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  • Patricia McQueen

The Long and (Somewhat) Winding Road

With due respect to the Beatles, when I’ve thought about how I made it to the finish line with my book Secretariat’s Legacy, I can’t help but think of the long road I’ve traveled to get here. While the end goal was always the same – to produce a work that celebrated Secretariat as a sire – the path sometimes changed.


As Secretariat’s Legacy finally goes to the printer, it’s time to reflect on the experiences over the past dozen years that led to its creation. Well, the last dozen years of more focused work. Truthfully, I have scrapbooks of news articles about Secretariat’s offspring dating back to his first crop, so even then I was following his stallion career with as much enthusiasm as I had when following his racing career.


Originally, I considered timing the book with the release of the 2010 Disney feature film Secretariat. But that thought was fleeting – I had other commitments and came to the obvious conclusion that it wasn’t going to happen that way. Which turned out to be a good thing, since there has been so much more tangible evidence of Secretariat’s lasting legacy in the dozen years since then. Besides, what better way to showcase this new angle on the great horse than during the 50th anniversary celebrations next year!


So the work began in earnest around 2011, when I started conducting interviews with the horses’ connections and began reading through materials from 1974 forward. Part of the job was made a lot easier since I have been a subscriber of key industry publications since the mid-1970s. From the comfort of my own home, I could go through every single issue of The Blood-Horse (as it was called back then) and the late, great The Thoroughbred Record. Those magazines sure take up a lot of space around here, but I was happy to have them handy! My old scrapbooks were also quite useful, containing articles from other sources, such as Sports Illustrated and some of my local newspapers back then.

Of course, it took much more than that. There’s a priceless resource maintained by the Keeneland Library in Kentucky – historical Daily Racing Forms. What a blast from the past! Reading the magic words of journalists such as Joe Hirsch brought the horses’ stories to life 20 to 40 years after the fact.


It was thrilling to have conversations (either in person or via phone or email) with people like D. Wayne Lukas, Bert and Diana Firestone, LeRoy Jolley, Allen Jerkens, Pat Day, Bart Cummings, Peter Blum, Louie Roussel, Ronnie Lamarque and so many others. The years rarely dimmed their memories and their enthusiasm for the horses.


Although the interviews and articles provided much of the raw material, it was also fun going through the magazines from the era and seeing the advertisements of the early Secretariats offered at auction and ultimately for sons of Secretariat as they went to stud.


When it came time to assemble the words, my initial idea was to put the most important horses first, but I quickly realized that wasn’t a good way to handle the subject matter. One reason is that it would have depended on my own opinion of what horses should go where, when it really made much more sense to let the prose flow naturally, from beginning to end. There are a few exceptions to that general guideline, as some horses are grouped together by circumstances rather than timeline. I humbly think that what I’ve come up with works quite well.


My full vision, however, went far beyond words. Obviously as a photographer, anything I produced had to include photos – lots of photos! While I have photographed some 100 sons and daughters of Secretariat, there were many notable offspring I never saw. So I set about acquiring usage rights for photos of many of them, such as the foreign stakes winners and others of interest.


Included in the book are photos of 56 stakes winners by Secretariat, several stakes-placed runners and numerous other interesting sons and daughters. Like the first yearling in the world to sell for more than $1 million (son Canadian Bound, who brought $1.5 million in 1976); stellar producing daughters such as Betty’s Secret, Lady Winborne and Celtic Assembly; a son who was a champion international show jumper under the name Quantum Leap; and the last surviving Secretariats who were featured in my Secretariat’s Living Legends charity calendar series. In total, there are photos of 87 different Secretariats throughout, if I counted right.


In addition, there are photos of almost 80 Secretariat descendants past the first generation; for example, A.P. Indy, Storm Cat, Gone West, Chief’s Crown, Dehere, Istabraq, Giant’s Causeway, American Pharoah, Justify, Tapit and so many more.


With multiple photos of the most important sons and daughters, such as Lady’s Secret, Risen Star, Tinners Way, Terlingua, Weekend Surprise and others, each having own chapter, Secretariat’s Legacy contains some 280 photos. That was another deviation from the path – just ask my designer Suzanne. I thought I’d top out around 200 photos, but as the work continued, I kept making room for more. And while many of them came from my own cameras, I relied upon photographers and racetracks from around the world to fill in the gaps. The end result is the most amazing photographic collection of Secretariat’s offspring ever gathered!


Admittedly, all those photos were driving me crazy as we went through the pre-press process, examining each of them. Some of the older photos were not always of the best quality, and color analysis was a bear, but in these cases it truly is precious to have them no matter what.

Speaking of going crazy, I sometimes felt that way when reading the manuscript over and over. While I had editors, none of us are perfect and as the months went by, I kept finding little booboos. It’s hard when you’ve lived with something for so long – the brain just reads through as if nothing was wrong, and then the next time, you spot a typo! I sure hope we caught them all across the 126,000 words! Maybe I’ll offer a prize if anyone spots a typo once the book is in your hands, or maybe you’ll just have bragging rights. Or, hopefully, you’ll simply be very kind and ignore it.


With the hard work done, now it’s mostly about waiting. I’ll soon have one last chance to proof the whole book before giving the go-ahead to start printing, and then it’s just a matter of time. Currently I hope to have them in hand sometime in February. I’m going to make a very special pre-sale offer beginning in December: In return for an advance purchase, you’ll get a discounted price and a couple of extra goodies. The announcement will probably come in my next newsletter in early December, and also on my Facebook page. I hope many of you will join my celebration and be among the first to order (and eventually receive) what I hope will be a treasured addition to your Secretariat collection.



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