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The Greatest Thoroughbred in History

Before you read the following documentation please keep this in mind. I am in no way trying to discredit the great Man'O War. What you'll read here is based on history. And sometimes, as much as we would like to change it we just cant. If you love Mano and are a bigger fan of his than Secretariat then great, but please do not email me and whine and tell me I am full of bull. The facts are in history, I just wrote them down.

There have been a lot of words spoken over the last few years about two racehorses and their superiority. Where they fit in history and just where they both fit in the hierarchy of the super horse. If you follow horse racing at all you will know that the two horses are ManO'War and Secretariat. Both of these great horses are worthy of the super horse moniker. But as humans and competitors we always find the need to put one before the other. In baseball we have the World Series to determine the best of the year. In football the Super Bowl. Lord Stanley’s Cup is coveted in hockey. But to determine the best of all time is always subjective because it is based on people’s opinion, and how people quantify the facts. First off, to be fair, the people doing the judging should be qualified to lend their opinion. They shouldn’t have any political ties to one or the other. They should have no personal affiliation with either party, and should have no personal interest what so ever in the one it deems better than the other. This feat in itself is worthy of discussion. I wont go into that now, but as long as people are giving their opinion on the subject, here is mine.

The Blood-Horse selected a panel of 7 to crunch the data and come up with the top 100 thoroughbred racehorses of the 20th century. The list, even before it was published was going to be controversial. Pick 7 different people and the rankings would be different. Just for the record, The Blood-Horse conducted it’s own list before they asked the panel of 7 to participate. Secretariat was voted number one in that poll. I wonder what prompted them to ask the 7. Maybe they didn’t like the outcome.

There is some new information from author Bill Nack regarding the outcome of why Man'OWar was selected #1 in the The Blood-Horse poll. Mr. Nack was asked recently why Man'OWar was voted ahead of Secretariat for Horse of the Century, and Mr. Nack replied "I spent two days on the project. The final results were skewered when, I am told, one of the judges put Secretariat fourteenth on his top-100 list. I don't know who this particular voter was---individual voting has remained a secret on that panel---but it was an idiotic judgment that should have been dismissed out of hand. Had I known any voter would do such a thing, I'd have put Man o' War in fourteenth place just to counterbalance the loony. That would have leveled the playing field. Here was a horse who had broken three track records in all three Triple Crown races, including the controversial Preakness clocking, two of which records (Derby and Belmont) still stand today; whose 31-length Belmont Stakes victory, in which he earned a Beyer of 137, is by consensus regarded as the greatest performance by a racehorse in history; and yet here was a voter who concocted a list suggesting that Secretariat would have finished last, behind 13 horses, in a field made up of that voter's first 14 horses on the list. It warped the voting and thereby tainted the list."

I have read and researched both horses. Their race records, why they both lost certain races. Track conditions, weather conditions, iron or aluminum shoes, weight carried, jockey strategy, owner strategy, trainers, time of year, the level of competition, timing devices, media attention, personal eyewitnesses, accounts and stories about both horses. You name it I have read it and studied it. I have even talked to a physicist about stride on dirt or turf. I have talked to people who have seen both horses run, and believe me there aren’t very many still around. Least not any that was old enough at the time to be of any help. But as I stated earlier, it is all a matter of opinion, including mine. However, there are several extremely important facts that I feel will decide the outcome of this discussion once and for all.

In the old west where the Great Plains Indians once thrived, it was said that a tribes greatness was determined by how mighty his enemy was. Well is it true that the level of competition determines a racehorse’s greatness? Let’s assume for a minute that ManO'War, Citation, and Count Fleet were all in their prime and ran a race that was 1-¼ miles in distance. At the finish line it was Man-o-war by 2 lengths over Citation with Count Fleet third by a nose. The winning time was 2:00 4/5. This means that as a rule of thumb (1/5 equals a length) Citation’s time was 2:01 1/5. Now lets assume that Secretariat ran the same 1-¼ mile distance against Riva Ridge, and Sham. At the finish it was Secretariat winning with a time of 1:59 2/5. Does ManO'War get the nod as a superior horse because he beat a higher level of competition but ran a slower time to Secretariat? Or does it say that if the two red powerhouses ran against each other Secretariat would have beaten ManO'War by 6 lengths? What it tells me is that given that set of circumstances Secretariat would have beaten them all. So who is the superior racehorse here?

It is hard to say that the level of competition that Man-o-war had was more difficult than that of Secretariat. I don’t put any stock into the race that ManO'War won by an estimated 100 lengths. That would be winning by 20 seconds. And if that indeed happened it would make me wonder about the competition level in that race. Any good Thoroughbred could have done that given the right competition, especially Secretariat. I also do not put much stock in the weight carried by each horse. Yes there were occasions where ManO'War carried 130 and once carried 138. But in the Preakness and Belmont he carried 126 the same as Secretariat. Put 130 on Secretariat and see what happens. What happens is Secretariat wins by 3/5 or 4/5ths less. There has been emphasis placed on the match race between Man-o-war and Sir Barton. I think that the reason there was so much stock in the race was that Sir Barton was the only decent competition for ManO'War in those two years. A good judge of competition is at the big races. The Triple Crown. ManO'War’s owner decided to skip the Kentucky Derby because he felt that early May was too early for his horse to run the 1-¼ mile distance. This has always baffled me. It seems as though either something was wrong with the horse or he wasn’t quite sure that the outcome would fall in his horses favor. At any rate ManO'War did not run in the 1920 Kentucky Derby.

The Preakness was different however. Back home in Maryland for good in 1909 at Pimlico the race was at that time 1-1/8 mile. Man-o-war beat the horse “Upset” by 1.5 lengths, and clocked in at 1:51 3/5. ManO'War’s best time at this distance was 1:49 1/5. As a point of reference Secretariat’s best time at 1-1/8 mile was 1:45 2/5. That’s roughly a 19-length difference. There is a quote by Samuel Riddle that goes "We never lifted a jockey to his back that we didn't tell to hold the horse down, so as not to win by too wide a margin." I have no doubt that this was uttered by Mr. Riddle. Samuel Riddle was known to boast a wee bit. He was also known to exaggerate the truth for his benefit. However, when one looks at the margin of victory in all of ManO'War's races this makes absolutely no sense at all.

The Belmont has established itself as the ultimate test of championship stamina in this country. Its 1-1/2-mile distance now has become a rarity in American dirt races. The Belmont was even longer in its early days, contested at 1-5/8 miles through 1873. But from 1890 through 1926, the race dropped down to distances varying between 1-1/8 and 1-3/8 miles. The 1926 Belmont was run at 1-1/2 miles and the race has been run at that distance ever since. ManO'War ran in the 1920 Belmont Stakes. His competition was one horse. There were only two horses entered in the 1920 Belmont Stakes. ManO'War and a horse named Donnacona. Donnacona only won 6 races in his whole racing career. And his level of competition was hardly great. So what does this say? ManO'War ran the then 1-3/8 mile Belmont track in 2:14 1/5. For reference Secretariat ran the then 1 ½ Belmont track in 2:24 flat. That equates to 2:12 1/5 for the 1-3/8 mile. That’s a 10-length difference in favor of Secretariat.

Listed below are the distances, times and *equated margins of victory for both horses. The times below are the best times for each horse at each distance.

    Distance	       Man'O War			     Secretariat	        Margin 
    6 furlongs	1:11 1/5				1:09 4/5		+7 lengths
    1 mile		1:35 4/5				1:33 2/5		+12 lengths
    1 1/16		1:44 4/5				1:42 4/5		+10 lengths
    1 1/8		1:49 1/5				1:45 2/5		+19 lengths
    1 3/16		1:56 3/5				1:53 0/0		+16 lengths
    1 ¼		2:01 4/5				1:59 flat		+14 lengths
    1 3/8		2:14 1/5				2:12 1/5		+10 lengths
    1 1/2 		2:28 4/5				2:24 flat		+24 lengths
    1 5/8		2:40 4/5				2:37 4/5		+15 lengths

* Equated times are based on the adage of 1/5 of a second equals one length (info provided by the Daily Racing Form). Given the size of ManO'War I was conservative in this category.

The above chart shows the lengths that Secretariat would have beaten ManO'War if they both raced in their prime. Secretariat was also superior to ManO'War in speed. Secretariat's average speed was 37.8 mph. ManO'War had an average speed of 36.9 mph. Down the home stretch in the Kentucky Derby Secretariat was running 39 mph. That is an incredible feat considering it was at the end of a mile and a quarter race. The typical thoroughbred horse is capable of running only a quarter of a mile (400 meters) or so at its peak speed. So much of the strategy of racing is determining the best moment at which to start the burst. In the 1973 Kentucky Derby Secretariat ran each quarter mile faster than the previous one.

The 7-member panel that was assembled by The Blood-Horse to choose the top thoroughbred picked ManO'War over Secretariat because Man-o-war won more races than Secretariat. ManO'War’s competition in the 1920 Belmont stakes was only one horse! If Secretariat’s race record was 30-30-0-0 but he never ran the Preakness or the Belmont do you think he would even be in the top 5? The votes were 3 first places votes for ManO'War, and 3 first place votes for Secretariat. Another reason Man-o-war was selected number one was that in the voting he was chosen second place on 4 of the other ballads. Their criteria was based on their own personal preference. Performance obviously was not a top priority. They can talk all they want to about the win record. A jockey, a bad strategy, or an illness can all factor in to that. But remember, we are rating horses here not jockeys. Any good quality racehorse can win races based on the level of their competition. I will give ManO'War credit for being the best Sire of the 20th Century. He sired some of the sports best horses. Although now we are finding out that the large heart gene is passed through the Dam and not the Sire. But, for that, his win record, and his ability guarantee him a top spot on the list. But we are ranking racehorses. Horses that are bred to race against other racehorses. It’s competition pure and simple. ManO'War beat one horse in the Belmont by 20 lengths. Secretariat beat 4 horses in the Belmont by 31 lengths and set a record for that distance on dirt. Secretariat would have beaten ManO'War 9 out of 10 times if they had raced. There is always a chance something would happen. I don’t care if Man-o-war was carrying 130. Put 130 on Secretariat and the result would be the same, save for a few less lengths. The facts are there to prove it. You can’t ignore them. The distances, the speed and the times say everything. The panel that The Blood-Horse chose for this certainly has their opinions. But as years go by and more data becomes available, my money's on Secretariat.

The Large Heart and the X Factor

Secretariat was a phenom. He was able to run the times and attain the speed he did because he was trained by one of the best trainers in the world, Lucien Lauren. He also had the heart and the will to win. But he had one advantage that nobody knew of at the time. When Secretariat was put down his heart was not weighed. However, Dr. Thomas Swerczek, the veterinarian who performed the necropsy, claims that he found that Secretariat's heart was the largest he had ever seen in a horse, approximately twice the size of a normal horse's heart. Dr. Swerczek said "by comparing it to numerous other hearts I got actual weights on, I am certain the weight was between 21 to 22 pounds. The heart was in perfect shape, not diseased in any way, but just considerably larger than any other horses I autopsied." The large heart was traced back to the horse Eclipse at autopsy in 1789. Eclipse's heart weighed 14 lbs. We now know by research and the hard work of scientists and geneticist like Marianna Haun, that horses carry a gene for a large heart. It is passed through the X chromosome in the mare. Measurements of more than 400 horses with a ECG has found that the X-Factor is 100% consistent. It is possible to track the large heart from sire to daughter to granddaughter and grandson and to great granddaughter and great grandson. The heart scores on certain lines are 100% consistent. These lines come from Princequillo, War Admiral, Blue Larkspur, and Mahmoud.

We obviously know that Secretariat possessed the large heart gene. His heart was larger than any other TB on record. And we know that he got his large heart from Princequillo through Somethingroyal. A horse's heart is measured by a electrocardiogram and given a "heart score". That phrase was coined only 40 years ago by an Australian researcher named Dr. James Steel. In his research Dr.Steel ranks heart scores according to size. A score of 103 is considered small. A medium size heart is scored from 104-116. 117-120 and above is considered large. The Largest heart in his study was from the Thoroughbred Champion Key to the Mint. He carried the Princequello heart, and rated a heart score of 157-160. Most of Princequello's hearts were between 147 and 160. The three other "superhearts" were from War Admiral, Blue Larkspur, and Mahmoud. They had a heart score of 140-150. A heart score of 140 and above is considered very large and generally found in very successful racehorses.

Marianna Haun says in her book "The X Factor" that even though there is no heart score on Secretariat, based on the weight of his heart at autopsy his estimated heart score would have been 180. There has not been any heart score even near that size. She also states that if Secretariat's heart hadnt been so far out of the norm, they might not have ever discovered what they have about the genetic mutation that produces a high performance heart.

Just until recently it was thought that the sire was the one responsible for his offspring's success. The racing industry has judged a sire by his male offspring for hundreds of years. Great Thoroughbreds were thought to be busts because their sons never produced winners. But the large heart is passed to the foals by the dam. The TB Weekend Surprise is the daughter of Secretariat. Weekend Surprises' dam was Lassie Dear. She produced all winners, including her daughter who produced Horse of the Year A.P.Indy and Summer Squall. The exception to this however was ManO'War, who was fortunate enough to be bred to a mare whos heart was actually larger than his own. The mare was Brushup and she produced War Admiral. Seattle Slew, Cigar, and Silver Charm all have that heart line.Therefore ManO'War was considered a great sire, although it was his dam that passed on the large heart gene.

Throughout my research I have discovered that ManO'War's trainer Louis Feustel, never would let the jockey give him full rein. His reasoning here was to save his horse and not push him if not necessary. ManO'War did possess the large heart gene but I feel that even if he was given full rein he could not have maintained the stamina that Secretariat possessed. Through the strategies of Louis Feustal, ManO'War's legacy is cemented forever. The interesting thing about Secretariat is, in the Belmont, Jockey Ron Turcotte said he was along for the ride. The horse did everything on his own. He set a new world record that still stands, he beat extremely good competition by 31 lengths, and won the Triple Crown. We all wonder what Secretariat could have done if he was actually "asked". Like ManO'War before him Secretariat's legacy is cemented in history. Secretariats' rival in all three Triple Crown races was Sham. Sham's heart was weighed at autopsy at 18lbs. The second largest on record. He lost to Secretariat all three times. At the '73 Belmont, Sham tried in vain to keep pace with Secretariat but to no avail. Even with an 18 pound heart and tremendous will to beat his rival, Sham could not muster the stamina. Sham finished last and never raced again. No one knew how large his heart was back in 1973, but what we know now is that Secretariat's heart was incredible. Not only in size, but his will to win, and the ability to synthesize oxygen quicker, and longer than any horse we know.

Complete Kentucky Derby Stat History

Complete Preakness Stat History

Complete Belmont Stat History

"Making of a Champion", by William Nack

ESPN, "Secretariat Remains no.1 name in Racing"

ESPN, "Top 100 Athletes of the 20th Century"

Secretariat Fan Club

Kentucky Derby Official Site

DRF Preakness Stakes

NYRA Belmont Stakes

Claiborne Farms

National Thoroughbred Racing Assoc.

Rest in Peace Big Red

Secretariat Stamp


Secretariat and stablemate RivaRidge

Secretariat Going for Home

Secretariat Statue at Belmont Park

SOMETHINGROYAL Secretariat's Dam

BOLD RULER Secretariat's Sire




Secretariat, 1970 chestnut colt

Bold RulerNasrullahNearcoPharos
Havresac II
Mumtaz BegumBlenheim II
Mumtaz Mahal
Miss DiscoDiscoveryDisplay
Sweep Out
SomethingroyalPrincequilloPrince RoseRose Prince
Quick Thought
Sweet Music
CinquepaceBrown Bud

NMR Hall of Fame for Thoroughbred Racehorses

A.P. Indy 20001989
Ack Ack 19861966
Affectionately 19891960
Affirmed 19801975
All Along 19901979
Alsab 19761939
Alydar 19891975
Alysheba 19931984
American Eclipse 19701814
Armed 19631941
Artful 19561902
Arts and Letters 19941966
Assault 19641943
Battleship 19691927
Bayakoa 19981984
Bed o'Roses 19761947
Beldame 19561901
Ben Brush 19551893
Bewitch 19771945
Bimelech 19901937
Black Gold 19891921
Black Helen 19911932
Blue Larkspur 19571926
Bold 'n Determined 19971977
Bold Ruler 19731954
Bon Nouvel 19761960
Boston 19551833
Broomstick 19561901
Buckpasser 19701963
Busher 19641942
Bushranger 19671930
Cafe Prince 19851970
Carry Back 19751958
Cavalcade 19931931
Challedon 19771936
Chris Evert 19881971
Cicada 19671959
Citation 19591945
Coaltown 19831945
Colin 19561905
Commando 19561898
Count Fleet 19611940
Crusader 19951923
Dahlia 19811970
Damascus 19741964
Dark Mirage 19741965
Davona Dale 19851976
Desert Vixen 19791970
Devil Diver 19801939
Discovery 19691931
Domino 19551891
Dr. Fager 19711964
Easy Goer 19971986
Eight Thirty 19941936
Elkridge 19661938
Emperor of Norfolk 19881885
Equipoise 19571928
Exceller 19991973
Exterminator 19571915
Fair Play 19561905
Fairmount 19851921
Fashion 19801837
Firenze 19811884
Flatterer 19941979
Foolish Pleasure 19951972
Forego 19791970
Fort Marcy 19981964
Gallant Bloom 19771966
Gallant Fox 19571927
Gallant Man 19871954
Gallorette 19621942
Gamely 19801964
Genuine Risk 19861977
Go For Wand 19961987
Good and Plenty 19561900
Granville 19971933
Grey Lag 19571918
Gun Bow 19991960
Hamburg 19861895
Hanover 19551884
Henry of Navarre 19851891
Hill Prince 19911947
Hindoo 19551878
Holy Bull 20011991
Imp 19651894
Jay Trump 19711957
John Henry 19901975
Johnstown 19921936
Jolly Roger 19651922
Kelso 19671957
Kentucky 19831861
Kingston 19551884
La Prevoyante 19951970
Lady's Secret 19921982
L'Escargot 19771963
Lexington 19551850
Longfellow 19711867
Luke Blackburn 19561877
Majestic Prince 19881966
Man O' War 19571917
Maskette 20011908
Miesque 19991984
Miss Woodford 19671880
Myrtlewood 19791932
Nashua 19651952
Native Dancer 19631950
Native Diver 19781959
Needles 20001953
Neji 19661950
Northern Dancer 19761961
Oedipus 19781946
Old Rosebud 19681911
Omaha 19651932
Pan Zareta 19721910
Parole 19841873
Paseana 20011987
Personal Ensign 19931984
Peter Pan 19561904
Princess Doreen 19821921
Princess Rooney 19911980
Real Delight 19871949
Regret 19571912
Reigh Count 19781925
Riva Ridge 19981969
Roamer 19811911
Roseben 19561901
Round Table 19721954
Ruffian 19761972
Ruthless 19751864
Salvator 19551886
Sarazen 19571921
Seabiscuit 19581933
Searching 19781952
Seattle Slew 19811974
Secretariat 19741970
Shuvee 19751966
Silver Spoon 19781956
Sir Archy 19551805
Sir Barton 19571916
Slew o'Gold 19921980
Spectacular Bid 19821976
Stymie 19751941
Sun Beau 19961925
Sunday Silence 19961986
Susan's Girl 19761969
Swaps 19661952
Sword Dancer 19771956
Sysonby 19561902
Ta Wee 19941966
Ten Broeck 19821872
Tim Tam 19851955
Tom Fool 19601949
Top Flight 19661929
Tosmah 19841961
Twenty Grand 19571928
Twilight Tear 19631941
Two Lea 19821946
War Admiral 19581934
Whirlaway 19591938
Whisk Broom II 19791907
Winning Colors 20001985
Zaccio 19901976
Zev 19831920

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Last updated 06/30/21