Ohio Equestrian Directory 2020 Issue

Page 42

2020 FE AT U R E

Secretariat, TWICE the Heart Veterinarian Swerczek Shares the Untold Story by Mandy Boggs


early everyone has felt it. The beat of one’s heart pounding inside their chest with a momentary pause before exhaling, as if it is the first time witnessing the iconic moment in history. The emergence of tears cascading down a cheek, while being completely immersed in disbelief despite knowing the outcome. You have seen the footage before, yet watching the greatest Thoroughbred race in history never ceases to take one’s breath away. The famous lines from CBS television announcer, Chic Anderson, “Secretariat is widening now! He is moving like a tremendous machine!” his incredulity transcending through time as he bellows, “Secretariat by 12, Secretariat by 14 lengths… an unbelievable, an amazing performance!” Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, on June 9th, 1973, obliterating track records and claiming the Triple Crown title for the first time in 25 years. It wasn’t until his death on October 4, 1989 when perhaps one of the biggest secrets to Secretariat’s success was discovered. While many are aware of the discovery of Secretariat’s abnormally large heart, only a glimpse of that historic day and what inspired a lifetime of his legacy has been told. Thomas Swerczek, DVM, Ph.D., performed the necropsy (an autopsy performed on an animal) on Secretariat shortly after he was euthanized. Dr. Swerczek shares the untold story of that day and one of the most incredible discoveries of his career. Secretariat’s life is more than just the story of a racehorse. He inspired millions, shattered the dark clouds hovering over the U.S. during the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War, with his almost godlike presence casting an extraordinary copper light of hope with every thundering step he took. The gift Secretariat shared with the world for all nineteen years of his life could not be ignored. A horse whose story began with the flip of a coin and a woman trying to preserve her ailing father’s legacy, galvanized an entire country into devoted patriotic fans of horse racing. Secretariat was foaled on March 30th, 1970 at The Meadow Farm in Virginia. Penny Chenery left her life in Denver, Colorado in an attempt to save her ill father’s farm, despite



Secretariat with Jockey, Ron Turcotte, Groom, Eddie Sweat and owner, Penny Chenery - Man O' War Stakes, 1973

her family’s suggestion of selling off the farm and moving on. Unsure if the foal she now owned would ever be a winner, Penny acquired Secretariat in a coin toss, dividing up the potential offspring with mares bred to his sire, Bold Ruler. Secretariat was a massive colt, quick to stand and nurse with a presence about him that captivated everyone at the farm from the very beginning. It has been said that Penny kept notes on their horses and foals. The note next to Secretariat’s name was simply, “Wow!’ Many would agree, Penny was the perfect owner for Secretariat. Her almost “First Lady” persona in the racing world quickly seduced thousands of new fans to the sport, becoming infatuated with Secretariat and his story. Lucien Laurin, Secretariat’s trainer, was on the brink of retirement when he joined Penny, soon clinching five of six consecutive Triple Crown wins between Secretariat and stablemate, Riva Ridge. Ron Turcotte, the jockey that basked in victory atop Secretariat’s Triple Crown wins, grew up in Canada working as a lumberjack with his father. While many have said Secretariat may have won no matter who was aboard, it seems

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