After his 31-length runaway in the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat had achieved rock star status in the United States. Not only did he become the first U.S. Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948, Secretariat delivered one of horse racing’s most indelible moments while “moving like a tremendous machine” to complete the sweep in the June 9 Belmont in a record-setting 2:24 for 1 ½ miles.
“We knew we had a horse who on his best day was 10 lengths better than any other horse in the race,” owner Penny Chenery told Bill Christine in a story for a 2010 commemorative Secretariat magazine. “He and Sham were together on the first turn, but you never had the feeling our horse was pressured. Secretariat was running just for the joy of it that day.”
Secretariat became not only the most famous racehorse in the world but arguably the most famous athlete from any sport. He had captured the imagination of millions of people and made the June 11 cover of TIME magazine.
Needless to say, racetracks across the United States were jockeying to get “Big Red” to race at their venue knowing he would be retired after his 1973 season.
Horse racing’s superstar made his first post-Triple Crown start on June 30 at Arlington Park in the $125,000 Arlington Invitational Stakes.
The 1 1/8-mile race restricted to 3-year-olds drew only three other horses as Secretariat scared off most of the competition, but Arlington drew 41,223 fans eager to see “Big Red” in the flesh.
He was such an overwhelming favorite that Arlington allowed only win betting that day and the other three runners — Our Native, Blue Chip Dan, and My Gallant — were coupled. The choices were Secretariat or the field and the Arlington fans made “Big Red” a 1-20 favorite.
Secretariat did not disappoint. He led by three lengths after the opening quarter-mile and coasted to a nine-length victory in 1:47, a fifth of a second off the track record.
Secretariat would race five more times in 1973, including a pair of turf races to cap his historic 3-year-old campaign, but Arlington Park hosted his first start as a Triple Crown winner and “Big Red” made sure it was a race those in attendance would never forget.