Secretariat’s Belmont Stakes legacy continues to resonate
by Alicia Hughes
The impact is one that is as obvious as it is enduring, two forces intrinsically linked over the course of five decades and forever captured in celluloid frames memorized even by those who weren’t alive to see it.
At the top of the laundry list of Secretariat’s otherworldly achievements in the thoroughbred industry is the masterclass he conducted over the Belmont Park oval during the final leg of the 1973 Triple Crown. The iconic Bob Coglianese shot of jockey Ron Turcotte peering over his left shoulder to peek at immorality. The final time that is still two seconds faster than any winner of the American Classic has been able to produce since. The 31-length margin that remains the standard by which transcendent equine performances are measured against.
All of the above is why the Belmont Stakes remains the race that is most conjured when Secretariat’s name is mentioned by both novice fans and learned pundits alike. Fittingly, when gauging the breadth and depth of the legacy of one of the greatest racehorses to ever grace the game, it is the 12-furlong contest where Secretariat’s stamina and brilliance continues to dominate the competition.
When the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets is held on June 10, there will be ample reminders of the fact this year marks the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s incomparable Triple Crown sweep that ended a 25-year drought. Once the 1 1/2-mile race has reached its conclusion, however, there is a strong chance the most prominent remembrance of Secretariat’s superiority will come from the winner himself.
Of the three American Classics, Secretariat’s bloodlines have been most prevalent in the winners of the Belmont Stakes over the last few decades. Beginning with 1992 hero A.P. Indy – whose blue hen dam, Weekend Surprise, was by Secretariat – 12 Belmont winners since that time have had Secretariat in the first five generations of their pedigrees, including Tabasco Cat , Commendable , Rags to Riches , Summer Bird , and Union Rags  and 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
If there was a criticism when it came to Secretariat’s aptitude, it was the fact many viewed him as a less-than-stellar sire, a perception due in large part to his own bar of success and the improbable hopes he would somehow have an offspring of his equal. Just as time has continued to mythify his on-track stature, it has also dispelled that notion and instead revealed “Big Red” as one of the most important broodmare sires in decades.
In addition to siring Weekend Surprise, who also produced 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall and was named 1992 Kentucky Broodmare of the Year, Secretariat also sired Terlingua, who went on to produce one of greatest commercial stallions of our time in Storm Cat. Between the enduring impact of Storm Cat and A.P. Indy, the latter being the grandsire of Tapit, who himself already has four Belmont winners, Secretariat’s stamina influence has caught up to the rest of his imposing reputation.
“I mean, it's probably why he's so been successful with his offspring in the Belmont because he was so successful himself. I'm sure there has to be some sort of correlation there,” said Walker Hancock, president of Claiborne Farm, which stood Secretariat at stud until his death in 1989. “I don't think that feat - what he did that day - will ever be replicated again.
“When I was kid, people used to say he was a bad sire because he didn’t live up to expectations. But now that we’re 30 years later, you can see he was actually a very good sire,” Hancock continued. “He was an exceptional broodmare sire. He is obviously known as more of a broodmare sire than a sire of sires, but there is something to be said about him being able to carry on his genetics and his legacy through his daughters.”
Of the 12 Belmont winners that have had Secretariat in the first five generations over the last 31 years, six of those have come in the last nine seasons beginning with 2014 Belmont victor Tonalist – the first of Tapit’s four winners. Tonalist’s triumph was followed by American Pharoah, whose dam Littleprincessemma is a granddaughter of Storm Cat, with Creator and Tapwrit, both sons of Tapit, taking the next two editions of the classic.
Last year’s Belmont Stakes hero Mo Donegal is out of a granddaughter of A.P. Indy while Essential Quality – yet another son of Tapit – prevailed in 2021.
One reason why descendants of Secretariat have dominated the Belmont Stakes the last 10 years in particular may be attributed to the increasing trends of the commercial marketplace. Speed and precocity have become the attributes most sought after by both end users and pinhookers alike in recent times. And while superior talent can carry a horse over a route of ground even if their bloodlines seemingly tap out at or around a mile, the Belmont’s 12-furlong distance offers nowhere to hide for those with stamina shortcomings.
Hence, while many of their brethren hit the wall down the endless stretch of the Elmont, N.Y. track, those contenders who can draw upon the blood of arguably the greatest 12-furlong dirt horse in history enter the starting gate with an automatic check in their favor.
“I think it’s a factor you can definitely attribute his Belmont success to,” Hancock said. “We do breed so much for speed and precocity now that when you have influence like his in terms of stamina, it can’t help but show up in the pedigree after a while if you put so much speed in there. If there is so little stamina left, then it really sticks out with his genetics.”
Of the horses targeting a run in this year’s Belmont Stakes, several top contenders indeed have the benefit of Secretariat’s stamina with them for their marathon journey. The Brad Cox-trained Tapit Shoes, a half-brother to multiple Grade 1-winner Cyberknife, is one of two sons of Tapit among the 10 probable runners.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Tapit Trice, winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass this spring, is also a son of Tapit while his Champion stablemate, Forte, has Secretariat in the first five generations.
Grade 1 Preakness winner National Treasure has Secretariat on top and bottom in his first five generations while expected Belmont entrants Raise Cain and Arcangelo can also trace Big Red back a handful of bloodlines.
“I think pedigree plays a huge part [in Belmont winners],” said Pletcher, who has had the Secretariat influence in three of his four Belmont winners. “With [2007 Belmont winner] Rags to Riches for sure, she was a half-sister to a Belmont winner [Jazil], and it was kind of all over her pedigree. It’s a huge factor and A.P. Indy especially has played a big part in our success.”
Five decades after the fact, no racing image can touch the sight of the red flash with blue and white silks using the largest main track in North America to deliver a command performance for the ages. And 50 years after creating the most indelible of memories in the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat is still muscling his way into the winner’s circle of the “Test of the Champion.”
“He clearly is the king of the Belmont and he’s passed that on to his offspring,” Hancock said. “His daughters have been spectacular producers and, as has been noted, it’s continued on through today with his daughters producing top quality runners. It all goes back to him, and it makes total sense when you look at the pedigrees.”
Early look at the G1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets
Probable: Angel of Empire (Brad Cox – Flavien Prat), Arcangelo (Jena Antonucci – Javier Castellano), Forte (Todd Pletcher – Irad Ortiz, Jr.), Hit Show (Brad Cox – Manny Franco), Il Miracolo (Antonio Sano – Marcos Meneses), National Treasure (Bob Baffert – John Velazquez), Raise Cain (Ben Colebrook – Junior Alvarado), Red Route One (Steve Asmussen – Joel Rosario), Tapit Shoes (Brad Cox – Jose Ortiz), Tapit Trice (Todd Pletcher – Luis Saez)
The Belmont Stakes headlines the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival that features a total of 16 stakes events from Thursday, June 8 through Saturday, June 10. For additional information on the 2023 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival and details on hospitality offerings, ticket packages and pricing, visit BelmontStakes.com.