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Barbaro vs. Secretariat

by Randy Chambers
5/12/06

In no shape, way or form can you compare two athletes from two different eras, it simply cannot be done. In basketball we hear the steady comparisons given to LeBron James of him overhauling basketball legend Michael Jordan. A tough act to follow considering Michael Jordan was the most valuable player of the league five-times, a six-time league finals MVP while winning six championship rings and was a ten-time league first team selection. They say numbers never lie, and at the young age of twenty-one, LeBron is well on his way to surpassing some of Michael's numbers.

If you base your final conclusion of who's better by looking only at statistics, in ten-years time LeBron's numbers may surpass Michael's by a wide margin. So who's better? LeBron or Michael. The ball remains round, bright orange and made of full grain leather. The sole purpose of the game has gone un-altered, score more points than your opponent, but rules have been modified from one generation to the next. Who's better than who simply boils down to a matter of opinion, that's what makes sports so entertaining, in particular horse racing.

Horse racing is no different than any other sport, it is simply irrational to match two great racing champions from the past. The question has been asked on several occasions with a vague answer in return, what has gone amiss with the breeding industry. The champions that do accomplish great heights on the race track disappear all to quickly to multi-million dollar breeding farms, depriving the racing community of a Triple Crown winner for the last 27 years. The 1919 Triple Crown winner Sir Barton started 31 times, in 1937 War Admiral made 26 career lifetime starts, 1948 Whirlaway made 60 starts, 1946 Assault 42 starts, 1948 Citation 45 starts and in 1978 Affirmed made 29 lifetime starts. Trainers have been ridiculed for their insufficient knowledge of conditioning horses properly and the owners greed to cash in at the breeding shed.

On May 6, 2006 we may have witnessed the first step to greatness when Barbaro torched a full field of twenty in the 132nd edition of the Kentucky Derby. Since his victory on Saturday, premature talk has begun of him being the next Triple Crown winner since Affirmed accomplished the feat in 1978. The comparisons to Secretariat may be far fetched at this point, nevertheless his Kentucky Derby win by 6 1/4 lengths is one the most impressive displays seen in quite some time. In basketball there can only be one Michael Jordan, just like in horse racing there can only be one Secretariat, but Barbaro when it's all said and done, could sit on the same pedestal as his mentor, that being the pedestal of greatest horses of all-time. Barbaro has gotten off to an auspicious start winning his first five races, his first three coming on the turf.

Secretariat made his first start on July 4, 1972 in a 5 furlong maiden special weight event at Aqueduct. He was pinched so bad coming out of the starting gate that he almost fell face first. He was blocked in behind a wall of horses turning for home, but gave us a hint of his massive heart managing to find a burst of energy and finish fourth. As for his record on turf, Secretariat would win the Man O' War and Canadian International respectively, the last two races of his career and retire undefeated on the turf.

Barbaro made his first start at Delaware Park on October 4, 2005 in a maiden special weight race on the turf going one-mile. A totally different scenario would transpire for Barbaro in his career debut. Albeit difficult to load for the start of the race, he sprang from the gate and maintained a steady position never more than 1 lengths from the lead. He opened up a four-length lead turning into the stretch, and continued that surge never looking back while drawing off to win by eight lengths.

Versatility is always something you look for in a champion, and Barbaro like Secretariat has been instilled with this valuable trait. Barbaro's true test of versatility came in the Grade I Florida Derby when he drew an unfavorable post position of ten. He would have to step his game up a notch and use his speed to crossover from his outside post position, to avoid being caught wide running into the first turn, never ignoring the fact he would have to conserve his energy for the final seven furlongs of the race. He did it in an absolute masterful manner, responding to cues only when asked and running down Sharp Humor inside the final sixteenth of a mile.

Most people remember Secretariat for his triumph by thirty-one lengths in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. He lead from start to finish to become, at the time, only the ninth horse in racing history to capture the Triple Crown. But in his first ten races Secretariat used his versatility and quick turn of foot to come from off the pace, winning the Champagne Stakes in 1972 from nine lengths back. It was this patented running style that saw him capture marquee races such as the Sanford Stakes, Bay Shore and Hopeful Stakes. The son of Bold Ruler came from sixth place, 9 lengths off of the lead to beat Sham and Our Native to take the 1973 Kentucky Derby in record breaking time. It wasn't until the 1973 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct where Secretariat proved he could win on the lead taking a small group of six from gate to wire, winning by three lengths in the end.

Both looked like they have been sculptured by an artist. Secretariat with his thick neck, deep shoulders and enormous hind end. The most daunting physical characteristic of Secretariat was his impeccable confirmation, he was well balanced. Barbaro possess the same qualities, with the exception of being slightly smaller in the hind end area and some minor blemishes in his conformation.

Secretariat occasionally ran faster over a an off-track than he did on a fast racing surface. In the Laurel Futurity he completed the 1 1/16 miles over a sloppy surface in 1:42 1/5. Less than a month later he came back in the Garden State Stakes and ran 1:44 2/5 over a fast surface for 1 1/16 miles. His Bay Shore win was completed in 1:23 1/5 over a sloppy surface after running six-furlongs in 1:10. Barbaro made his stakes debut in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on an off surface. Time for the 1 1/8 miles, 1:49 1/5. His time eight-weeks later in the Florida Derby, 1:49 for 1 1/8 miles.

Secretariat's sire was Bold Ruler who was bred by the famed Ogden Phipps Family in 1954. Bold Ruler was foaled at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky. As a three-year-old he won the Flamingo Stakes, while breaking the track record as well as capturing the Wood Memorial Stakes. He finished fourth in the 1957 Kentucky Derby, but came back to win the Preakness Stakes. After a brief four-year-old campaign, Bold Ruler was retired to stud at Claiborne Farm where he would sire eleven champions, including Hall of Fame inductee Gamely.

Barbaro is the son of Dynaformer who currently stands at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky for $100,000. A winner stakes races during his career, Dynaformer finished with a lifetime mark of 7-5-2 from 30 lifetime starts, while earning $671,207. He has sired six stakes winners so far in 2006 after siring 22 stakes winners in 2005. With Barbaro taking the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 6, his four-year-old son Purim earned a victory in the Avers Wexler Illinois Owners Stakes at Arlington Park on Sunday, May 7.

The two are similar in many ways but let's not jump the gun just yet on Barbaro, it's still to early in the game. But, so far he has given us every indication that he may be headed for destiny.


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