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Today's Interview: The view from Claiborne Farm about a historic horse

Claiborne Farm President Walker Hancock
Stu Johnson
Claiborne Farm President Walker Hancock

The 148th running of the Preakness Stakes is now in the books, so two-thirds of the Triple Crown series is completed. But there will be no Triple Crown winner this year after National Treasure took the win Saturday. 50 years ago a big strong Thoroughbred made quite a showing at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Just like that run in the Kentucky Derby, Secretariat’s 1973 win at Pimlico Park was also a record-breaker. “Big Red”, who died in the fall of 1989, rests at Claiborne Farm in Bourbon County. Claiborne Farm President Walker Hancock said Secretariat’s winning time in the Derby and Preakness might be equaled one day, but not the third leg of the Triple Crown.

“The Belmont time will absolutely never be touched. You know, like we talked about Secretariat’s heart was bigger than a normal horse. Unless somehow you knew a horse’s heart was like that, I don’t foresee that feat ever being getting close to being broken,” said Hancock.

Secretariat won that Belmont Stakes race by 31 lengths. Hancock says it seems about 80% of visitors to Claiborne have a personal Secretariat story.

These many years later, the horse racing industry is under scrutiny. Hancock supports the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act. Hancock said they’re rules that will, quote, “keep the horses safer and kick the cheaters out.”

“And I think some people are worried about that because unfortunately there are some bad actors in the sport right now and I’m sure that they don’t see how the new rules are going to help horse racing, but in reality they’re going to be the biggest help that we’ve seen in decades. They’ve been trying to clean up the sport for 30 years and this is a great opportunity to do so,” said Hancock.

Hancock admitted he didn’t like all the new rules, and added he feels some are too strict. But, he said if that’s what the veterinarians and experts think, those involved in the horse industry need to get behind the Act.

Another horse from a much earlier era, Man O War, is sometimes mentioned as the best racehorse ever. When asked who was the best, Walker Hancock points to Secretariat. In addition to his impressive wins, Hancock said Secretariats was the people’s horse that united the American public after a time of division. And the Claiborne Farm president concluded by saying his accomplishments, particularly the Belmont, will never be matched.

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Stu has been reporting for WEKU for more than 35 years. His primary beat is Lexington/Fayette government.
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