The 154th running of the Belmont Stakes this Saturday means the audience will be regaled with tales of the Superhorse, Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown in 1973.
Every year a video is shown of Secretariat romping away from the field in the Belmont that year, winning the race by an astounding 31 lengths and in a still-record time of 2:24 flat.
Just wait until it’s the 50th anniversary next year.
The layman or non-horse racing fan may wonder, why is this such a big deal? But remember all that Algebra we learned (or tried to learn) in school? By using math we can put Secretariat’s win in context. Yay! Math. Two words most people have never said.
Although there won’t be a Triple Crown winner this year, there is still much excitement to watch and gamble on one of the most challenging horse races. Illinois horse betting makes it easy to wager on Saturday’s race from home. The TVG app is specifically designed for betting on horse races.
Secretariat approaches Belmont Stakes
There was a thirst for a Triple Crown winner in the world of horse racing as the spring of 1973 dawned. There hadn’t been one since 1948, and complaints were starting to rise about the rigors of the horse racing season.
These comments were also repeated throughout the 90s and 2000s until American Pharoah came along.
Secretariat and Sham were the top two horses among the three-year-olds in 1973. Secretariat edged Sham in the Kentucky Derby by two-and-a-half lengths, even though Sham had knocked out two teeth in the starting gate.
The same outcome was repeated at the Preakness. Both horses finishing under two minutes. While everyone remembers Secretariat’s runs, Sham’s time in Preakness of 1:53 3/5 is still the fifth-fastest all-time in that race.
Only five horses entered the Belmont, a historically low number because Sham and Secretariat seemed far and away the best two horses.
And they’re off
Yes, Secretariat wins the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, but it’s a close race for the first part. Sham and Secretariat run together in the first turn. But Sham leads by a head. Announcer Chic Anderson even uses the term ‘match race’ while calling the action.
Then on the backstretch, Secretariat accelerates…more….more…and more. Sham is like, “no way, man” and fades all the way to last. The lead builds to 10 lengths, then 12. The old television coverage must zoom way out just to show Secretariat and another horse in the same frame.
The other part of what makes this so interesting is horses are herd animals (usually) for one horse to leave the others and just take off is extremely rare. For it to happen with a Triple Crown on the line is incredible.
How does Secretariat’s win compare?
Now it’s time to use the Math. Anderson announces at the wire that Secretariat wins by 25 lengths, but it was later shown to be 31.
How long is a length? It’s meant to refer to the length of a horse, but for purposes of this exercise, it’s eight feet. Now let’s convert the 1.5-mile Belmont Stakes run to feet. That’s 7,920. Secretariat wins the Belmont by 253 feet.
Now let’s go back and convert 253 feet to miles. Secretariat wins a 1.5-mile race by .05 of a mile. Using feet, we can extrapolate and use Algebra (yay!). There are 138,336 feet in a 26.2-mile marathon. Secretariat’s Belmont Stakes win calculates to winning a marathon by .82 of a mile. In other words, he wins your weekend 5K run by .1 of a mile.
Second place at the Belmont in 1973 was Twice A Prince. His finishing time has been lost to history. However, estimating Twice A Prince is running 40 miles per hour, he would cover the 253-foot gap between him and Secretariat in about five seconds.
Now, what about speed?
This one we can time. Secretariat’s average speed for the 1973 Belmont Stakes clocks out at 44.7 miles per hour. That’s flying.
Secretariat ran the mile in 1:34 1/5 that day. The two-legged world record for the mile belongs to Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco in 3:43.13.
For the sake of speed comparison, the world’s fastest human is still sprinter Usain Bolt. He owns the world record in the 100-meter dash at 9.58 seconds and that’s 27.8 miles per hour.
Secretariat had the fastest race any horse ever had at the exact moment when the world was watching. That’s why it stands up 49…and 50 years later.