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In front of the Pimlico Race Course starting gate parked across the track, seven guys in caution-tape yellow windbreakers huddle around an older man in a yellow-and-black plaid sports jacket. Just beyond them, on the other side of the gate, six horses finish warming up. Down the stretch, broadcaster Jack Whitaker takes his cue from co-host Frank Wright and says, “The weather is perfect and we’re just waiting for a fine horse race.” 

And a page in one of Thoroughbred racing’s finest chapters.

On old video, the Preakness Stakes of 50 years ago appears charming, easy, relaxed and anticipatory. No infield concert’s thumping bass. No stealth bomber flyover. No VIP club serving wagyu sliders. No scramble for access by people with credentials and without. Knowing what is about to happen, the scene feels quiet and simple. Whitaker, the jockeys on those horses, the gate crew and starter Eddie Blind, the 61,657 in attendance have no way of knowing Secretariat will soon flash his long stride and even longer ability to take the lead around the first turn and gallop to an easy victory. Nobody does. They’re all just there. Waiting.

Secretariat came to Baltimore with the accompanying hoopla of any Kentucky Derby winner. And then some. Horse of the Year as a 2-year-old in 1972, the Virginia-bred won Aqueduct’s Bay Shore and Gotham to start his 3-year-old season. A third in the Wood Memorial threatened to dull some of the luster, but Secretariat erased that by running the fastest Derby in history – 1 1⁄4 miles in 1:59 2⁄5 – at Churchill Downs May 5. His brilliance, and his presence, spurred thoughts of finally putting a 25-year Triple Crown drought to rest.

“The way the horse ran in the Derby everybody was just like, ‘Wow, this horse is something,’ and when you looked at him you thought, ‘Damn, look at this animal,’ ” said Coley Blind, Eddie’s son and a patrol judge for the 1973 Preakness. “He was built, unbelievably built.”

A Canadian like Secretariat’s trainer Lucien Laurin and jockey Ron Turcotte, Eddie Blind saw Seabiscuit and War Admiral square off at Pimlico, started Citation’s Preakness in 1948 and knew a special horse when he saw one. 

“Dad was in his glory,” said Coley, who retired as the Maryland Jockey Club stakes coordinator in 2020. “He would talk about Seabiscuit and all those other horses, but he was really impressed with Secretariat.”

Eddie Blind would tell his son, and anybody else at Pimlico in the days before the Preakness, to look at Secretariat’s hind quarters.

“That’s where he gets the power that allows him to run like that,” Eddie Blind explained. “He’s different.”

Cappy Jackson, an 18-year-old photographer working for the Maryland Horse magazine, didn’t have Eddie Blind’s experience but she shared his opinion while hustling between the barn and the track all week.

“Nothing prepared me for what I saw in this horse, and I grew up riding horses,” she said. “One of my jobs was to go down in the morning and get some pictures of him galloping or whatever. I was so amazed. I’d been around racehorses that couldn’t keep all four feet on the ground at the same time and he was just so cool about it. For me, watching as a kid, I just remember him being great to handle on the ground. No matter what, he was like, ‘I got this.’ I remember the self-confidence.”

Horses typically visit the starting gate in the days before a race, especially a race such as the Preakness, and Secretariat was no different. 

“Lucien Laurin was a really, really good trainer,” said Frank Blind, Coley’s brother and a member of the gate crew. “He believed in all aspects of the racing situation for every horse. He brought the horse over and we got a little bit more comfortable with him. How many times are you going to see a horse of that standard having a morning at the gate?”

Frank Blind and his compatriots led Secretariat in, let him stand, tried not to make too much of a fuss. Again, confidence came to mind.

“They didn’t call him Big Red for nothing,” said Frank Blind. “He got his name and earned it all the way down the line. He was something to behold.”

A day or two into her Pimlico assignment, Jackson talked her mother Sheila into coming to see Secretariat train. Master of the Green Spring Valley Hounds at the time, Sheila Jackson made sure she got there – and experienced more than a special horse. As Secretariat headed down the horse path toward the track, the Jacksons headed for a key vantage point when they were stopped by a question.

“Excuse me, where is a good place I can go to watch my horse gallop?”

It was Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery, on her first morning at Pimlico that year.

“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” said Jackson. “She was so genteel and classy and nice about it. To me, she was an idol. We’d all seen her on TV at the Derby. She stopped and talked to us, we introduced ourselves and I have a picture of my mom with her watching him gallop.”

Jackson went on to Middlebury College and a lengthy career in photography (equestrian, fashion, with the Baltimore Ravens and more), but will never forget her time with Secretariat. Three decades after that meeting, Chenery saw some of Jackson’s work in a book about Secretariat’s rival Sham and reached out about acquiring some photos. Jackson told her the story of that Pimlico conversation.

Chenery laughed and replied, “You were the young lady who worked for the Maryland Horse magazine?” 

Yes, she was.

As it does for all Preakness starters, the race came for Secretariat. The hype wouldn’t matter if he couldn’t win and for all his brilliance he’d lost three times (including once by disqualification). 

Sharpened by a 5-furlong breeze in :57 2⁄5 – which might have melted the internet today – Secretariat was bet down to 3-10 against five rivals. The opponents included Derby runner-up Sham and third Our Native, plus longshot newcomers Ecole Etage, Deadly Dream and Torsion. Attendance soared beyond the record set the previous year, packing seats in the clubhouse and grandstand and (in a relatively new phenomenon) the Pimlico infield. 

With groom Eddie Sweat holding a shank snapped to the D bit, and exercise rider Charlie Davis on the stable pony Billy Silver, Laurin saddled Secretariat on the turf course. The Derby winner looked calm. On the track, he and Turcotte cantered off alone to warm-up. Up the stretch, the gate crew huddled.

“The Preakness was pressure every single year no matter what,” said Frank Blind. “It was a huge deal. There was pressure. It was the Preakness. It was Secretariat. But you just did the job. All you wanted to do was handle the horse you had and make sure they got off all right.”

That infield crowd, unencumbered by the security fences of today, spilled on to the turf course with even a few making it to the dirt track’s inside rail at the starting gate by the 5:40 p.m. post time. Sham, handled by Eric Blind (cousin of Coley and Frank), loaded first at the rail. Deadly Dream, off a win at Penn National a week earlier, was next. Then came Secretariat, handled by Danny Fitchett. The favorite ignored two wayward fans waving their arms at the rail, paused at the doors, then walked in with a push from two locked arms. Our Native stepped forward, followed by Torsion and finally the Bud Delp-trained Ecole Etage led by Frank Blind. It took 34 seconds to load six horses. 

“I remember people being right there when we loaded,” said Frank Blind. “That was unusual, but the horses didn’t seem to pay any attention to them.”

Fitchett pushed on Secretariat twice inside the gate to straighten him, and the six horses leapt to action when Eddie Blind – in the Preakness sports jacket he had custom made after getting permission from Woodholme Country Club (which apparently owned the pattern) – pressed his button to open the doors. Frank Blind made sure Ecole Etage left running. Jackson, sharing the starter’s stand with Eddie Blind, focused on her assignment. From his stand along the outside rail opposite the quarter pole, Coley Blind aimed his binoculars and waited for the field to get back around to him.

George Cusimano sent Ecole Etage to the front as Secretariat dropped back to last. The local horse quickly put a couple lengths on Torsion as Laffit Pincay Jr. pulled Sham out of a pocket along the rail on the first turn and into third. Behind them, Secretariat was doing Secretariat things – lengthening stride, getting to the outside, circling around Deadly Dream and Our Native and pulling Turcotte to the front. They ran by Sham before the backside, passed Torsion and roared alongside Ecole Etage.

“I thought Secretariat would come from way back and I was going to try to run almost the same type of race [as the Derby], close to the pace and open up at the head of the stretch,” Pincay said in April. “I thought I had a better chance than in the Derby. In the first turn, he made that very, very premature move.”

The future Hall of Famer told himself, “Whoa, he’s moving really soon” as Secretariat headed for the front. 

A Mid-Atlantic regular without Pincay’s experience, Cusimano thought the same and told Frank Blind what it felt (and sounded) like to lead the Preakness Stakes for not quite a half-mile.

“Georgie used to say it was like all the sudden he heard a freight train coming like, ‘Vvvvffhh . . . Vvvvffhh . . . Vvvvffhh . . .’ Blind said. “It must have been some feeling to feel like you were doing good and on the lead in the Preakness, but then you weren’t.”

Blind put it in Cusimano’s words, “I had a handful of horse, just easing along and the next thing I know I see these big red nostrils, then a pair of blue and white blinkers and from then on I just knew it was over.”

Turcotte wasn’t asking Secretariat, wasn’t doing much of anything, and he ran past the whole field in about a quarter-mile. In her family’s box seats near the finish line, trainer Katy Voss watched and wondered. 

“I was absolutely dumbfounded when he circled the field on the first turn,” she said. “You just don’t do that in a race. If it was one of my horses, I would have said, ‘What’s that jock doing?’ And I would have expected him to finish up the track. Not that horse. They were going too slow for him. You see that sometimes, but not very often.”

Pincay engaged Sham, way early, to try to cover the move. He made it to second as they swung into the far turn and past the overflowing infield crowd along the rail. 

“Horses who do that are never going to last,” Pincay said. “I just tried to lay close to him, not to lose sight of him. I thought for sure at the head of the stretch I had him, I hit Sham, and he responded but he couldn’t come close to the other horse. He just kept on going.”

Approaching the stretch and Coley Blind’s spot, Secretariat pulled away. To his left, hundreds of fans poured across the turf course and into the alley between the two tracks. 

“They were on the inside rail, that’s all I could think about for a moment,” the patrol judge said. “It was unbelievable. People were waving programs, yelling and screaming. He paid no attention to it. He lengthened stride, changed leads and went on with it.”

The patrol judge didn’t forget his job, but allowed himself to soak it in.

“I watched him come around the turn, scanned back to the field real quick – nothing there – and I went back to him. I turned into a fan like everybody else.”

Jackson nailed a head-on shot of the stretch run, you can see Coley Blind in his stand, and tried to appreciate what she was seeing. At 18, there were few comparisons.

“I remember certain moments of it like it was yesterday,” she said. “I had no idea I was witnessing history. What an incredible experience for a kid my age just getting started in the business. One of my favorite pictures is of Eddie Sweat leading him out of the winner’s circle – the styles of everybody back then are part of it, but the horse looks like he hasn’t even broken a sweat. He was so calm about it.”

Three weeks later, Secretariat completed his Triple Crown sweep with a 31-length, record-setting crescendo in the Belmont Stakes to forever stamp himself a racing legend. He made the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated in the same week. Later that year he added major turf wins to his record and retired to a stud career at Claiborne Farm after 16 wins, $1,316,808 in earnings and five Eclipse Awards – champion 2-year-old, champion 3-year-old, champion turf horse and two Horse of the Year crowns. Racing’s Hall of Fame broke a rule and inducted him the following summer. Triple Crowns came again with Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978, but there was only one Secretariat.

“If you could make a machine that would be a horse, you would copy him,” said Coley Blind. “There have been good horses but, but, he was phenomenal. When I watched the Belmont, I actually had tears in my eyes watching him blow them away like that.”

Jackson, on the roof of the Belmont Park grandstand to capture the furlong pole images for The Blood-Horse magazine, also focused through tears.

“Around the far turn, as he started pulling away, there wasn’t anybody else in the pictures,” she said. ‘The sound of the crowd was this incredible, emotional din. All of it came wafting up to me on the roof.”

Between starting races at Monmouth Park, Frank Blind and Danny Fitchett hopped the outside rail to watch the Belmont Stakes on a television in the grandstand. 

“It was a phenomenal thing to be a part of,” said Frank, who later became a golf pro and retired in Florida. “Just a big, big story.”

Pincay became the winningest jockey in North American history, retiring in 2003 with 9,530 wins, five Eclipse Awards, four classic wins and a spot with Turcotte in the Hall of Fame.

“I became a fan of Secretariat,” he said. “He was great for racing. The people loved him. He had a great owner. I liked the trainer. Ron was always a good friend of mine. It was a great team.”

A little more than four years after that Preakness, Cusimano died in a single-car accident after a softball game at Delaware Park. He told the Preakness story everywhere he went.

Katy Voss became the answer to an unasked trivia question, training the winner of the race after the 1973 Preakness. Bred by her parents John and Kitty Merryman, Buffalo Run carried Hector Pilar to victory in a $7,000 starter handicap. 

“I wouldn’t remember winning that race, but I remember Buffalo Run,” Voss said. “He was a cool horse, a dark bay homebred. Buffalo Run is the name of a stream that runs through the farm.”

Buffalo Run, the horse, was no Secretariat but even he had a connection to the 1973 Preakness. His sire, Big Brave, stood at Country Life Farm and was Sham’s half-brother.

“We were rooting for Sham in the Derby,” said Mike Pons, whose family has owned Country Life for 90 years. “I was not at that Preakness, but I remember my dad being dumbfounded by that move on the turn and guys talking about that. I love that great horses can show you glimpses of their sheer, raw ability. Only Secretariat could make that move and win.”

Like his father and much of his family, Coley Blind weaved a long career through racing. Even with an 11-year absence from the sport, he saw five Triple Crown winners, the Sunday Silence-Easy Goer Preakness throwdown and wound up in the middle of the Codex-Genuine Risk foul-or-no-foul dispute in 1980. Secretariat will forever be Blind’s measuring stick.

“It was my apex moment in racing,” he said. “There were good horses and good races, but they were nothing like Secretariat. He never looked like he had to fight to do anything. He was doing everything with such ease because he had all the physical attributes to do it – the lung capacity, heart, muscle structure, everything was a perfect mix for him. 

“When he made that move at Pimlico, that was just him and people knew they were seeing something extremely special.”

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