel significantly different under you (other than being obviously wider)? I know he was a lefty, but what did you notice or feel when kicked into that “extra gear”? (Don, Twitter)

 Secretariat was not really extra wide on top where my saddle sat, but he had a broad chest so that his front legs were spread farther apart than Riva Ridge, who was wide on top but had a narrow chest so his front legs would be planted closer together. That did give Secretariat a better balance so he could handle any type of surface. He was more sure-footed than Riva Ridge and that explained why Riva didn’t try hard on a muddy track or on the turf. We call that top heavy. To explain this better, say you were to load heavier stuff on top of a vehicle than on the bottom. It would be easier to tip your vehicle while turning than if you had put most of the weight first and than the lighter stuff on top.

When it comes to conformation, I would say that Secretariat was as close to a perfect specimen as you could find. If one wanted to get real picky about it, I guess the only thing you could probably find fault with would be what Penny [Chenery] used to call his slight goose rump, which is the way his rump sloped down right at the end. Personally, I think that was to his advantage because it allowed his back legs to reach farther under him and he could propel himself farther with every stride than any horse I ever rode.

I don’t know how to explain how it felt when he would kick into that “extra gear,” as they say, except to compare it to the feeling you get when you really press down on the accelerator and feel that surge forward. You could really feel it. The beauty of it is that when he was right, he was always so generous and manageable that I could do it at any time in the race then get him to relax and do it again depending on how the race was developing. It allowed me to make whatever move was needed to get position and I knew that I still had enough to finish the race. It made it very hard for other riders as he was so versatile they never knew what to expect. There was no way to plan a strategy around his style of running. His stamina was also unbelievable. He could sustain a move for longer that any horse I’ve ever known, and he proved it in the Derby and the Belmont.


6/25/19 – Remembering the Arlington Invitational

After winning the first Triple Crown in 25 years, we met at Lucien [Laurin]’s racetrack office one morning to discuss where Secretariat should run next. We had to decide what we were going to do because Lucien was getting calls from so many racetrack owners who wanted to have him run or even just parade at their track.

Lucien insisted on discussing it with me because he wanted me to know what to expect since I was the only one working Secretariat and that I would always know where he was at as far as fitness. I listened to what he and Penny Tweedy had in mind. They wanted to ease back on him and give him a rest for at least three weeks before cranking him up for the Jim Dandy Stakes in the first week of the Saratoga meeting, then go for the “Mid-Summer Derby” at the Travers Stakes, and then the big fall stakes races. 

“Do me a favor, Ronnie,” Lucien said. “I would love for you to get on him at least twice or maybe three times a week so you can let me know where we stand with him.”

But all that changed when the Arlington Park people came to meet with Mrs. Tweedy and Lucien about going there for a match race with Linda’s Chief. When Lucien and Al Scotty couldn’t agree on the distance — 1 mile or 1 ⅛ mile that Lucien insisted on — they decided to make up a race with two betting interests: Secretariat would be one, and three other horses together would be the second betting interest. The three other horses were Our Native, My Gallant and Blue Chip Dan, all would carry 120 pounds each while Secretariat would carry 126 pounds. So the race was on. 

I had asked Lucien to give me 8 to 10 days notice if he decided to run Secretariat in between the original plan and he did so on June 20. I told him that he was as fit as we wanted him to be but I would like to work an easy 5/8th on the 21st and then give him a faster 5/8th three days before he shipped to Chicago. He said that was fine with him since he was thinking the same thing. So on June 21, we went 5/8th in 58:4/5th and on June 27, 5/8th in 58:1/5th.  We were ready.

But on the day before Secretariat was to ship to Arlington Park, officials there received a call saying that Secretariat was going to be shot if he ran there. So they didn’t take any chances, and they secured their premises with all the police available to them. The Illinois State Police escorted Secretariat from the airport to the track, and they also doubled his security guards around the clock whenever he went out to gallop or to walk around the barn.

I remember getting a call from the Chicago Police Department on Friday afternoon asking me about the time of my arrival on Saturday morning and my entire flight schedule. They told me that the State Police were going to pick me up and to wait for them at the gate. When I arrived at O’Hare International, two state troopers were waiting for me, and they filled me in on what had happened. They told they would stay with me all day, and they would bring me back to the airport for my flight home.

When we got outside there was another State Police car with four troopers in it. 

“What are they there for?” I asked.

“They are your escorts,” one of the troopers told me. “We want your stay in Chicago to be a safe one.” They then went on to tell me that the racetrack’s outside fence was very well secured by plain clothes police and racetrack security. The whole thing must have been a hoax because everything went very smoothly and there was no incident whatsoever, but it was quite an experience. 

In the meantime, I still had a job to do. When I did arrive at Arlington, I asked some of my jockey friends what the track was like and they echoed what my valet had told me about the track being very slow and bad on the inside. They also told me that the best part of the track was about 20 to 25 feet off the fence. 

I said, “Man, that is about four to five horses wide.” 

They answered, “Well, you asked us and that’s a fact.” 

Before Lucien gave me a leg up, I told him how I was going to ride him. I told him I intended to just gallop him around the track because I couldn’t see how those other horses that we had beaten no less than 10 lengths in the Triple Crown races could give us any trouble. When we left the gate my horse threw his head a bit but when I straightened him out, I just kept him on a straight path. Since I was coming out of the fourth stall, I kept him wide all the way. We passed everybody around the first turn, and I never really let him run but we still crossed the finish line nine lengths in front of everyone and only 1/5th off the track record set by Damascus back in the ‘60s.


6/18/19 – After you went thru or past the finish line at the Preakness and Derby, Sham and Pincay were right next to you and Secretariat. …did Pincay ever say anything to you (Gina, Facebook)

Pincay like myself was a serious rider. Whenever he rode races, he would always ride his horse to get the best out of him. There was no showing off about him. Even after passing the wire having just won a big race, Pincay kept his hands on the reins. There was no waving of the whip or the hands to the fans and taking the chance of his horse ducking in or out and taking a bad step and hurting himself. The horse always came first with Pincay, and he always wanted to bring them back as good as when he got on them in the paddock. He was a very tough competitor but a clean rider.

I first rode against Pincay at Chicago’s Arlington Park when he first came to America around 1966 or 1967. We never had a harsh word for each other that I can remember. In all the big races, we all wished each other good luck leaving the Jockey’s Room and congratulated each other when we pulled up — if we were close to one another. As for the 1973 Derby or the Preakness, I don’t recall that he said anything different.


6/11/19 – Belmont: Part II

Secretariat was coming up to the Belmont so good that I was very confident. I was so confident, in fact, that after being honored at the Belmont Ball for winning with Riva Ridge in 1972, I told the guests that if it was a clean race on Saturday, I would be back next year. That surprised my wife because it wasn’t my style to brag or predict the outcome of a race to the public. When I sat back down at our table, she told me that she hoped I hadn’t jinxed myself.

On Friday morning while watching another horse work, I saw trainer Hollie Hughes, the “dean” of America’s trainers who had trained the 1916 Kentucky Derby winner George Smith. I often rode for him, and I knew him as a man of few words. He said to me, “Son, I want you to know that this Big Red horse you are riding is the greatest horse I ever saw in my lifetime, and he’s also the best put together horse I’ve ever seen. The only way you can get beat tomorrow will be to fall off.”

“Yes, Mr. Hughes and he does everything so easy,” I answered.

When I saw Lucien Laurin in his office on the morning of the Belmont, he told me he had dreamt that Secretariat had stumbled leaving the gate and I had come off. I told him that wasn’t a dream, that was a nightmare and I wished he wouldn’t mention it again, but even that didn’t lessen my confidence. I also told him that if Secretariat ran as good as he had been working, there was no way he could get beat.

But Mr. Laurin was worried about the inside post. I reminded him about starting from the same post a year earlier with Riva Ridge and that the one hole was the best post for running a mile and a half at Belmont Park.

“Let’s play it by ear, Mr. Laurin,” I said as I headed out the door to go change for the races. “I will see you this afternoon.”

I made one stop before heading to the Jockey’s Room and that was to see Secretariat, Eddie Sweat and Charlie Davis for a few minutes. When I approached the jock’s room I saw Margarita Velasquez, jockey Jorge Velasquez’s wife, pacing back and forth in front of the entrance. She was waiting for me and told me that she had something very important to tell me.

“I had a dream that you and Secretariat won the Belmont by many, many, many lengths,” she said. I thanked her and went to get dressed.

I rode four races before the Belmont, winning two of them on Mister Fantasy, who paid $7.20 to win in the second race, and again with Spanish Riddle, who paid $10.40 to win in the fifth. I also rode Angle Light against Forego, but Angle Light was burned out after running in the Kentucky Derby and never returned to himself. My fourth mount was a long shot that finished fourth. Secretariat was my fifth ride of the day.

After the parade, we didn’t need a whole lot of warming up because Big Red was already limber. So my main focus was watching how each jockey was warming up his mount for any indication of how they each intended to ride their own horse. After having seen what I wanted to see, I went back to the starting gate slowly then just walked right up to the gate early. To contradict what Haywood Broun had said about Secretariat sitting back in the gate and not even wanting to go to, or in the gate, you can see on the old footage that Secretariat walked right in the gate all by himself. I have always believed that a horse can somehow sense the feeling of the rider on his back. If you are nervous, tense or on edge, the horse will pick up on it somehow. I always say that the biggest mistake a person can make is to not give his horse enough credit for intelligence. If you stay calm and relaxed, your horse will stay calm and relaxed, and that is especially important in long races like the Belmont.

We broke on the lead, and I let Secretariat get in stride before I asked him to go through on the rail. Since no one wanted to go with Sham, I decided we were going to stay either close to him or take the lead and set our own pace. That is exactly what we did and very easily at that.

In fact, Secretariat pulled away from Sham so easily that I was surprised. Sham was a great horse, and he was no quitter. I didn’t think he could be tired after running with Secretariat for only half a mile. I knew he was a much better horse than what he showed in the Belmont. I really didn’t know if there was a problem or if [Laffit] Pincay was giving him a breather. I was just concentrating on my horse. As long as he was running with long easy strides and breathing well, I was content to keep him comfortable going at that pace.

As the race progressed, it didn’t really feel like Secretariat was running in a race. It felt more like his longer workout of a week earlier. His stride was so long and he was running so effortlessly that it felt like a nice long gallop.  He was breathing so well under me and moving so easy that I thought to myself, “That’s good. I am not going to interfere with him and throw him off stride.”

I know everyone thought I was nuts. They thought I had lost it but I knew exactly how he was going. I knew he was doing it easy and that he had plenty in reserve.

When we passed the odds board, where the teletimers are located, I even had time to check. I could see that we went the mile and one quarter in 1:59 flat and we were breaking the track record for every distance from the quarter pole to the wire. It felt like Secretariat was enjoying himself, running just for the fun of it.

I was really awed by the reaction of the crowd with all the hands waving and the applause as we came down the stretch. I could see the whole length of the grandstand where the patrons were all standing and jumping up and down, reminding me of a sea before a big storm with large waves and white caps. I do not remember ever seeing such a reaction from the public before or since. I still find it amazing to this day whenever I watch a rerun of the race. That giant wave of excitement just swept over the crowd. It is kind of humbling to think that we were responsible for such a moment in racing history.

And to think, Secretariat ran the half mile, ¾ of a mile and one mile distances faster than any other horses ran on that day — and he was going 1 1/2 mile. So if the track was very fast that day, then Spanish Riddle and Forego would have ran the same distances faster than they ran on the same track that same afternoon because they were running a shorter distance and they both were super sprinters. What Secretariat did that day was simply incredible, and I’m so glad I rode him that way.

As I look back on it now, I really only have one regret. I do believe I should have jogged him back in front of the length of the grandstand so the fans could really have given him the tribute he so richly deserved. As Penny used to say, I’ve never been one given to theatrics. I’ve always believed in going about my work as professionally as I could and let the results speak for me. I do think, though, that this was one time when I could have made an exception.


6/4/19 – Belmont: Part I

After walking for a couple of days, Charlie Davis galloped Red once around while I was working other horses and schooling some 2 year olds. When we were back at the barn, I asked him how Red went.

“Great.” he said. “But that big dude tried to dump me coming back after galloping close to two miles, and I had to drop my irons so he couldn’t.”

The next day, I asked Lucien to gallop Secretariat myself. “Go ahead and give your tack to Sweat,” he said.

I gave my saddle to Eddie and told him that I was galloping Red that morning, then he lead me to the track and turned me loose at the gap. Secretariat was very playful all around, bucked a few times and did the same coming, but I was on my guard that morning and hadn’t taken any chances. I had dropped my stirrup before I handed Sweat my saddle so I would have better balance and all went well. Charlie then galloped him until I worked him Friday morning.

On June 1, we were to work him one mile and we did as usual: turned left to jog and walked to the head of the stretch, then galloped Red to a little over 1/8th of a mile before we were to break and let him take a breath before picking up speed to break into a run for the workout.

Now I am going to explain to you the reason I always went back and stopped before I worked a horse. I always did it that way. Jogging back a ways was to confuse them so they didn’t learn to break into a gallop as soon as they entered the track from the gap. Then pulling up before they worked was to teach them not to pull their exercise riders’ arms off every morning when they were only out for a gallop. This way, they were always calmer to gallop.

Now back to our workout. Secretariat went the mile in 1:34:4/5 then galloped out in 1:48:3/5.

There was only one difference between our preparation with Secretariat in 1973 and Riva Ridge in 1972.  It was the same method, the same distance — one mile then gallop out one an extra eighth — only the time was different. Riva Ridge’s workout was exactly two full seconds slower than Secretariat’s. Riva was not as strong as Secretariat so I had to take it easier because I didn’t think he could have taken it. Both times, I felt each horse was ready to go a 1 1/2 miles. I always felt that Secretariat needed a faster workout than any other horse I had ever ridden.

Lucien wasn’t taking any chances with anyone handling Secretariat, so he only let Charlie walk and gallop him between races and workouts throughout his Triple Crown races. I gave him Secretariat his final workout for the Belmont on June 6. I got to the barn early and so did Lucien. Sweat had Big Red ready, and Lucien approach me and said let him roll a half a mile.

I said, “You mean 5/8 of a mile.” And we went back and forth on the distance we were going to work him. I didn’t want to change what had been working so good with our method, and now Lucien was going to change. So I said, “Alright, you’re the boss.”

And he gave me a leg-up on the horse and off we went with Charlie on Billy Silver along side of Red. We followed our same routine and pulled up at the 5 ½-mile pole walked a short distance, then I let him run so we could get the 5/8th that had worked so good. Without crouching low on Red, I let him run and when we started to come out of the fog about at the half mile pole, Lucien started his stopwatch and clocked him. When I got up on him at the wire, Lucien stopped his watch and it read :46 ⅖.

After we finished our morning work and I started to leave for home to change for the races, Lucien backed up next to me and said, “Let’s have dinner together tonight.”

“Fine,” I said.

“Meet me at my office when you’re done riding,” he said.

So we met at the barn and at dinner, I had my usual limit of two drinks and Lucien could handle it better, but the race looked easier all the time. On our way back to pick up my car, I said to Lucien, “He’s the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle.”

“Do you think so, Ronnie?” said Lucien. “Do you really think so?”

“If we don’t win the Belmont, I might as well pack up my tack and leave New York,” I said.

“You? What about me?” he said.

But I was extremely confident.


5/28/19 – After the Preakness

Monday morning after the Preakness back at Belmont Park, I was at the barn early and watched Charlie walk Secretariat. He seemed to me like a very fresh horse and was trying to play. I then carried on working horses for Lucien and some of my regular clients before stopping by the office again to chat with Lucien over a cup of coffee about the Preakness and how we should get Secretariat ready for the Belmont. After that, I headed home to cut my lawn then went back to the track to ride that afternoon. The crowd greeted me very enthusiastically with shouts  of “Hooray… Job well done, Ron… yea Ronnie..!” and so on when I appeared on the track for my first ride that afternoon. It’s always a good feeling to be appreciated by your fans!

The next morning was Tuesday. Big Red had walked Sunday and Monday. As I pulled up to the stable around 5:30 a.m., Charlie was walking him out of his stall for another day of only walking instead of going out for a gallop, but Red was ready to do more, so I hollered at Charlie, “He’s a little frisky, Charlie, watch that he doesn’t hurt himself.”  

Charlie answered, “I’m afraid that he will.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. I saw Lucien’s car pull up by his office, so I went to meet him and told him about how frisky Red was.

Lucien watched him playing around and turned to me and said, ”What would you do?”  

I told him that I would like to put my saddle on him and take him once around the track but that I wasn’t the trainer, he was.  

“Well, give Sweat your tack and we’ll take him out,” Lucien said.

I got on him, and Charlie led me to the gap and turned me loose. Big Red shook his head and made a few little dance steps then took off at a nice gallop going around the mile and a half oval very nicely. I pulled him up halfway around the turn by the arrow yard to face the inside fence before turning to go back along the outside fence and that’s where he started bucking playfully a little bit then settled to a walk.

All of a sudden, he passed gas and followed it up with a big, playful bucking jump. I was too relaxed on him and I wasn’t ready for that, so the motion threw me over his head. Going through the air, in what played out like a slow motion moment in my mind, all I could think of was how I just let the future Triple Crown winner get loose on the track to run off and possibly hurt himself. When I hit the ground, I landed on my feet with my knee buckling a little bit. I straightened myself up, and to my great relief, that big clown was standing there, looking down at me with his ears pointed toward me as if to say, “What are you doing down there?” He never tried to run away or anything.

I said to him, “Now why did you do that?” and he put his head down as if to say, “I’m sorry.”

I passed the reins over his head then jumped back on him. I left my feet out of the stirrups and walked him to Charlie who was coming to meet me. I asked him if anyone had seen us. When he said he didn’t think so, I asked him not to say anything to Lucien so we wouldn’t give him a heart attack.

As I jumped off Red at the barn, Lucien asked me what I thought and I told him how frisky Secretariat was and that the Preakness didn’t take anything out of him. I told him that we were on target to gallop him up to and including Friday then follow up with our plan to work him on Saturday morning.

Come Saturday morning, May 26, we took him out after 8:30 a.m. when the track had been freshly arrowed. I turned left when we got on the racetrack and walked and jogged him to the 3/16th pole. I then turned him and galloped him to the 7/8th pole, where I walked him a little before galloping a short distance and breaking him off for a good run at the 3/4th pole. I was to work him 3/4 of a mile then galloping out strong to the 7/8 pole.  We went at a clip of 12 seconds to the eighth pole and galloped out the extra eighth in about the same or a shade faster.


5/21/19 – Preakness: Part II

I arrived later than usual for the races on Saturday, May 19, 1973. I went to the Preakness barn first to see how the big horse, who happened to be sleeping, was doing before going to the Jockey’s Room. I wanted to chat with Eddie “Shorty” Sweat and Charlie Davis to find out how Secretariat ate his breakfast and noon meal. I also wanted to know how he was feeling. They told me that his last blow out through the stretch and his fast galloping out around the turn on Friday morning really put him on his toes. After Secretariat woke up and stretched, I walked in the stall to see him; he wanted to play a little so I grabbed his halter and planted a kiss on his nose and talked to him a little bit before I walked to the jock’s room.

Once in the room, I got dressed in my riding pants, boots, and T-shirt. I sat down and played a few hands of cards (Racehorse Rummy) and watched some races run before the Preakness. I talked to members of the press, then all Preakness jockeys had to tape interviews with Chic Anderson, who was working for CBS. He was trying to pry out strategies from each jockey on how he liked his chances and how he intended to ride his mount.

After checking in for the race, we all walked to the turf course where the horses were being saddled out in the open air, and we talked to our trainers. Some were receiving orders on how to ride their mount in the race. After telling me for the last two days that he wanted me to ride Secretariat the same way I had ridden him in the Derby, Lucien only said, “Forget what I said before, use ton propre jugement,” which is French for “use your best judgment.”

Once all the horses were on the track, the band started playing “Maryland My Maryland,” and again our horses started to prance to the beat of the music under us. That is always a great feeling. It always felt that way to me at least.

Once the music stopped, we warmed our horses as was needed, then lined up behind the gate to be loaded. Once we were all in the gate and standing good, the starter Eddie Blind squeezed the starter button and we were off. George Cusimano, riding the speed horse Ecole Etage, sped to the lead from the outside sending him really hard to clear the field so he could drop in next to the inside fence to save ground, and the riders on the other horses were jockeying for position at a good clip because Pimlico is known as a speed favoring track.

Meanwhile, my horse bobbled as he slipped over the starting gate tracks. I gathered him up and gave him time to find his stride. We were last passing the wire the first time around but that was alright because the other horses had run the first quarter of a mile in a swift 23 seconds. Then all of a sudden, they started coming back to me as I was about to drop in close to the fence to save ground. When I looked up at George Cusimano on the lead with Ecole Etage, I saw his horse’s head go up. That meant he had taken a stronger hold of his horse to slow down the pace and all the other riders had a good hold on their horses, thinking that I may ride Secretariat the same way I had ridden him the Derby, holding him for a late closing run.

Sometimes jockeys can get surprised by the moves of other riders during a race. In the Preakness, I was the one who did the surprising and caught the rest of the field with their pants down when I reacted instinctively and took my horse to the outside. I didn’t want to be boxed in like a fool with no place to go and no chance to get out. I would then have the front horses backing up in my face all around the first turn. It may have been an unconventional move but one I had to make.

Sure it looked like a very dramatic move, but it was nothing that any other experienced jockey wouldn’t have done if he had the guts to take the chance and suffer the consequences if he got beat. I also knew my horse well. I knew what he was capable of, and I knew he was physically fit and more than ready for the race. I didn’t worry about the consequences. I had no doubt I was making the right move. I knew I could move with him early and then get him to relax. I could make more than one move with him so it didn’t matter how the race came up, I could ride him accordingly. It made it a lot harder for the other jockeys to predict what I was going to do.

After passing the whole field around the first turn, we took the lead and control of the race. I steered him to the inside and eased up on the reins, which was a way of telling him to relax and fall back into a long galloping stride. If anyone wanted to challenge me I still had plenty of horse under me. I knew I could tighten up on the reins and chirp to him to accelerate away from any challenges because that big dude could gallop away from any 3 year olds by then, and that is exactly what I did when Sham took a run at us at the 5/16th pole. When we crossed the wire, I honestly felt that we could have won that race by 10 lengths and more. That’s what I told Lucien then, and I am saying the same thing today 46 years later. Then I got off the scale and went through the trophy presentation and the rerun of the race with Jack Whitaker.

After that I was asked to go up to the Press Box to meet the sports writers. The first one I met at the door was none other than Mr. Joe Hirsch, senior Daily Racing Form columnist, who asked me if I thought that the time on the infield board was right. My answer to him was “HELL NO!” He then preceded to tell me that he had clocked Secretariat in 1:53 2/5. He said that was the same time that the Form’s chief of clockers Gene “Frenchy” Schwartz and Frank Robinson, the Form’s chief clocker at Pimlico, had timed him. I told him that his time made a lot more sense.

Today I am very thankful for all of Leonard Lusky’s perseverance and hard work with the experts he brought with him to the 2012 hearing that left the Maryland Racing Commission with no choice but to look into it, and in the end they saw the proof that Secretariat had actually ran the 1 3/16th mile in 1:53 flat so that Secretariat rightfully was credited with his corrected official time.

I’ve always maintained that Secretariat held the record for all three Triple Crown races, and it took nearly 40 years later, but he finally got the official recognition he so richly deserved.

When asked if we could have run faster, I used the words that Horatio Luro used to tell me when winning a race before another big race coming up. I could have, but in his words, “Ronnie, do not squeeze zee lemon dry.” 


5/14/19 – Preakness: Part I

On Thursday evening, Lucien Laurin called me to tell me that he had changed his mind about working Secretariat six furlongs on Saturday morning as we had planned. Instead he wanted to work him a good 5/8 of a mile on Sunday morning after the track had closed for training. He had obtained permission to work on a freshly arrowed track from Chick Lang, the Pimlico racetrack manager, because there was a contingent that included a New York photographer, sport writers, and of course Dr. Manuel Gilman, who were to be there to measure the length of Secretariat’s stride in comparison to Man o War’s.

Lucien asked me to be there no later than 8:30 or 9 a.m. and to bring his Mercedes down, so I left early Sunday morning. While driving south on the Jersey Turnpike, I looked back in the rearview mirror and I saw a blinking light behind me. I looked at the speedometer, and noticed that I was going over 90 miles an hour. I slowed down, and the trooper, Officer Moos, pulled me over, and said “Lovely morning to you. Where are you going”?

“Pimlico Racetrack — I have to work a horse there this morning and I am running late,” I said.

“Well, get going but back off the pedal, Ron, you’re not on Secretariat this morning,” he said. I just couldn’t remember ever meeting that man before and wondered if he was related to trainer Joe Moos. I found out while at a barbecue later that summer that he was in fact Joe’s brother.

As I got to Pimlico, I went straight to the Jockey’s Room to weigh myself with my exercise saddle and under clothes, galloping boots, jeans, and a light jacket and helmet. The scale read 141 pounds, which was the weight Secretariat was going to carry in his workout. I then went to the barn and handed Eddie Sweat all my tack so he could saddle the horse.

Once on the track, Charlie, on the pony and I on Big Red, went the wrong way to the half mile pole then turned around and galloped to the 7/8th pole, pulled up and walked about 1/8th of a mile before starting to gallop again. I picked up speed to get a good run at the 5/8th pole, and we went the half mile in 45:1/5 seconds, 5/8th in 57:2/5th, galloped out ¾ in 1:10, and pulling up 7/8 under 1:23 (actually just under 1:23) carrying 141 pounds.  They measured his stride at 25 feet for a sprinting stride, which is shorter than a long distance race or working stride. For example, the stride he had in the Belmont going down the backside and around both turns would have measured considerably longer.

On Friday morning I let him breeze from the quarter pole to the 7/8 pole in around 36 seconds to my estimate. He was now as ready as anybody could get him ready to go 1 3/16th mile.

Next week we will go for the ride of a life time you could say. Then again, I had more than one ride of a lifetime on Big Red.


5/7/19 – Many people have asked me throughout the years why I didn’t ride any other races on the cards of the 1972 and 1973 Kentucky Derbies. Well, this is a good question. Maybe a lot people don’t recall that for a few years, the Kentucky Racing Commission had a new rule that I didn’t know about myself. The rule was that any jockey involved in a spill wasn’t going to be allowed to ride in any other races for the rest of that day.

I only learned that after I went to Keeneland Racecourse to ride Riva Ridge in the 1972 Blue Grass Stakes on April 27, 1972. I had a mount in the second or third race and won. While pulling up, my horse had a heart attack and dropped dead under me about 1/16th of a mile past the wire. My foot was stuck in my bended stirrup, and I had to unbuckle the stirrup strap and pull off the saddle before walking back to be weighed. After I got off the scale, the clerk of scales told me that I would be off my mounts for the rest of the day. So I went to the First Aid room to explain that I was fine and what had happened so they sent me to see the stewards, and I had to argue my case that I was not in a spill during the race and I had flown in from New York especially to ride Riva Ridge in the Blue Grass.

They did let me ride and we won but after stopping at the barn, Lucien and Penny asked if I could try not to accept any mounts in any other races on Derby Day, and I thought it was only fair that they wouldn’t have to worry about looking for a new jockey at the last minute if I was to be involved in a spill in an earlier race Derby Day. So we agreed, and we had the same agreement in 1973 with the exemption of Belmont Day because that was my home base, and I had many customers who were running horses there every day. Since I didn’t ride before both Derbies, I walked the track in the morning of the race to get a feel for the surface. I wanted to know the depth of the cushion from the rail to the middle of the track to have a better idea where to try and keep my horse if at all possible. It was all part of being as prepared as I could be. I guess you could say that  jockeys have to make sacrifices too. 5/7/19


4/30/19 – The Road to the Kentucky Derby Part II

I returned to Louisville to work Secretariat before the Derby. After arriving at my hotel, the clerk handed me an important envelope when I checked in. The note stated that I call Lucien’s room right away, which I did. That’s when I heard about a meeting we were to have with Mrs. Tweedy, as Penny was known then.

I was wondering what was wrong. Had Secretariat gotten hurt, or was there any thought of a change of jockey after his Wood Memorial defeat, or had they changed their minds about running in the Derby because I knew that there had been a lot of pressure on [Penny] after the Wood from many of the syndicate members.

So as the elevator doors opened, there was Lucien standing there waiting for me. He said to hold the door and grab my traveling bags. Pushing a floor number, he said, “I called Mrs. Tweedy and told her that we were on our way up, and she is waiting for us.”

As we entered the room, Penny told Lucien to take a chair, and I sat on the bed. And the questions started coming.

“You know, Ronnie, that Secretariat is a Bold Ruler,” Penny said.

“Yes, but he is not your typical Bold Ruler,” I said. “He must be taking after mother’s sire, Princequillo’s side, because he is not speed crazy and can easily be rated without fighting me, and I believe he can run as far as they write races.”

“Well then, you think he can run the one and a quarter Saturday?” Penny asked.

“How do you account for not finishing strong two weeks ago?” Lucien added.

“Well, that wasn’t him that day, he didn’t run his race,” I said tongue in cheek. I couldn’t throw Lucien under the bus, as they say, because I didn’t know how much he told Penny about the abscess, and I didn’t want to get Dr. Gilman in trouble. I was in kind of a bind.

“Ronnie, a lot of people don’t think he can go that far,” Penny said.

“They are not riding. I am, and it’s my belief –” I hesitated.

“Well, we want to know if there is any doubt in your mind,” Penny and Lucien said. “If there is, we want to know.”

I said no, I had no doubts about him running that far.

“Can he win? Because if he runs another bad race, it will be hard to explain why we ran.”

We talked about our chances, and when Penny asked me again if I really thought we could win, that’s when I asked for more time to give them an honest and more definite answer. Because to me, they seemed to be relying on my answers whether to run even after I told them that he would definitely not disgrace himself nor embarrass them. I told them that they would have my answer after I worked him the next morning.

“That’s fair enough,” they said. This all took place on Tuesday evening before his final workout, which was to be Wednesday morning.

 The next morning, Eddie Sweat gave me a leg up on Secretariat, and we went around the shed row a few times. Sweat told me all about the abscess, how it came to a head and how much better Secretariat ate and felt so much like his old self. Then Charlie came with me riding the pony, and he also told me that Secretariat was alright and taking hold of the bit. I then asked if he knew, why didn’t he tell me? He said he and Eddie were following orders.

Lucien told me to do our regular routine of a fast 5/8 mile, and he asked me to jog him back to the clubhouse to give them time to get around to the front side, meaning to the grandstand, to watch Secretariat come down the stretch. That way, he was going to have a better chance to time him because he couldn’t see the wire or finish line from the back side. We left at the same time. I jogged back to the clubhouse then turned around and galloped past the ¾ pole, where I picked up speed and was in full run as I passed the ⅝ pole, then running past the wire flying in 58 seconds. It was exactly what we wanted. We galloped out an extra eighth in better than 12 seconds as told to me by the clocker that stood on the outside fence when I was walking back.

After pulling up to Charlie Davis on the pony Billy Silver, I looked at Charlie and told him, “Come Saturday, we will be at same place we were last year after the 1972 Derby,” meaning the Winner’s Circle.

“See I told you, Ronnie, that he was back to himself,” said Charlie. “He pulled my ass off yesterday. He really took hold of the bit and wanted to go.”

As we got to the barn, Lucien and Penny arrived and they were steaming. I said to Charlie and Sweat, “What’s wrong with them?” Nobody said anything.

As Lucien walk toward me, I walked up to him. “How did he go, Ronnie?”

“Great! How did you clock him?”

“I was locked out and missed the work.”

“What happened?”

“All the gates on the front side were locked.”

Penny looked at me and said, “What do you have to say?”

“It’s a go — I really think we will win,” I said. Then I looked at my watch and told them that I had to rush to the airport so I could get back to New York to fulfill my riding engagement at Aqueduct. As I turned around I hollered at them, “And if you’re afraid of the extra quarter of a mile, I’ll gallop him the first quarter and let him run the last mile. We already know that he can beat all the 3 year olds. See you all Saturday morning.”

I was back at Churchill Downs Derby morning and saw that the track was closed for training, but I wanted to see how the surface was and how deep the cushion was so I walked the track going from the middle to the rail to see the variation in the cushion. Then I returned to the hotel where I had a coffee with Eddie Arcaro and discussed the many Derbies that he had won, and then he said, “I don’t think you can drag a Bold Ruler 1 1/4 mile. Now do you still think you can win?”

I said yes, and he said, “Ride that Big Red SOB the way you like because the only ones I lost was when I followed orders. Don’t listen to anyone, you hear.”

Then I sat on the side of the pool with Jean-Louis Levesques, who owned two shares in Secretariat, and he said he was glad that we were running. Mr. Levesques was a Canadian who owned many horses, and I was always his No. 1 jockey from the time I started riding. He had lots of confidence in me and always called on me to ride his stakes horses, and we won many stakes together.

I returned to the track around one o’clock and watched a few races from different locations to see how horses were running and where the local riders were keeping their horses. Then I went to the Jockey’s Room to take a nap before the race and awoke to a call in which Secretariat finished third. It took me a few seconds to realize that they had been rerunning the prep races on TV, and that made me feel better. I took a deep sigh of relief then went to the sweat box and did about 20 minutes of stretching and mimic riding. I took a cooling shower then got dressed to ride.

We only had about 20 minutes before checking in, and I talked to Bill Nack some. I was very disappointed that he had picked another horse to win and placed us no better than third — even after I had told him that there had been something seriously wrong with Big Red the day of the Wood (without spilling all the beans and getting Lucien and Dr. Gilman in trouble). Then after I passed the scale, I noticed that Bill was on his way out and I told him that I was going to see him in the Winner’s Circle.

I then went down when the call “Riders out!” came and talked to Lucien for a few minutes with his regular order, “Use your best judgment.” We walked around the walking ring once and headed for the racetrack. During the post parade, they played “My Old Kentucky Home,” and most of the horses seemed to react to the music by prancing throughout the parade. We all proceeded to give our horses a light to good warmup according to their needs. In my case, like the previous year with Riva Ridge, both horses only needed a light, long stretching gallop for about a quarter of a mile then walk back to the gate slowly before being loaded.

That afternoon, I knew exactly how I intended to ride Secretariat: Try to break with the field then drop to the inside and only let him go on his own for the first quarter. Then pick up his head and hope we could catch half of the field without using him up and see if I could ease him to the outside for a clear run when I put him in gear to move up on the field and get a good run at the leaders by the time I reached the quarter pole. Then set him down from there to catch the leader.

In the actual race, by the time we reached the sixteenth pole, all went as I planned. I got the lead by the time we were passing the eighth pole, and the Derby was won by then. And what a sense of redemption after that dismal race in the Wood. Secretariat got the race and track record that day, running every quarter faster than the previous and the fastest last quarter in Derby history. That’s how we got the Roses, and that, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story. 


4/23/19 – The Road to the Kentucky Derby Part I: Wood Memorial

On April 7, 1973, Secretariat easily won The Gotham Stakes and equaled the track record with a change in strategy when I decided to put him on the lead for the first time in his career, and he won easy. The whole Secretariat Team was all gung-ho, now knowing we could place him in a more advantageous position during the running of a race, in case the pace was slow and he still could finish strong now. With only one more prep race to run before the Derby, all looked like everything was falling in place beautifully for us to win back-to-backKentucky Derbies.    

The Wood Memorial was to be run at 1 1/8 mile around two turns; it looked pretty easy for us to win when all hell broke loose. Lucien had to return to Florida for his father-in-law’s funeral, and he left orders with the foreman.

And I knew my role but on Wednesday, when I got to the barn to get on Secretariat for our fast 5/8th mile final workout, I was told that the orders had changed and he was not to work for the Wood. I was very disappointed, and I never had a chance to get on him at all before the Wood Memorial itself. He didn’t get his lungs opener for the race.

When Saturday came and I got a leg up on him for the Wood and tied my reins, he was kind of fussy about his head, kinda throwing it around then when we got to the gate, he didn’t like the assistant starter taking hold

of him to load in the gate. When we did get in the gate, he threw his head and broke the gate open and ran through. We had to take him around the back side and reload him. He broke from the gate alright, but he wasn’t his old self and wouldn’t take hold of the bit throughout the race and finished third.

Everybody was saying, “Uh, what now? Do we ship to Kentucky?” I was very puzzled because he never did that before, and I was certainly not to the point of giving up on him.        

When I went to work Secretariat the following Saturday after the Wood in Kentucky and he still wouldn’t take hold of the bit, I told Eddie Sweat, and he only lifted his shoulders like he was saying, “I don’t know.” But I wondered if he was following Lucien’s orders by not saying anything.

I flew back to New York to fulfill my riding engagement and in the Jockey’s Room, ran into Dr. Gilman, who asked me how Secretariat worked. I told him that I didn’t like his work. That’s when he asked me if the abscess inside his upper lip had broken.

“Oh,” I said, “Thank you, Doc! You just solved the mystery, thank you-thank you.”   


4/16/19 – Do you think we’ll ever see another Secretariat? (Lisa, Facebook)

Not in my lifetime, I don’t. To me, he was just the perfect horse. He had it all! He had the temperament, the ability, the soundness, and the versatility. He could run any way you wanted him to. He could run on the lead, come from behind or lay in the middle of the field. He was bold and would come between horses, on the rail or stay lapped on other horses on the outside. I could make more than one run with him like we showed in the Preakness. I asked him to move around the first turn, then once we got to the lead, I took him in hand and he just went to running easy and relaxed until we entered the stretch. When I asked him to ease away from Sham, we just pulled away with ease.

Your average horse has one or two runs in him and you have to be careful not to use it too early. With Secretariat, nobody could predict my strategy; I could really run the race the way it came up. I didn’t need a pace setter. We could set our own pace like we did in the Belmont and the Man O’ War Stakes, where we just played with Tentam, letting him come to us then pulling away, then letting him come again and just pulling away again and again three or four times to discourage him. He could sustain his runs longer than any horse I’ve ever ridden like he did in the Hopeful and Saratoga as a 2 year old. I asked him to run at the half mile pole, and we passed everyone around the turn and kept pulling away in the stretch to win easily.

He could run on a fast track, he could run in the slop or the mud, he could run on the turf whether it was hard, firm, soft or deep turf. You may say I’m prejudiced but of all the great horses I have ridden, he stands out. He was the toughest I’ve ever seen. He could take hard training and even thrived on it. And after 46 years, he still holds all the Triple Crown records. Secretariat loved to compete, and he just loved to run.

I am still in the business on a small scale as I have one in-foal mare, a three year old colt and a four year old filly for racing. I hope I never leave the business of racing.


4/9/19 – Were you disappointed not to have been the jockey on Secretariat’s last race? (Daniel, Facebook)

That was the biggest disappointment of my career; the only satisfaction I had was knowing that Red was as fit as he could be after that record workout I gave him in his final prep on the racetrack where he was to run and that my good friend Eddie Maple was riding him and I could advise him how to handle Secretariat. I knew Eddie would listen and do the right thing. 


4/2/19 – What advice would you give to an aspiring jockey? (Char, Facebook)

Watch other jockeys ride, and don’t be afraid to ask questions because most professional jockeys don’t mind helping young, upcoming young riders. It does help us to help young jockeys because riding with riders who know where they are going makes riding races safer. It’s important that riders can go straight and knowing that all riders can maneuver their mounts makes it a safer ride. When I rode, I always loved to help young jockeys. 


3/26/19 – What were the differences the the styles of Riva Ridge and Red? Did they respond to the whip, or did they both just love to run? (@mickysebastian, Instagram)

Riva Ridge was a great horse who was overshadowed by his superstar stable mate Secretariat., a.k.a. Big Red. They had a lot of similarities: Both could run, both were about the same weight — 1,200 lb. and 16.2 hands high — both were kind, gentle, generous and easy to handle because both were equally intelligent.

But they differed from there. When I started riding Riva Ridge, he was awfully timid and had to be re-schooled to teach him to relax, go between, through on the rail, and not to be afraid of other horses. His natural ability and being light on his feet made him run like a deer, maybe because he was so mature. At 2, he was more like a 3 year old and he did not change much in maturity when he aged from 2 to 3. He could break from the gate very fast and had a lot of speed, but could go short or long distance, because he rated well, never fighting me and never needing much persuasion. Riva Ridge’s only problem was that he could not handle mud and turf (grass). He did finish second on a fast track to Secretariat and Canonero II by a head at 3 while Canonero II was 4. All of his other losses were run either in the mud, grass or off tracks. (Disregard his first two losses; I didn’t ride him then, and if he had been schooled properly, he would not have lost them two.) The only race I lost with him on a fast track was the Haskell in New Jersey and I am still puzzled about that one; according to some, he was doped by someone other than his connections.   

Whereby Secretariat was a freight train once he learned what racing was all about. When we first started to work him with other horses at Hialeah, he was clumsy and couldn’t keep up with the other horses, but it was just a matter of time and patience not hitting him and rushing him, just coaxing him along. Three months later he got his act together and was keeping up with them all, and by the time we moved north to Belmont Park, he could pass every 2 year old we had in the barn. The blinkers didn’t move him up one inch, but he was very heavy headed and had to be held. He hit the ground real hard as a 2 year old until midsummer 1973 and was always looking for support like a strong jockey who could hold his head up. When he had loose reins, he would flounder and just gallop along more at a lesser pace, but once I picked up his head, he really would pick it up and move on withers to improve our position. If it was time go for the money, I knew him like a book, picking his head up and a chirp meant to go faster.  I just loosened up on his head to tell him to relax and hold that spot. Then I would tighten up on the reins for a spurt to get a bit closer. We never had to use the whip on either of them. 


3/19/19 – Can you remember back to your very first stakes win and what race was is it and who was the horse? (@ord_warrior, Instagram)

I won my first stakes race at Woodbine Racetrack in 1962 in Toronto, Canada. I was riding Crafty Lace, a 3 year old in the Breeders’ Stakes, which is the third leg of the Canadian Triple Crown and the equivalent of the Belmont Stakes in the United States. Crafty Lace ended up the Canadian Horse of the Year as well as Champion 3 Year Old for 1962.

Incidentally, his trainer was John J. Mooney, who won the 1924 Kentucky Derby as a jockey with the famous horse Black Gold. Crafty Lace was running in claiming races before Mooney claimed him for $7,500 and made a stakes horse out of him and on to Horse of the Year by winning five consecutive stakes races. I was also Canadian Champion Jockey that year, my first year riding races. 3/19/19


3/12/19 – From Rhonda on Facebook: Mr Turcotte, Do you remember the first ride you took on Secretariat (whether it was in a race or just a morning workout) and if so what do you remember about it or what was your initial impression of him?

The first day after my arrival from spending the Christmas holidays with my family in New Brunswick, Canada, I got up early and went to Hialeah Park, where Lucien Laurin was stabled, to see Riva Ridge — the 1971 champion 2-year-old who was the favorite to win the 1972 Kentucky Derby. I met Lucien in the tack room then walked together down the shed row to check in on Riva Ridge, but a few stalls before we got to Riva something caught my eye like nothing before.

Immediately, I asked Lucien, “Who is that pretty boy?” I had never in my life time seen a 2-year-old with such a large crested neck.

Lucien answered, “Oh that’s a Bold Ruler colt that just came in a few days ago with a bunch of 2 year olds from The Meadow Farm, too good looking to be a good race horse.”

After looking at Riva and talking to Eddie Sweat for a few minutes, Lucien asked me if I was ready to go to work.

“That’s what I’m here for,” I said.

“Well, get your tack and give it to your pretty horse’s groom to put it on and you can get on him and go out with the next set of five horses and then you can tell me what you think of him,” Lucien said.

So I did and just loved the way Secretariat handled and the way he galloped. Nothing skittish about him, not your typical baby looking around and shying from nearly anything that moved around them. I told Lucien that I loved him. “Now if he can only run we’ll have fun.” It was love at first site and touch. 


3/5/19 – From Kim on Twitter: Dear Mr. Turcotte, in the Belmont Stakes, running down the backstretch, Sham got a neck briefly in front of you and Red; my question is did you say anything to Red that made him launch ahead? Did you ‘kiss to him’ or cluck? Or did you just loosen the reins and he knew what to do?

No, I maintained my momentum and left him alone because was in his long ground covering stride, he was doing it easy not fighting me and breathing good so I just left him alone trying not to interfere and throwing him off stride. To me I was not that worried about Sham because he didn’t look like his old self. 



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