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Sports Authority

Klonsinski: Secretariat’s superior record

| Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a 10-part series in which our writers debate what is the most unbreakable record in sports. Follow along with the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #UnbreakableRecord

There are many records that, in the minds of sports people everywhere, appear and may in fact be unbreakable. For example, Aaron Sant-Miller gave us a record Monday that statistically can never be broken in the 109-yard touchdown.

Yet as is so often the case today, we put too much emphasis on statistics as the only way to define a record.

Yes, as my fellow writers have pointed out already over the first three installments of this series, there are many records out there that statistically could be considered unbreakable. When I first began thinking about this series, I was going to throw out a number of unbreakable records set by Wayne Gretzky.

But if there are so many statistically unbreakable records, what distinguishes the best among them?

There is more than one way for a record to be unbreakable, folks. Sure, something statistically impossible to break sounds cool. But sports are more than numbers, and to leave the “most unbreakable” record to stats alone and ignore its context is a mistake. Sport is about atmosphere and raw athleticism, not just numbers, so it’s only fitting its “most unbreakable” record should reflect that.

Behold, my readers, the athlete who holds my unbreakable record: Secretariat.

“The 1973 Triple-Crown-winning horse?” you ask. Indeed. Many of Secretariat’s records are, in my opinion, unbreakable.

First, to open the narrow minds of statistics-driven people, I present the empirical data of Big Red’s records. Secretariat holds, to this day, the record time at all three American Triple Crown events. You could take every winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes at their current distances and race them in an Ultimate Triple Crown of sorts, and Secretariat would beat them all.

Although I could argue this feat alone is Secretariat’s unbreakable record, he has another that is even more impressive.

The entire world was watching at the 1973 Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown. No horse had won racing’s ultimate prize since Citation in 1948, and some believed the feat would never be achieved again.

Many people considered the Belmont a match race between Secretariat and Sham, the greatest race horse to never win a Triple Crown race.

Sham was no slouch. While Secretariat got all the publicity for breaking the Kentucky Derby record, Sham’s time also would have broken the old record. He was right there with Secretariat at the Preakness, the shortest race and what was supposed to be, by breeding, Secretariat’s bread-and-butter distance. However, Sham was bred for the grueling mile and a half distance of the Belmont. Some predicted Secretariat wouldn’t be able to last that long, especially after the two horses set a blazing pace to start the race and pulled away from the field.

To say they were wrong would be an understatement.

Secretariat didn’t just win; he won in a fashion that has never been, nor ever will be repeated, not only in thoroughbred racing, but in any sport. He won by 31 lengths, which is roughly equivalent to 279 feet, or just shy of a whole football field. The largest margin of victory to this day in the Derby? Eight lengths. The Preakness? Eleven and a half lengths. Big Red won with a record time of 2:24, over two seconds faster than any other horse to this day has ever run the Belmont.

No record-setting performance has been paired with such a destruction of the opposition the way Secretariat ran that day. His performance led to one of the greatest radio calls of all time, by Chic Anderson: “He is moving like a tremendous machine!”

And he was.

Secretariat’s performance that day would be comparable to Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points … if Wilt were playing in Game 7 of the NBA Finals when he did so. If Johnny Vander Meer had thrown two consecutive no-hitters in back-to-back games of the World Series.

Secretariat put up an unbreakable statistical performance in the biggest race of his life, with everybody watching.

There will be critics who scoff at my anthropomorphic characterizations of Secretariat as similar to a human athlete. Those who have been around horses know otherwise.

And by many accounts Secretariat was smarter and more human-like than any other horse. He knew what was going on that day in New York, and there is nothing that will convince people who watched that race otherwise.

He knew, and he delivered the most unbreakable record and record-setting performance the world of sports has been fortunate enough to witness.

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at [email protected]

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