Secretariat

Jerry B. Jenkins

Jerry B. Jenkins

Editor’s note: Current events create opportunities to write and sell articles. The release of the movie Secretariat reminded Jerry of his fondness for that horse—and that amazing race. What current event triggers ideas for articles you could write to engage the culture? Share your thoughts below and let’s discuss—then go write the article. – Michael Ehret

I caught Secretariat fever in 1973. The massive red racehorse had been Horse of the Year as a two-year-old in 1972, but the next year lost at Aqueduct in the last tune up before the Triple Crown races (The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, and The Belmont Stakes).

When Secretariat then won both the Derby (in a record time that still stands) and The Preakness by two and half lengths over Sham, the horse that had won at Aqueduct, the entire country caught the bug and tuned in for The Belmont Stakes.

That race was the most magnificent performance I have ever seen on television—including the miraculous U.S. hockey victory over the Soviets in the 1980 Olympics.

I confess the memory of that race still brings tears.

Sham was the only horse in the five-horse field expected to challenge Secretariat’s bid for the first Triple Crown in 25 years. The two alternated for the lead all the way to the backstretch when Secretariat seemed to grow impatient with the game.

Big Red (as Secretariat was known) began to pull away. Sham was spent and would fade to last while Secretariat thundered around the far turn, seeming to impossibly accelerate during the last third of the longest of the crown races.

As he lengthened his lead I leaned forward on the couch. Soon I was standing, eyes wide, mouth agape as Secretariat emerged alone around the last turn, continuing to lengthen the distance between him and the other horses.

Horse races are often won by a nose. Clean, easy victories may be by a full length or two. As Secretariat chewed up the ground with 150 strides a minute, his 22-pound heart pumping 75 gallons of blood a minute, he reached nearly 40 miles an hour.

Twelve lengths ahead, now 14, now 18, now 22!

I stood speechless and, yes, weeping, as he continued to fly, now 25 lengths ahead, and finally, at the finish, so far ahead the result had to be measured from the video replay. Turns out he finished 31 lengths ahead of the second place horse. Sham, his greatest rival, finished 45 lengths off.

Major leaguers have pitched perfect games. Batters have hit as many as four homeruns in one game. Wilt Chamberlain once scored 100 points in a basketball game. Jamaican Usain Bolt won a 100-meter Olympic sprint in record time, making the other runners appear as if they were walking.

But nothing I’ve seen compares with watching Secretariat blow away the competition by 31 lengths.

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3 Responses to Secretariat

  1. Wow, Jerry… what a thrilling memory. Thanks for sharing that and for making me want to write about memories triggered by current events and names in the news.

    Blessings,
    Deb Harper
    Craftsman I Grad

  2. Michael Ehret says:

    One huge current event that could generate many articles or opportunities to engage culture is the recent election. Whether you’re cheering or jeering, there’s no debate about the significance of the results.

    Now, ideally, as a writer you would know the election is coming and you would have queried editors with possible reaction pieces in advance.

    Or, you prepared two Letters to the Editor of your newspaper (depending upon the outcome) and would have those ready to submit as soon as the polls closed.

    What else currently going on could be a topic you could pursue with editors?

  3. Carmen says:

    Hi Jerry,
    I too remember the Secretariat race; I was in tenth grade. Long before these events my father was a gambler–let’s face it–and he introduced me to my first horse race on my thirteenth birthday when he brought me to the track and allowed me to pick my favorite horse. I picked a roan and we won $600. Watching the races at my house was as common as black-beans-and-rice for dinner and tantamount to the Yankees and the Dodgers in the World Series–epic. I never quite picked up the gambling habit of my father, but I did retain the love for the beauty of exceptional horse racing. Thanks for your eloquent observations–love your writing.