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The Day I Touched Secretariat

Updated on October 16, 2011
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is a published author, freelance writer, and photographer. She also specializes in horses.

He had long, smooth muscles that screamed power and speed, his dark eyes were kind but held a king-like majesty in their expression. His copper-red coat glistened in the August 1986 sunlight.

I walked up to him and turned and asked the attendant, "May I touch him?"


My husband focused our new video camera on me as I stepped in closer and ran my hand down his neck, then turned and smiled into the camera. There I was, at Claiborne Farms in Paris, Kentucky, touching one of the most famous racehorses of all time - Secretariat. You could tell it wasn't his first photo session; he gave us his best side, posing like the star that he was. His attendant told us he was looking off in the direction of the mare barn at the bottom of the hill. The gentleman rattled off a memorized spiel of statistics: mares bred per year, stud fees, and winning offspring while we got it all on tape.

Our private audience with the king of racehorses was by accident, a matter of being in the right place at the wrong time. We were on vacation in Lexington, Kentucky visiting the Kentucky Horse Park. In the gift shop hubby asked where was Claiborne and did they have tours. The saleslady looked up the phone number for us and Alfred made the call. He was told we could "just come on by" in the morning.

When we arrived at the entrance office we were asked if we had an appointment. When we told the lady we'd come to see Secretariat she practically turned her nose up as she said, "You can't just drop by to see Secretariat, we have a year long waiting list. You have to have an appointment."

Disappointed we were about to leave when a man walked in the door just in time to hear our rebuff. He made a phone call, asked if there was a groom who could come down and take some people to tour the stallion barn. That is how we got a private tour and to meet one-on-one the 1973's Triple Crown Winner, Secretariat. The gentleman answered all our questions including the fact that although he had not produced another triple crown winner he was bred to 58-60 mares a year earning $125,000 per breeding in stud fees.

As we drove out the long land from Claiborne, my husband remarked, "That is the most famous person I ever met."

Secretariat lived out his life at stud at Claiborne. He sired 653 foals, 57 were stakes winners, but not another Triple Crown winner among them. He died October 4, 1989 and is buried at Claiborne. To learn more about this hero of a horse go to


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    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 3 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Rochelle I so wanted him to win. I felt like he was a happy race horse (not all are). I was disappointed, but that's how it goes.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 3 years ago from California Gold Country

      I have to comment on this again-- Hometown for "California Chrome", hopeful for this year's Triple Crown, is near us-- everyone was rooting for this underdog horse to be compared to Secretariat.

      I'm not really a horse racing fan, but to see these beautiful animals run is very captivating.

      Hope things are going well for you, Donna.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country

      A great race, wasn't it? He came from our "neighborhood".

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 4 years ago from Central North Carolina

      I wonder if California Chrome will win the Triple Crown? I love how relaxed he seemed, and happy. I have a feeling he has a very good chance.

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      Edward 6 years ago

      ... goose bumps... Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      carmen 6 years ago

      what are secretariats fees now for breeding from one his offsprings.

    • ewd76 profile image

      ewd76 7 years ago from Hanover, VA

      Nice. A lot of racehorse lovers would love to have been in your place. To actual pet him would be something else.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks for adding the video-- what a handsome horse! (I saw your facebook post.)

    • profile image

      Jessica 7 years ago

      I ? Secretariat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      Shelby Staples 7 years ago

      How wonderful, Donna, that you actually had the chance to put your hands on this GREAT race horse, SECRETARIAT!!

      And . . that is where my story of Kauai King, winner of the 1966 Kentucky Derby and Preakness begins - in barn EE at Pimlico Race Track in Maryland on May 21, 1966. I sneaked into that barn three races before the Preakness, and knowing exactly what he looked like, walked right up to his stall and placed my hands on his beautiful neck and laid my head against his. Yes . . . I was caught and hauled out of there . . . and then the story continues. I was a twenty-six year old young woman, married, and with my husband and his family in Baltimore for an early morning family wedding, and I had fallen completely in love with Kauai King. I KNOW EXACTLY HOW YOU MUST HAVE FELT TO TOUCH SECRETARIAT!

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 7 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Saw the movie today and enjoyed it thoroughly. Loved it when some little kids behind me cheered and said, "Go Secretariat!" during the Derby race scene.

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 7 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Sue, when we visited in 1986 his stud fee was $125,000. he covered 58-60 mares per year.

    • profile image

      Sue Darrow 7 years ago

      what did Secretariat receive for his stud fees?

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 7 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Edward when I can get it converted from VHS to DVD I will do that.

    • profile image

      Edward 7 years ago

      It would be very cool if you posted that video on a familiar site to share with the rest of us. Would love to see it...

    • profile image

      Alfred 7 years ago

      Any chance of getting a copy of the video?

    • profile image

      Conny 7 years ago

      You are so lucky. However, I did went to visit the Kentucky Horsepark and the Claiborn farm in Paris KY and put blue and white carnations on his grave.I want to go back to KY this fall.

    • profile image

      mford 7 years ago

      I, too, got a personal visit with Secretariat. I was a junior in high school and had written a letter asking if I could come. It remains a wonderfully special memory to this day. What an amazing horse!

    • mkott profile image

      Michele 8 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      Thanks for sharing your story. Just wrote a hub about him. They are making a movie about him staring Diane Lane as Penny Chenery.

      He was one of a kind and so envious that you actually got to touch him.

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 9 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Well, that's okay. I bet you've done some neat things I haven't heard about either. Just name the day, and you can come watch the video.

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      Madeine46 9 years ago

      Hi Deda, Isn't it funny that I've known you almost all my life so far and I did not know that you had seen or touched Secretariat. I am truly impressed....I want to see the video sometime.


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      ridendurance 9 years ago

      I was a young girl when I watched the Triple Crown winner and have held him in my heart ever since. I have also often wondered if the little horse Sham, who ran second to him in the Derby and the Preakness, would have been a triple crown winner himself had they not come along the same racing year. I cannot imagine the thrill of that moment. Thanks for sharing.

    • wammytk profile image

      wammytk 10 years ago from Iowa

      What a wonderful story. You are a very lucky person to have touched him, let alone just lay eyes on him.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 10 years ago from California Gold Country

      What a special moment.

      You never know what you can be allowed to do if you don't ask.