Secretariat was robbed.
In 1973, the thoroughbred known as “Big Red” had won the Triple Crown in spectacular fashion, setting the Kentucky Derby record and demolishing the Belmont Stakes record with a time that is still the world record today, winning by an astonishing thirty-one lengths.
But Secretariat’s legacy was marred by a clock malfunction at the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness. Big Red beat Sham in that race, but his time was a full second short of the Preakness record.
But something was amiss, and controversy swirled immediately. Two clockers for the Daily Racing Form had separately timed the race much faster–indeed, at a record-setting pace. The Maryland Racing Commission agreed that the automatic timer had probably malfunctioned and lowered the race time by three-fifths of a second, but that time still did not reflect the times recorded by others and was still two-fifths of a second short of the Preakness record. As a result, Secretariat and his racing team could not claim the records for all three Triple Crown races.
Over the ensuing years, many petitioned the Maryland Racing Commission to review the results, but to no avail. But then Leonard Lusky entered the debate.
Lusky serves as president of Secretariat.com, the official online source of information about the champion racehorse. Lusky also is the agent for Ron Turcotte, the jockey who rode Secretariat to his stunning Triple Crown victories (and who has maintained an unimpeachable reputation for integrity in a tough business).
Lusky had experts analyze Secretariat’s Preakness victory using frame-by-frame analysis of the race video and submit their evidence to the Maryland Racing Commission. Upon review, the commission voted 7-0 to correct Secretariat’s time. The official time is now 1:53, which is a full two seconds faster than the original time recorded by the malfunctioning clock.
Penny Chenery (who owned Secretariat and led the Meadow Farm stable, becoming known as the “first lady of racing”) cheered the correction and was “thrilled for the team.”
Secretariat’s legacy was renewed—now stronger and deeper than ever.
But note what Lusky told us: “It took the whole Meadow Farm Stable–Penny’s father, Penny, a great trainer, all the exercise riders, the groom who makes the horse comfortable, and the jockey–in addition to the horse’s bloodline. It takes all these parts together to win the Triple Crown.” Now Lusky has made his own contribution to the legacy.
Taking a page out of the Meadow Farm playbook, we make the case in Triple Crown Leadership that great leadership is a group performance that ebbs and flows dynamically from person to person, depending on the person’s knowledge, skills, passions, and the nature of the situation.
We consider Secretariat and the Meadow Farm team (Chenery, Turcotte, and all the others) to be the greatest racing stable of all time. They set records and left legacies that are excellent, ethical, and enduring–setting new standards of performance and integrity for generations.
In 1973, Secretariat was robbed. This week, he was redeemed.
Bob and Gregg Vanourek are the authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (McGraw-Hill 2012).
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