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  • Patricia McQueen

Secretariat Racing Into History

When sculptor Jocelyn Russell completed her first Secretariat monument, I was enthralled. That amazingly beautiful piece was installed in Lexington, Ky., in 2019.

It was the third Secretariat bronze placed in Kentucky to that time, but remarkably, there had been no bronzes of the great Virginia-bred in his home state. That all changed on March 30, 2024, with the official dedication of another Secretariat monument, this one a near-duplicate of Jocelyn’s first one in Kentucky. She has even completed a third, of the champion as a stallion (installed November 11, 2023, in Paris, Ky.), and is now working on him as a baby.

I feel particularly connected to the second monument, the one now residing in Ashland, Va. I thought I’d share my story, and some photos from along the way.

Lt. Pinkerton
The new plaza featuring Secretariat in Ashland, Va.

In March 2023, Secretariat (wearing a #2 saddlecloth as he did in the Belmont Stakes; that is the primary difference from the one at the roundabout on Old Frankfort Pike in Kentucky, which bears a #1A saddlecloth, his Derby number) made the long journey from the foundry in Oklahoma to Ashland, Va., where he was officially unveiled on April 1, 2023. That launched a months-long tour where he made several extended stops and thrilled onlookers everywhere.

In Ashland last year, Jocelyn kindly invited me to where Secretariat was being cleaned up after his road trip from Oklahoma. I documented the loving attention he was being given, and even rubbed him myself in a few spots. Then he was covered up – in blue and white Meadow Stable cloth, of course – to get ready for his unveiling the next day.

That came at the annual Secretariat birthday festival, where he was formally presented to the enthusiastic crowd.

Then he was off and running, so to speak.

Whispered Secret
Jocelyn gives Secretariat a cleaning before the official unveiling.

The best thing about road trips is that they can include impromptu stops along the way, and of course there are overnight stays. Jocelyn was gracious, documenting the journey through social media, asking for recommendations of places to stay that could accommodate a trailer with a giant horse (1.5x life size!) and even making stops on request when there was time.

Aside from those unplanned adventures, the first part of the journey included the three Triple Crown tracks; after all, 2023 was the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s incredible Triple Crown. The first stop was Churchill Downs at Kentucky Derby time, followed of course by a stay at Pimlico Race Course for the Preakness and then to Belmont Park for the Belmont Stakes. In the past, I would have been at all three tracks, but since I retired from actively photographing races in 2020, my next date with the monument was at Saratoga in early August. For a few weeks, he held court for all to see in the backyard of the storied Saratoga Race Course.

When he left Saratoga, I arranged something I had wanted ever since his road trip began – to photograph him cruising down the highway. I found a convenient viewing spot on I-87 northbound; on a hill, it provided a great view of the southbound lanes. Coordinating with Jocelyn and her husband Michael, I waited in advance of the designated time. And then I saw him, racing towards me at highway speed. In just a few seconds, I got the unique images I had longed for!

All eyes in passing cars are on Secretariat as he cruises down I-87.

That was the beginning of the final leg of his seven-month journey in 2023, heading back to Virginia, again with stops along the way. Colonial Downs was main destination for the return to his home state, for the time being. That track wasn’t around when Secretariat raced, but his majestic likeness was displayed out front for several weeks.

Finally, Secretariat went into winter storage near Ashland, waiting for the 2024 Secretariat birthday festival and the official installation in downtown Ashland on March 30.

Of course, I needed to close my personal chapter as well, so I made sure to be there for that installation. After all, it would likely be my only chance to see Secretariat fly! The 3,800-pound monument was very carefully lifted by crane and lowered to his permanent home. It’s a beautiful plaza at the corner of Randoph-Macon College, right next to the train tracks that go through downtown Ashland.

Secretariat really could fly!

Amtrak passengers will see the great horse for perpetuity. Some may know who he is, but most will probably just admire a very beautiful, very large, bronze horse. Maybe a few will ask who it is, and perhaps learn about the great Triple Crown winner for the first time. Thus the Secretariat legend grows, his light still shining bright after more than 50 years.

For a full gallery of images of the Secretariat monument during his 2023 Racing Into History tour, click on the image below.


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