Secretariat was the son of Bold Ruler (a grandson of Nearco) out of Somethingroyal. He was born at Meadow Farm in Caroline County, Virginia. Owned by Penny Chenery (aka Penny Tweedy), he was trained by Canadian Lucien Laurin and ridden by fellow Canadian jockey Ron Turcotte. He raced in Penny Chenery's Meadow Stable's blue and white checkered silks. He was approximately 16.2 hands tall.
In 1968, Chenery sent two mares named Hasty Matelda and Somethingroyal to Bold Ruler, and in 1969, a colt and filly were the result. In 1969, Hasty Matelda was replaced by Cicada, but she did not conceive. Only one foal resulted between Bold Ruler and Somethingroyal. As stated in the original agreement, the winner of the coin toss could pick the foal he wanted but could only take one, while the loser would get the other two. Both parties assumed Somethingroyal would deliver a healthy foal in the spring of 1970. The coin toss between Penny Chenery and Ogden Phipps was held in the fall of 1969 in the office of New York Racing Association Chairman Alfred Vanderbilt II, with Hancock as witness. Phipps won the toss and took the weanling filly out of Somethingroyal, leaving Chenery with the colt out of Hasty Matelda and the unborn foal of Somethingroyal.
On March 30, at 12:10 a.m., Somethingroyal foaled a bright red chestnut colt with three white socks and a star with a narrow blaze. By the time the colt was a yearling, he was still unnamed. Meadow Stables' secretary, Elizabeth Ham, had submitted 10 names to the Jockey Club, all of which were denied for various reasons. Approval finally came with the 11th submission, a name Ham herself picked from a previous career association, Secretariat.
On July 4, 1972, Secretariat finished fourth, beaten 1 1/4 lengths, in his first race at Aqueduct Racetrack when he was impeded at the start, forced to take up on the backstretch and then could not make up the ground. After that loss, Secretariat then won 5 races in a row, including three important two-year-old stakes races, the Sanford Stakes and Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, and the Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park. In the Hopeful, he made a huge move, passing 8 horses in 1/4 mile to take the lead and then drawing off to win by 5 lengths. He then ran in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont, where he finished first but was disqualified and placed second for bearing in and interfering with Stop the Music, who was declared the winner.
Secretariat avenged that loss in the Laurel Futurity, winning by 8 lengths over Stop the Music, and completed his season with a win in the Garden State Futurity. He was named Horse of the Year at two, only the third two-year-old to win the honor (after Native Dancer in 1952 and Moccasin in 1965). Only one horse since then, Favorite Trick in 1997, has won that award as a two-year-old. Secretariat also won the Eclipse Award for champion two-year-old.
Secretariat started off his three-year-old year with an easy win in the Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct. In his next start, the Gotham Stakes, Secretariat led wire-to-wire for the first time in his career. He ran the first 3/4 of mile in 1:08 3/5 and finished the one mile race in 1:33 2/5, equalling the track record. However, in his next start, he finished third in the Wood Memorial to his stablemate Angle Light and Santa Anita Derby winner Sham, in their final prep race for the Kentucky Derby.
The time of the race was controversial. The infield teletimer displayed a time of 1:55. The track's electronic timer had malfunctioned because of damage caused by members of the crowd crossing the track to reach the infield. The Pimlico Race Course clocker, E.T. McLean Jr., announced a hand time of 1:54 2/5. However, two Daily Racing Form clockers claimed the time was 1:53 2/5 which would have broken the track record (1:54 by Cañonero II). Tapes of Secretariat and Cañonero II were played side by side by CBS and Secretariat got to the finish line first on tape, though this is not a reliable method of timing a horse race. The Maryland Jockey Club, which managed the Pimlico racetrack and is responsible for maintaining Preakness records, discarded both the electronic and Daily Racing Form times and recognized 1:54 2/5 as the official time. However, the Daily Racing Form, for the first time in history, printed its own clocking of 1:53 2/5 next to the official time in the chart of the race.
Subsequently, Tank's Prospect (1985), Louis Quatorze (1996), and Curlin (2007) have all run 1:53 2/5, equaling the time attributed to Secretariat by the Daily Racing Form. Farma Way won the 1991 Pimlico Special in 1:52 2/5, setting the current track record.
Only four horses joined Secretariat for the June 9, 1973, running of the Belmont Stakes, including Sham, who had finished second in both the Derby and Preakness, along with three other horses thought to have little chance by the bettors, Twice A Prince, My Gallant, and Private Smiles. With so few horses in the race, and with Secretariat expected to win, no "show" bets were taken. Before a crowd of 67,605, Secretariat and Sham set a fast early pace, opening ten lengths on the rest of the field. After the 6 furlong mark, Sham began to tire, ultimately finishing last. Secretariat astonished spectators by continuing on the fast pace and opening up a larger and larger margin on the field. In the stretch, Secretariat opened a 1/16 mile lead on the rest of the field. At the finish, he won by 31 lengths (breaking the margin-of-victory record set by Triple Crown winner Count Fleet, who won by 25 lengths) and ran the fastest 1 1/2 miles on dirt in history, 2:24 flat, which broke the stakes record by more than 2 seconds. Secretariat's world record still stands, and in fact, no other horse has ever broken 2:25 for 1 1/2 miles on dirt. If the Beyer Speed Figure calculation had been developed during that time, Andrew Beyer calculated that Secretariat would have earned a figure of 139, one of the highest figures he has ever assigned. Bettors holding 5,617 winning parimutuel tickets on Secretariat never redeemed them, presumably keeping them as souvenirs.
Secretariat became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years and the 9th in history.
Secretariat never duplicated his Belmont Stakes performance but continued to run impressively after the Triple Crown. He shipped to Chicago and easily won the Arlington Invitational at Arlington Park. He went to Saratoga, long known as the "graveyard of favorites", and succumbed to the jinx, losing the Whitney Stakes to the Allen Jerkens-trained Onion by a length. He then won the inaugural Marlboro Cup against a field that included Secretariat's stablemate, the 1972 Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Riva Ridge, top California stakes winner Cougar II, Canadian champion Kennedy Road, Onion, Travers winner Annihilate 'Em, and 1972 American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse, Key to the Mint. Secretariat ran 1:45 2/5 for 1 1/8 miles, a world record at the time.
Secretariat suffered another loss to an Allen Jerkins trainee, Prove Out, by 4 1/2 lengths in the one and 1 1/2 mile Woodward Stakes in his next start. Secretariat then tried grass for the first time in the Man o' War Stakes and won by five lengths over Tentam, setting a still standing track record time of 2:24 4/5.
Altogether, Secretariat won 16 of his 21 career races, with three seconds and one third, for an in the money finish in 20 of 21 starts, and total earnings of $1,316,808.
He also sired General Assembly, who won the 1979 Travers Stakes at Saratoga while setting a still-standing race record of 2:00 flat. Andrew Beyer has said that General Assembly's speed figure in that race was one of the fastest in history. Like Secretariat in the Belmont, General Assembly never duplicated that performance in another race.
There has been some criticism of Secretariat as a stallion, due in part to his perceived inability to produce offspring of his same caliber. His expensive syndication deal, perhaps, raised unrealistic expectations. Ultimately, he sired as many as 600 foals during his retirement. Though his blood flows through other notable racehorses---including (especially) 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, Secretariat turned out to be a noted broodmare sire, being the broodmare sire of 1992 Horse of the Year and successful sire A.P. Indy, Secretariat's grandson through his daughter Weekend Surprise, who was sired by another Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew. AP Indy is the sire of 2007 Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches, the first filly to win at Belmont since 1905. Secretariat is also the dam-sire of the great stallions Storm Cat (by Storm Bird), through his daughter Terlingua, herself an excellent racemare, and of Gone West, through his daughter Secrettame.
In the fall of 1989, Secretariat was afflicted with laminitis, a painful and often incurable hoof condition. When his condition failed to improve, he was euthanized on October 4 at the age of 19. Popular as a Triple Crown champion and in retirement alike, Secretariat was mourned by millions and buried at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky, given the rare honor of being buried whole; usually only the head, heart and hooves of a winning race horse are buried, the rest cremated.
ESPN listed Secretariat 35th of the 100 greatest athletes of the 20th century, the highest of three non-humans on the list (the other two were also racehorses: Man o'War #84, Citation #97). Secretariat was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1974, the year following his Triple Crown.
In 2005, Secretariat appeared once more in ESPN Classic's show Who's No. 1?. In the list of "Greatest Sports Performances" (by individual athletes), the horse was the only non-human on the list, his run at Belmont ranking second behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game.
On May 2, 2007 Secretariat was inducted in the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, marking the first time an animal received this honor.