…In the final strides, we saw the horse for the first time. Before, we had watched the margins between Secretariat and the other horses. Saw how close it was early. Saw how fast they were running. It was the way we watch horse races: watching the way they raced each other, how far one was ahead, whether one seemed to be gaining, or fading. How far. The gap. We saw the closeness melt, and the margin spread…
But now, instead of the margin we saw The Horse. He was no longer racing the others. He was racing only himself and history.
He was gray to us, because we saw him on a black and white TV set. He was solid gray, and the blue and white blocks of the rider’s silks were dark gray and white. The rail was white. The blinkers were checkered.
His chest grew. His head held steady. Or lowered a bit, perhaps, as the wire approached.
If you were there, at Belmont Park, you saw Secretariat in living color. He was dark red, darker than his normal, bright, reddish-blond coat. With every muscle churning in full combustion, the horse darkened in color.
His legs, you couldn’t see them. Not even a blur. You could see his white-stockinged feet. Like a low trail of vapor. A white wisp of flying fog.
And then it was over.
The moment froze. What we are left with are those fleeting glimpses – a blazing pace, a huge running machine, a visual roar of acceleration, an ever-widening margin, the coat darkening, a white vapor of feet, a jockey sitting chilly, a horse alone – and one long-lasting moment frozen in memory. What we witnessed. The champion’s charisma. A feeling. An emotion. A ripple of goose bumps.
A moment of greatness.
As we all know, it was 31 lengths; you can see the official finish line photo here.