A Horse is a Horse, but I Remember #Secretariat

I will never forget the look on my Uncle Frank’s face as he tossed the small piece of paper in the air and walked away in disgust.

In fact, as I stood there looking at the faces of the others in the pool, I didn’t understand why they were looking at me so strangely.

There were even a couple who looked angry.

The date was June 9, 1973, and I was four months shy of my thirteenth birthday.

There was a cookout at my father’s house and I, along with a few of my brothers and sisters were there.

It’s rare to be able to recall your exact whereabouts on a specific day forty-two years ago, unless that day was historically significant. John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded on take-off and the day the Boston Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years are some examples (that last one probably more so for me than most of you).

So what was so special about June 9, 1973 that allows me to remember a Saturday afternoon cookout at my father’s house?

It was the day of the 105th running of the Belmont Stakes.


It would be an understatement to say my father had an affinity for gambling. For those of you who have read my novels, the character of Ralph Donabedian is loosely based on my dad.

So with a big horse race happening, it goes without saying that there were some wagers being placed at the gathering.


There was also a pool—the gambling kind, not the swimming kind.

The entry fee for the pool was $10 per couple.

When it came time for the entrants to draw their horse from the torn pieces of paper in the “hat”, my father noted that they were one couple short. There were six horses and only five couples, so my Uncle Eddy pulled my cousin Debbie and me from the sidelines and told us he would pay our entry fee so we could round out the pack.

I think I was the third one to pull a name from the hat.

I had no idea what was going on, I was just following instructions.

I reached in and removed a slip of paper and tried to pronounce the weird name written on it…the best I could do was “Secretary”.

That’s when Uncle Frank tossed his slip of paper in the air and walked away in (mock) disgust.

I asked my father what was going on. He laughed and said “You just won the pool!”

Secretariat made it look easy.


Even after he won by thirty-one lengths, Debbie and I weren’t 100% sure what all the fuss was about, but we accepted the payout with huge smiles.

Only five horses ran in the race.

One of the six was scratched just before post-time, so we had to refund that couple’s money, and naturally we had to refund Uncle Eddy for staking us…

So we ended up splitting a forty-dollar pot.

A day of fun in the sun was great, but leaving with a twenty-dollar bill in my pocket made it a very memorable cookout indeed.


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10 responses to “A Horse is a Horse, but I Remember #Secretariat

  1. It was one of the most amazing days in all of sports. Sounds like you and I are the same age. Nice trip down memory lane.

  2. Author Rebecca Heishman

    I remember Big Red with a smile on my face. He was a rock star, and I was his biggest fan. I remember the day he died. I was on my way to work as a hospital staff nurse when I heard the news of his death. It was also the day that Jim Bakker, the controversial evangelist had again become involved in scandal and the story of his latest transgression was all over the news. I despised Jim Bakker, his entire organization, and everything he stood for. When I sat down with the staff for change-of-shift report, I had tears in my eyes. My charge nurse looked at me and said, “What’s the matter, Becky?” I said, “I just heard some very sad news.” She replied, “Are you upset about Jim Bakker?” I said, “Hell, no! Secretariat’s dead. Secretariat had more class under his tail than that creepy preacher had in his entire body.” Our report was delayed because our charge nurse had to put her head down on the desk because she was shaking, unable to stop laughing. It took her a long time to gain her composure. I was crying tears of grief. She was crying tears of hysterical laughter. It was a crazy moment. I’m glad that American Pharaoh didn’t equal Big Red’s time. I want it to stand forever, and I believe it will.

    • If you had been crying because of Jim Bakker I would have been concerned!
      I think (and hope) that Secretariat’s record will stand forever too – some records just shouldn’t be broken.

  3. La Valerienne… Vichy, 30 years ago… the old horse who won 🙂

  4. I can not remember the horse right now, but the exact thing happened to me at around the same age maybe younger. My dad asked me to pick a name of a horse at the bar. The next day he handed me money. I don’t think it was Secretariet, and unlike you, I have no idea of the date.

  5. Ahh…Secretariat – – the story of the daughter who bucked the social norms, family and industry standards and the horse that was considered the ‘runt’ of the season – :D. Love that story AND now, have one more ‘trivia point’ to add to it 🙂

    • Thank you for stopping by – and you did a fine job on the caulking by the way!!

      • Oh thank you! As one who is a ‘plumbers daughter’, who sorely misses her Dad’s wisdom, still, all these years since his passing – that, right there, is almost as good as him showing up and saying, “good job, sis…now, them tomatoes aren’t going to get themselves covered – and frost is due in the forecast – – let’s go….” LOL

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