On April 20, 1986, in a playoff game that featured Larry Bird’s Celtics and Michael Jordan’s Bulls, Jordan scored a playoff record 63 points, after which Larry Bird was quoted “I think it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan”.
That was not the first time the divine light was breathed into an athlete, as anyone who was a spectator at Belmont Park on June 9, 1973, can attest.
Coming off the heels of two track record-breaking performances in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont was expected to be a coronation for Secretariat, though some still gave rival Sham an upset shot. What even his most ardent backers did not expect was the breathtaking manner in which he completed the third jewel of the Triple Crown.
Secretariat responded by turning in a tremendous 31 length victory in that year’s Belmont Stakes in a breathtaking time of 2:24 flat, a world record which stands to this day and may never be broken. Jockey Ron Turcotte said later that he was just along for the ride, as if something otherworldly was propelling him to victory.
So large was his margin of victory that the CBS camera covering his stretch run could not capture runner up Twice a Prince in the same shot as Secretariat as he crossed the wire at Belmont Park, but had to pan back to cover him.
Sometimes when perfection is attained, even the circumstances surrounding it are perfect. Not only was it arguably the greatest performance by a thoroughbred of all time, but the race caller, Chick Anderson, rose to the occasion and gave an electrifying race call befitting the unworldly performance.
As Secretariat was motoring along the backstretch, clearly inspired with awe, Anderson spontaneously uttered the spine chilling phrase “He is moving like a tremendous machine!”, and spoke it just as the American Flag flapping in the Belmont Park wind came into view of the camera shot. It was almost as if in that one moment, Old Glory was saluting him, indicating his approbation, and that this is a hero of which America could be proud.
It must be remembered that America at that time was in turmoil – it was the time of Watergate, and Americans were losing faith in their politicians, and so, when an equine hero free of the errors and failings that so often befall humans, came along, America embraced him eagerly.
Like all great luminaries, he was gone all too soon, retiring just four and a half months later at the end of his three-year-old season. He made his final start in the G2 Canadian International on the grass, fittingly went out in a blaze of glory winning by an easy 6-½ lengths and exited the stage and strode into history.
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