Superstar Secretariat Goes Out a Winner in Canadian International

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Secretariat, 1973 Canadian International, Woodbine, Michael Burns
Secretariat winning the 1973 Canadian International at Woodbine in his final start. (BloodHorse/Michael Burns-Woodbine)

Secretariat’s transfer to the turf was a monumental success as he smashed the Belmont Park course record for 1 ½ miles when winning the Man o’ War Stakes by five lengths Oct. 8, 1973.

Before being retired to stallion duty at Claiborne Farm, Secretariat would run once more. Mulling over her options, Meadow Stable owner Penny Chenery Tweedy selected the Canadian International Championship Stakes Oct. 28, 1973, at Woodbine outside Toronto.

Several factors played into her choice. Man o’ War himself, to whom Secretariat was being compared as the greatest Thoroughbred of all time, had finished his career in Canada. Secretariat’s trainer, Lucien Laurin, and regular rider, Ron Turcotte, were Canadians. And E. P. Taylor, the most well-known horseman north of the border, had been a friend and adviser to Mrs. Chenery.

“I thought it was suitable that these two Canadians [Laurin and Turcotte] have the chance to race him in Canada,” Chenery said in 2013 when reflecting upon the season. “The fans were so wonderful and appreciative. It was a grandstanding move that worked.”

Not all of that would work out quite as planned. Turcotte, who had ridden Secretariat 18 times in a row beginning with his third lifetime start, had a filly he was riding taken down in New York for interfering with another runner. He went to Ontario to work Secretariat before the International, getting the usual five-eighths blowout in a perky 56 seconds and change, according to a local clocker who told Turcotte he’d never seen a horse run that well. Turcotte found out right after that workout that he’d been suspended by the stewards in New York. He flew back, but his arguments fell on deaf ears, and Turcotte would not get the chance to ride Secretariat in his home country.

The mount went to Eddie Maple, who had ridden Meadow Stable’s Riva Ridge in the Marlboro Cup Handicap a month earlier, and had watched Secretariat blow by him in the stretch.

“I knew what I was getting ready to ride,” said Maple of Secretariat 40 years later. “I had been working Riva before that race and thought I was going to upset the whole thing. We got a great trip in the Marlboro, and I still couldn’t beat Secretariat. As good as Riva was doing right then, that was the clincher for me. I was thrilled to get to ride him.”

Turcotte was present at Woodbine, and got to talk with Maple before the International. 

“I told Eddie to leave him alone and pick his head up when he wanted him to go,” Turcotte said. 

Eleven foes lined up inside Secretariat for the 1 5/8-mile test on firm turf, including top Canadian runners such as Kennedy Road and Big Spruce. 

“Being on the outside, I had the chance to look and see if there was any speed,” said Maple. “Kennedy Road went out, and I was happy to have somebody to follow. I wasn’t worried about too much. If Secretariat ran his race, he was probably going to beat up on them pretty bad.”

Secretariat raced patiently in second behind Kennedy Road for the first mile. With a little more than a half-mile to run Kennedy Road began tiring and drifting out. He brushed against Secretariat as the big red horse was making his move to the lead.

“That was his cue [getting bumped], more than anything I did,” recalled Maple. “I kind of steered him away from that horse.”

Secretariat opened a 12-length advantage turning into the stretch, and Maple had just one more concern.

“The toteboard was so bright, I thought I’d better get him ready for that,” said the rider. “I hit him three times and chirped to him when we got to where he could see the toteboard, and from there to the wire it was a hand ride.”

Secretariat hit the line 6 1/2 lengths in front of Big Spruce in 2:41 4/5, ending his career stylishly.

“He was a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” said Turcotte. “I’ve never seen a horse before or since that was better. Eddie Arcaro rode Kelso and Citation and told me Secretariat was the best he’d ever seen.”

For Chenery, the joy of winning in Canada was soon replaced by the realization that this good thing was coming to an end.

“I was so sad going on the plane with him to Kentucky,” she said. “Of course, I wanted another year with him, but I knew what the contract said. You say to yourself it happened once, it could happen again. But I’ve had a lot of years to realize, ‘no.’

“But it’s good to tell the story again for the people who saw him and understand, and for the new people hearing it.”

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