Secretariat a Source of Inspiration in Tumultuous Times

Owner Penny Chenery, left, with Secretariat after he won the 1973 Kentucky Derby on his way to a sweep of the Triple Crown. (BloodHorse Library/Churchill Downs)

On June 11, 1973, Time magazine selected Secretariat for its cover.  It was tumultuous times in America when the June 11 issue reached newsstands prior to his Triple Crown bid in the 1973 Belmont Stakes on June 9. 

Readers of the magazine were moved to respond and Time printed several of the letters to the editor in their July 3 issue.

One reader wrote: “Thank goodness!. Finally, a cover that shows intelligence, sensitivity and beauty – and has no relation to the Watergate situation.  And who can question the honesty of Secretariat’s face?”

Another reader provided this interesting take: “The ‘designer’ of this great horse is my nominee for the Nobel Prize in Genetics.”

And to top it off, one subscriber offered, “This letter will be postmarked before the running of the Belmont Stakes. Secretariat will lose, I am sorry to say, because he has just appeared on the cover of Time.”

The editor’s response was short and simple: “Ha.”

Courtesy of

Later that year, President Richard Nixon himself would be given a shoe of the champion. Following Secretariat's victory in the 1973 Triple Crown, two of the shoes worn by Secretariat on Nov. 18, 1972, in the richest 2-year-old stakes at the time, the Garden State Stakes, were mounted and framed by Secretariat's exercise rider, Jim Gaffney. Gaffney presented then-President Richard Nixon, a big sports fan, with one of the shoes and Nixon wrote back to Gaffney on official White House letterhead, thanking Gaffney for the unique addition to his collection of mementos.

Art Buchwald, the syndicated columnist, had a different present for Nixon in June of 1973, public advice in one of his columns: “If President Nixon would appoint Secretariat to an important position in the White House, he would be going a long way toward his promise of cleaning house and restoring the image of the Presidency.”

“When I suggested my idea to friends in the White House press corps,” Buchwald concluded, “they were quite skeptical that Secretariat could restore faith in the Presidency.  One said, ‘We’ve had horses in the White House before.’

“Aha,” Buchwald replied. “But this one has a head.”

The shoe given to Nixon now resides in the collection of the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, Calif. The other is currently on display at the Kentucky Derby Museum accompanied by a personal letter of gratitude from the president to Gaffney. 

Jim Gaffney was intimately involved with the day-to-day activities of Secretariat for over 13 months and his experiences with Secretariat are chronicled and verified in chapter 10 of William Nack's book, "Secretariat, The Making of a Champion," published in 1975, as well as Raymond Woolfe's book, "Secretariat," published in 1974. Mr. Gaffney held Secretariat whenever he was shod and began acquiring the shoes of the great champion. The shoe was obtained in November 1972 when Secretariat was re-shod, after Secretariat won the Garden State Stakes, his final start as a 2-year old. Perhaps the most important race in Secretariat's juvenile season, his 3 ½ length victory in the lucrative race cemented his 1972 Horse of the Year award. 

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