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Secretariat’s Speed: The Fastest Triple Crown Champion?

Last updated: January 17, 2024

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Did you know that Secretariat, often hailed as the greatest racehorse of all time, still holds the fastest times in all three Triple Crown races, a feat unmatched for nearly half a century? As an avid equestrian and seasoned racehorse owner, I’ve witnessed firsthand the extraordinary capabilities and enduring legacies that such champions leave behind.

In this article, we delve into the heart of a question that has captivated horse racing enthusiasts for decades: Was Secretariat the fastest horse to ever race? Our journey will take us through a detailed exploration of Secretariat’s remarkable racing career.

We’ll analyze his record-breaking performances, dissect the factors contributing to his legendary speed, and compare his achievements with those of other racing icons. This isn’t just a story about speed; it’s a tribute to a horse whose hoofbeats still echo in the annals of horse racing history. Join me as we unravel the mystery and majesty of Secretariat’s legacy, understanding what truly made him a giant among racehorses.

Picture of a statute of Secretariat, in the walking ring at Belmont Park.
Statute of Secretariat in the walking ring at Belmont Park.

Secretariat’s Racing Career: An Overview

Secretariat’s career was a display of unparalleled excellence and a testament to the spirit of horse racing. His legacy continues to inspire and captivate the hearts of racing fans around the world. Here’s a snapshot of Secretariat’s illustrious racing career:

  • Early Promise:
    • Debut: Began racing as a two-year-old in 1972, showing early signs of greatness.
    • First Major Win: Broke his maiden in his second start, hinting at the extraordinary career ahead.
  • Rise to Fame:
    • 1972: Dominated the two-year-old season, earning the rare distinction of Horse of the Year.
    • Key Races: Won important races like the Laurel Futurity and Garden State Futurity.
  • Triple Crown Glory (1973):
    • Kentucky Derby: Set a still-unbroken record of 1:59 2/5, a feat never achieved before.
    • Preakness Stakes: Displayed stunning speed, officially timed at 1:53 after a timing controversy.
    • Belmont Stakes: Achieved an awe-inspiring 31-length victory in a record time of 2:24, a performance often described as the greatest in horse racing history.
  • Record-Breaking Performances:
    • Unmatched Speed: Holds the fastest times in all three Triple Crown races.
    • Enduring Records: His records in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes still stand today.
  • Retirement and Legacy:
    • Final Race: Concluded his career with a victory in the Canadian International in 1973.
    • Lasting Impact: Left a legacy as one of the greatest racehorses, influencing breeding lines and racing standards for generations to come.

Here is a chart showcasing Beyer Speed Figures, which illustrates Secretariat’s supremacy in horse racing. This representation highlights his exceptional performance and underscores his legendary status among the greats of the sport.


The Kentucky Derby Race: Courtesy:

Analysis of Secretariat’s Racing Performance

Triple Crown 1973

Kentucky Derby: Secretariat’s Kentucky Derby run in 1:59 2/5 was not just a record; it was a groundbreaking moment in horse racing. He shattered the two-minute barrier, a feat that many thought impossible at the iconic distance of 1¼ miles. This performance set a high bar for speed and agility in thoroughbred racing.

Preakness Stakes: In the Preakness Stakes, Secretariat’s 1:53 finish was initially mired in controversy due to timing issues. However, this time was later confirmed, solidifying his reputation for exceptional speed. His ability to accelerate and maintain a lead in this 1 3/16 miles race was a display of his extraordinary racing prowess.

Belmont Stakes: The Belmont Stakes saw Secretariat’s most legendary performance, completing the 1½ miles in 2:24. His 31-length victory is not just a record; it’s a symbol of racing dominance, showcasing his unparalleled stamina and speed.

Notable Races

  • Canadian International: Secretariat’s victory in the Canadian International was a fitting conclusion to his racing career. Winning this 1 5/8 mile turf race demonstrated his adaptability and excellence on different surfaces, further cementing his legacy.
  • Man O’ War Stakes: The Man O’ War Stakes victory highlighted Secretariat’s versatility. His performance in this 1½ miles turf race added another dimension to his capabilities, proving his dominance across different racing conditions.
  • Marlboro Cup: The Marlboro Cup win was a part of Secretariat’s impressive series of victories after his Triple Crown triumph. This race, where he competed against older horses, showcased his ability to maintain top form and compete at the highest level beyond the Triple Crown races.

Speed Records

Fastest Triple Crown Winner: Secretariat’s cumulative times in the Triple Crown races set a standard that remains unmatched. His combined performances in these races reflect not just speed but a consistent excellence rarely seen in the sport.

Comparative Analysis with Contemporary Racehorses

When comparing Secretariat’s records to those of modern racehorses, it’s essential to consider the advancements in training, breeding, and technology that have shaped today’s horse racing landscape.

Keen Ice

American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes by Jlvsclrk, CC BY-SA 4.0

Secretariat vs. Modern Champions:

American Pharoah (2015 Triple Crown Winner): While American Pharoah captured the Triple Crown after a 37-year drought, his times in individual races did not surpass Secretariat’s. For instance, American Pharoah’s Belmont Stakes winning time was 2:26.65, compared to Secretariat’s 2:24.

Justify (2018 Triple Crown Winner): Justify, another recent Triple Crown winner, showcased incredible talent but still fell short of Secretariat’s record times. Justify’s Kentucky Derby time was 2:04.20, significantly slower than Secretariat’s 1:59 2/5.

Picture of Man o War  winning the Stuyvesent Handicap June 22, 1920
Man o War winning the Stuyvesent Handicap June 22, 1920

Overview of Other Historical Racehorses

The collection of great racehorses is vast, and several names stand out as contenders for the title of the fastest horse:

  • Man o’ War: Often considered one of the greatest racehorses in American history, Man o’ War’s powerful strides and impressive wins earned him a lasting legacy. Read more about Man o’ War
  • Seattle Slew: The 1977 Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew’s flawless racing season and incredible speed made him a standout.
  • Winning Brew: Holding the Guinness World Record for speed, Winning Brew’s record places her in a unique category.

These and other legendary horses have shaped the sport and offer intriguing comparisons to Secretariat.

Comparison of Records and Racing Times

Analyzing the records and racing times of these horses against Secretariat’s accomplishments reveals an intricate picture:

  • Man o’ War vs. Secretariat: Though racing in different eras, both horses displayed dominance. Man o’ War won 20 of his 21 races, while Secretariat’s Triple Crown victory stands as a pinnacle achievement.
  • Seattle Slew vs. Secretariat: Seattle Slew’s perfect season and Triple Crown win place him in close contention with Secretariat, though differences in tracks and competition add complexity to the comparison. Learn more about Seattle Slew
  • Winning Brew vs. Secretariat: Winning Brew’s speed record makes for an interesting debate, but comparing a short-distance record to Secretariat’s longer races is not straightforward.

Summary of the Evidence for and Against Secretariat Being the Fastest Horse

  • For Secretariat: His Triple Crown victory, with record-breaking times that still stand, is a testament to his extraordinary speed. The raw power, grace, and sheer dominance he displayed in his races are unassailable evidence of his greatness.
  • Against Secretariat: The emergence of contemporary racehorses and advancements in training and technology has challenged his records. The recognition of other horses like Winning Brew for their speed further muddles the determination of the fastest horse.

The evidence paints a picture rich in contrasts and affirmations, reflecting the dynamic nature of the sport.

Watch this YouTube of Secretariat dominate the Belmont Stakes.

YouTube video
Video of Secretariat’s dominate Belmont Stakes performance.

Expert Insights and Commentary on Secretariat

Secretariat’s impact on horse racing extends far beyond his record-breaking times. His legacy is often discussed by experts, jockeys, and trainers who witnessed his prowess. Here, we delve into their insights and perspectives:

  • Ron Turcotte, Secretariat’s Jockey: “He was a pleasure to be around, from the first day I got on him to the last day I rode him,” says Turcotte. “He was something else. And he never had a mean hair on him, never spooked from anything with me.” Source
  • Penny Chenery, Secretariat’s Owner: “In 1973, the country was in an emotional slump,” she wrote in The New York Times. “It was the time of the Watergate and Nixon scandals, and people were looking for something wholesome to admire. I’ve always felt that because he was a chestnut horse and our stable colors were blue and white, he was running in red, white and blue.” Source
  • Bill Nack, Sports Journalist and Author: “Secretariat has just tied the world record for nine furlongs. He is running now as if in contempt of the clock. ” Source

“I’ve seen and done thousands of autopsies on horses, and nothing I’d ever seen compared to it. The heart of the average horse weighs about nine pounds. This was almost twice the average size, and a third larger than any equine heart I’d ever seen.” Dr. Thomas Swerczek, a professor of veterinary science at the University of Kentucky


These insights from individuals closely associated with Secretariat and horse racing highlight the profound impact he had on the sport. His combination of speed, grace, and charisma not only captivated the racing world but also left a lasting legacy that continues to inspire and awe generations.

Kentucky Derby 2009 3

Kentucky Derby by from Lindenhurst, IL, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0

Secretariat’s Legacy and Cultural Impact

Secretariat’s influence transcends the boundaries of horse racing, leaving an indelible mark on popular culture and inspiring countless individuals beyond the racetrack.

Icon in Popular Culture

  • Secretariat’s legacy extends into film, literature, and media. The 2010 Disney movie “Secretariat,” which chronicles his journey to the Triple Crown, brought his story to a new generation of fans. His life and career have been the subject of numerous books and documentaries, each highlighting his extraordinary achievements and charismatic personality.

Symbol of Excellence

  • Secretariat is often referenced as a symbol of excellence and peak performance. His name is synonymous with speed, endurance, and the winning spirit, making him a frequent point of reference in motivational speeches and sports commentary.

Inspiration in Business

  • An interesting testament to Secretariat’s widespread influence is the story behind the name of Ariat, a leading equestrian footwear and apparel company. The company’s founder, a fan of Secretariat, chose the name Ariat as a nod to the legendary horse, using the last five letters of “Secretariat.” This homage reflects the horse’s lasting impact on individuals and industries far removed from horse racing. Source

Enduring Public Fascination

  • Secretariat continues to captivate the public’s imagination. Horse racing enthusiasts and sports historians often regard him as the benchmark against which all racehorses are measured. His story is a source of inspiration and awe, a testament to what can be achieved with natural talent, training, and determination.

Secretariat’s legacy is not just about the records he set or the races he won; it’s about the hope, excitement, and inspiration he brought to millions. His story is a powerful reminder of the beauty and thrill of horse racing, and his name will forever be etched in the annals of sports history. .training edited
Our horse going out for morning training wearing his heart rate monitor.

Advancements in Training and Breeding:

Training Techniques: Modern training methods have evolved significantly, incorporating more scientific approaches, including specialized fitness programs and data analytics. For example, I incorporate heart rate monitoring with our horses, which was not available during Secretariats racing career.

Breeding Practices: Today’s breeding techniques are more sophisticated, often using genetic analysis to select for specific traits like speed and endurance. However, I don’t think even modern science has figured out how to recreate Secretariat’s heart.

Technological Advancements:

Track and Equipment: Modern tracks are often designed to be faster and safer, and the equipment used by horses and jockeys is more advanced, potentially influencing race outcomes.

Veterinary Care: Advances in veterinary medicine ensure better health and recovery for racehorses, possibly extending their racing careers and enhancing performance.

Despite these advancements, Secretariat’s records, particularly his Belmont Stakes performance, remain a high watermark in horse racing. This comparison to some of the fastest horses in the world underscores his achievements, even in the face of modern developments in the sport.

Secretariat KY Horse Park

Statute of Secretariat at Kentucky Horse Park. By Calstanhope

Frequently Asked Questions about Secretariat

How Fast was Secretariat?

Secretariat’s average speed in the Triple Crown races was an impressive 37.7 mph. This incredible pace allowed him to set new records in each of the races, a feat that remains unmatched to this day.

What was Secretariat’s Kentucky Derby Time?

In the 1973 Kentucky Derby, Secretariat set a groundbreaking record. He completed the mile-and-a-quarter distance in 1:59 flat, becoming the first horse in history to finish the race in under two minutes.

Why was Secretariat so Fast?

Secretariat’s extraordinary speed can be attributed to two key factors: his unusually large heart and his efficient stride mechanics. His heart was estimated to be nearly twice the size of a normal horse’s heart, providing him with exceptional stamina and power. Additionally, his stride mechanics were near-perfect.

Did Secretariat Win the Triple Crown?

Yes, Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973. He achieved this prestigious title by winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. His victories in these races were not only decisive but also record-setting, marking him as one of the greatest racehorses in history.

What is Secretariat’s Legacy in Horse Racing?

Secretariat is remembered not only for his incredible speed and racing records but also for his impact on the sport and popular culture. His story has inspired movies, books, and generations of horse racing fans. Secretariat’s influence extends beyond his lifetime, continuing to inspire and set the standard in the world of horse racing.

Conclusion: The Enduring Legacy of Secretariat

Secretariat’s extraordinary career, his unparalleled achievements in the Triple Crown, particularly his historic Belmont Stakes victory, stand as a testament to his speed and endurance. His records, still unbroken despite modern advancements, affirm his place as a racing legend and a cultural icon.

Secretariat’s legacy goes beyond his speed, embodying excellence and inspiring generations. As we reflect on his impact, it’s evident that Secretariat was not just a fast horse but a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon in horse racing. I doubt we’ll ever see another one like him for a few reasons, but most importantly, because of the value of breeding. Horses, with his promise, are retired early today.

Call to Action: Join the Conversation and Explore More

Thank you for joining us on this journey through the remarkable legacy of Secretariat. If you’ve been inspired or intrigued by the story of this legendary racehorse, we encourage you to share this article with fellow horse racing enthusiasts, sports fans, and history buffs. Your sharing helps keep the spirit and stories of equine legends like Secretariat alive and thriving.

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Additional Resources and References

For those interested in delving deeper into the legacy of Secretariat and the world of horse racing, here are some valuable resources and references:

  1. Books:
    • “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion” by William Nack. Amazon Link
    • The X Factor, What it Is & How to find it: The Relationship Between Inherited Heart Size and Racing Performance. by Marianna Haun. Amazon Link
  2. Documentaries and Films:
    • “Secretariat” (2010) – A Disney film depicting the life story of Secretariat. Amazon Link
    • “Penny & Red: The Life of Secretariat’s Owner” – A documentary about Penny Chenery, Secretariat’s owner.
  3. Online Articles and Resources:
  4. Research Papers and Journals:
    • “The Biomechanics of Speed in a Champion Racehorse” – A scientific analysis of Secretariat’s racing technique. Journal of Equine Science
  5. Websites:
  6. Reference Citations:
    • Turcotte, Ron. Interview about Secretariat. Horse Racing Writers Forum. Link
    • Chenery, Penny. Interview on Secretariat. New York Times. Link

These resources provide a wealth of information for both casual fans and serious students of horse racing, offering insights into Secretariat’s extraordinary career and the sport at large.

Poll: Secretariat’s Place in History

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