On June 9, 1973, a bright chestnut horse with three white socks and a narrow white blaze crossed the finish line at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York to become America’s ninth Triple Crown winner and the first since a horse named Citation in 1948. The horse was Secretariat, and he is considered by many to be the greatest thoroughbred racehorse of the 20th-century.
Secretariat arrived in New York for the 105th running of the Belmont Stakes having already conquered the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes—both in record time. He entered the race as the prohibitive, odds on favorite in a field of just four other horses. As the third jewel of the American Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes is referred to as the “Test of the Champion.” At a distance of one and a half miles, it is the longest of the three classic races and the final race ran over a five-week period. The oval track is deep and sandy with broad, sweeping turns, resulting in a more tiring racing surface.
No horse had won the Triple Crown in 25 years and many thought it would never happen again. However, Secretariat won resoundingly and stopped the clock at two minutes and 24 seconds, setting a world record for one and a half miles on a dirt surface. Equally astounding was Secretariat’s record-setting 31-length margin of victory. Secretariat was so far ahead of the other horses that the cameraman filming the race for broadcast could not fit him and the rest of the field in the same wide-angle camera shot.
In 2013, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown, the New York Racing Association installed a blue-and-white checkered pole at the Belmont track to mark Secretariat’s margin of victory. The pole is 253-feet and two inches (77.17 meters) from the finish line. Its placement marked the nose of the nearest horse to Secretariat when the race clock stopped in 1973.
The commemorative pole was the idea of Tom Durkin, a retired New York race caller. It is painted with bright blue and white checkers to match the racing silks of Meadow Stable, Secretariat’s owner, and his iconic blue-and-white checked blinkers. A gilded ball tops the pole. Ironically, the pole was taken from Clare Court at Saratoga Racetrack, the site of one of Secretariat’s only defeats.
The pole now stands as a monument to what is considered by many to be the greatest effort and achievement by a racehorse. More than 5,000 winning pari-mutuel tickets for the 1973 Belmont Stakes remained uncashed and presumably kept as souvenirs.