Friday, May 5 marked the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s record-breaking victory at the Kentucky Derby. To mark the occasion, I decided to replay the race using the APBA American Saddle Racing game1Which has been out of print for more than 30 years. It’s available on the secondary market, but isn’t cheap..
I was just a kid in 1973, and had little inkling about or interest in sports, but I remember “Secretariat” became shorthand for “something moving very fast,” as in my mom saying, “Whoa, there, slow down, Secretariat,” were I to be running dangerously around the house2As we lived in eastern Pennsylvania and Nazareth was not far away, “Mario Andretti” was also suitable shorthand for speed demons..
Thirteen horses started the ninth race at Churchill Downs on May 5, 1973, but only 10 earned cards in the 1973 APBA set. (APBA carded 112 horses each year from the 1969 set through 1987, after which it discontinued the game because of low sales. There were always a few horses who ran in important races who didn’t get cards.) It’s just as well, as the game’s “track” can only handle 10 horses across.
In my replay, Secretariat went off as the 1-5 favorite out of the seventh starting position. There were some other interesting horses in the field, including Sham, who was an outstanding horse in his own right, but had the misfortune to turn three the same year as “Big Red.” Sham’s odds, 7-2, were the second-best in the field, while Angle Light at 9-1 was the longest shot.
With a record crowd of 134,476 on hand and millions watching on CBS, here’s how the replay played out:
(Top left) Secretariat burst out of the gate into the early lead. Ron Turcotte didn’t take him straight to the rail, but got out in front and THEN headed inward. Eight-to-one shot Restless Jet grabbed the lead and (top right) was three lengths ahead of Shecky Green and Sham. A half-mile in, Secretariat started to make a move on the outside (bottom left). It was still Restless Jet, Shecky Greene, Sham and Secretariat up front on the back stretch (bottom right), but Shecky Greene could feel Secretariat right there and charging.
(Top) Coming at you on the back stretch at Churchill Downs are Restless Jet (red), Shecky Greene (gray) and Secretariat (black), with Sham six lengths back. (Bottom left) Big Red closed to within two lengths as they approached the mile marker and (bottom right) went in front as Restless Jet fell back. Down the stretch it was Secretariat by three lengths over Shecky Greene.
(Top) Secretariat headed to the wire with a six-length lead, and (bottom) won by three lengths3Secretariat’s actual victory was by two and a half lengths in 1973. over Restless Jet and Sham in a time of 2:01 4/5, a little over two seconds off his record-breaking time in real life.
A couple better dice rolls might have gotten him there. Secretariat’s dice rolls were 16, 13, 54, 54, 56, 66, 33, 15, 43 and 23. (The 66 and 33 – both 1s – enabled him to take the lead.) There were three 66s in 100 dice rolls in the race, which is about right.
This was super fun, and I look forward to replaying the 1973 Preakness and Belmont to see if Secretariat can pull off the Triple Crown again, 50 years later.
Here’s the (slightly modified) form for the race replay:
Kentucky Derby (9th race at Churchill Downs) 5/5/1973 [RUN 5/4/2023] 1 1-4 MILES (Arts and Letters, May 3, 1969, 1:58 2/5, 3, 126) TRACK CONDITIONS: Fast PP Horse (Rtg) Jockey (Rtg) Odds Fin Time 7 Secretariat (25) Ron Turcotte (2) 1-5 1 2:01 4/5 1 Restless Jet (13) Michael Hole (1) 8-1 2 2:03 3 Sham (20) Lafitt Pincay, Jr. (4) 7-5 3 2:03 1/5 7 Forego (23) Pete Anderson (0) 2-1 4 2:05 9 Shecky Greene (22) Larry Adams (0) 11-2 5 2:05 5 Our Native (19) Donald Brumfield (1) 7-2 6 2:06 3/5 2 Angle Light (15) John LeBlanc (0) 9-1 7 2:08 10 My Gallant (18) Braulio Baeza (1) 3-1 8 2:08 2/5 6 Royal and Regal (16) Walter Blum (1) 9-2 9 2:11 4 Twice a Prince (16) Angel Santiago (0) 6-1 10 2:11 1/5 $2 Mutuel Prices: 7 - Secretariat $2.40 $2.40 $2.20 1 – Restless Jet $4.40 $2.80 4 – Sham $2.60 IN GATE – 5:37. OFF AT 5:37 EDT. Start good. Won driving. REAL LIFE WINNER: Secretariat (1:59 2/5)