Champagne Stakes

October 14, 1972 ~ Champagne ~ 1 mile ~ Belmont Parke

The two-year-old finale of the New York racing season came at Belmont in the Champagne Stakes in mid-October. It was the 101st running of the famous race, and proved to be one of its most memorable. Before the day was over, Secretariat would win the race, and then lose it. A large field of 12 colts was entered for the one-mile Champagne, including: Secretariat; his old rivals Stop the Music and Linda's Chief; and a previously unheralded stablemate of Secretariat's named Angle Light.

While Secretariat settled to the back of the pack at the start, Angle Light lit out for the lead and blazed fast fractions. According to the Daily Racing Form chart caller, Angle Light was "hustled to the front along the inside early" and carved out a blistering pace that took the field the first three-quarters of the mile in a swift 1:09 4/5.

That cooked Angle Light, and all the other front runners, and now it was time for Big Red to do his thing: Here came Secretariat!

The chart caller noted that Secretariat started last in the field of 12. He had been "void of early foot," and had "settled suddenly after a half mile." But then jockey Ron Turcotte called on Secretariat, and the horse began his run.

That run was far from uneventful. According to the chart caller, Secretariat, "circled horses while moving leaving the turn, bore in bumping Stop the Music just inside the final three-sixteenths, was straightened up under left-handed pressure and drew away while being strongly ridden."

A translation of those racing terms: "Bore in" means Secretariat veered toward the rail, where he bumped Stop the Music. Hard bumps that knock a rival off stride are not allowed in horse racing, and sometimes lead to disqualification. On the other hand, horses seldom study the rules of racing and generally a bump or two here or there is viewed as an unavoidable part of racing.

When Secretariat was "straightened up under left-handed pressure," the chart caller was saying jockey Turcotte was engineering a course correction for Secretariat. Turcotte swatted Secretariat with the whip on the horse's left side. That wasn't to punish Secretariat or ask him to run harder, but to encourage him into taking a straight path.

The horse was bearing to his left, bumping into Stop the Music, and Turcotte wanted to steer him to the right, away from the other horse. So he hit the horse on its left side. Think of it this way: You'd head off to the right, too, if a little guy on your back was whipping you on your left side.

Secretariat went on to easily win the race by two lengths over Stop the Music. However the bumping incident DID lead to the disqualification of Secretariat. The Belmont Park "stewards" (the official racing judges at the track) ruled that Secretariat had bothered Stop the Music enough to hinder that horse's chances. Placing Secretariat second behind the horse he had bumped was a routine result of such a foul.

While being placed first was good news for Stop the Music, the disqualification was naturally a disappointment for the folks in Secretariat's camp. Their horse had run strongly, won by two lengths, and hit the wire in a time of 1:35-flat for the mile. But he didn't get credit for his victory.

The season was not through, however, and the principals would meet again down the road.