NEW YORK -- Secretariat, running everyone else into the ground with an eye-popping performance, stamped himself a horse for the ages yesterday when he smashed an American record while winning the $150,200 Belmont Stakes by an unbelievable 31 lengths to capture the first Triple Crown in 25 years.
In 1948, Citation accomplished the feat, but of Secretariat his trainer, Lucien Laurin, said, "I think he's a better horse. "
Of his unprecedented performance, Secretariat very well may be that. No horse in the previous 104 runnings of this classic ever won the Belmont by such a large margin, and Secretariat's clocking of 2:24 flat set a record for the IVi-mile distance.
The previous American record of 2:26 1-5 was set by Going Abroad at Aqueduct Oct. 12, 1964. The fastest 1 1/2 mile ever run was a 2:23, performance by Fiddle Isle at Santa Anita Feb. 23, 1970, but that was on a downhill turf course.
"I wondered a bit when I saw those early fractions, wondered if he was going too fast," Laurin said. "But I told myself that Ronnie (jockey Ron Turcotte) knows the horse and that made me feel better.
"I felt better all through the stretch when he was drawing out and still running like a gem."
As the huge crowd of 69,138 fans cheered their favorite on a sunny, 90-degree day. Secretariat never let up, easily breaking the stakes record of 2:26 3-5 set in 1957 by Gallant Man.
This renewal of the final event in the Triple Crown series was a two-horse race, but only for half its distance. Secretariat, who set a track record in winning the Kentucky Derby by 2 1/2 lengths and then unofficially was credited with one in winning the Preakness Stakes by the same margin, battled arch rival Sham in the early stages of the event.
For the first half mile Secretariat and Sham, who was second in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, battled head and head. The two horses matched stride for stride until they were almost halfway down the back-stretch.
Then Secretariat relentlessly left Sham behind. He was a length ahead, two lengths ahead, seven lengths ahead, and the huge crowd roared its approval. As Secretariat steamed around the final bend, Sham gave up in exhaustion and eventually finished fifth in the field of five.
Unbelievably, Secretariat continued to widen the gap over the struggling field.
Twice a Prince, the longest shot in the field, managed to take second place by half a length over My Gallant, but it was as though they were in an entirely different horse race. They had just about passed the 16th pole when Secretariat blazed to turf immortality.
Throughout racing history only eight other horses had won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. And not even such a turf immortal as mighty Count Fleet had been able to complete his sweep of the Triple Crown with the power and majesty of Secretariat.
Count Fleet won his Belmont Stakes in 1943 by 25 lengths and that effort was even better than Man O' War's 20-length triumph in 1920. Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Assault and Citation also won the Triple Crown.