Nearly 50 years ago he galloped memorably into our lives, muscles pulsing hard beneath a coat of brilliant red, hooves stretching farther forward in a stride longer than any horse before or since. He was a wonder, Secretariat, a vision of the perfect horse who left us all too soon.
And now he’s back.
Muscled and shining, half again larger than life, a bronze monument depicting Secretariat winning the Kentucky Derby, with jockey Ron Turcotte aboard, was unveiled Saturday at Keeneland. On Monday morning the memorial will be towed to its intended resting place, the center of a traffic roundabout at Alexandria Drive and Old Frankfort Pike.
A crowd at Keeneland of perhaps 200 applauded in approval as the blue and white checkered drape — the pattern and colors of Secretariat’s ownership, Meadow Stable — was pulled back to reveal the statue, weighing 3,800 pounds. The ceremony, held in front of the sales pavilion, was part of the annual Secretariat Festival ongoing through the weekend.
Secretariat, it turns out, still has many faithful fans.
Quite a few of these faithful walked up following the unveiling to touch the bronze horse lovingly, to run their hands along the raised lines of his coat of hair, to trace the muscles of a forelimb that they never could have touched when Secretariat still lived. Sculptor Jocelyn Russell of Friday Harbor, Wash., depicted Secretariat in full stride, his weight on two legs only, the way he looked when racing home as the Derby winner in 1973, on his way to winning the Triple Crown.
Just as Secretariat was red, or chestnut, in real life, his bronze monument bears a red patina. He could not look more lifelike, which was Russell’s concern all along when she accepted this commission 18 months ago. She has said many times that she knew her audience would be a tough sell, in the heart of horse country and Virginia-bred Secretariat’s final home (at Claiborne Farm) from retirement from racing in 1973 until his death in 1989 at age 19.
Many were telling Russell following the reveal that she had accomplished a job well-done. In a little more than a year she had taken Secretariat from a clay maquette of 10 inches, then another of 29 inches, to work on the real item: the larger-than-life sized horse and rider constructed first of polyurethane foam chunks. The chunks when assembled were covered with clay and the clay-covered chunks became the molds for the pouring of the bronze.
The completed Secretariat arrived after dark Thursday at Keeneland, initially resting near the Keeneland library. The journey on a flatbed trailer from Norman, Okla., had taken three days. Secretariat rode upright, held in place by four nylon straps each rated to hold 3,300 pounds, his trailer pulled by a three-quarter ton pickup truck. On Friday night he was moved, still on his trailer, from the library to a spot in front of the sales pavilion where the ceremony was planned for Saturday morning.
As for the journey from Oklahoma, by way of St. Louis, Mo., memories were epic. Russell told of vehicles rolling up alongside them, with drivers looking over to take photos with their phones. “Almost everybody that went by him had their camera out,” Russell said. “A few people honked. Her husband and partner in her art, Michael Dubail, did most of the driving. The only alarming moments occurred when they rolled over blemishes in the roads. “Wrinkles in the roads, the trailer gets bucking,” she said. But Secretariat, always the steady one, stayed on his feet.
City, state, and federal governments along with the Triangle Foundation of Lexington have combined to bring the Secretariat monument and a parking/viewing area to the intersection.
“But this project belongs to everybody,” Russell said, “because of the horse.” The late Don Ball, owner of Donamire Farm and a home builder, had the initial vision of a horse monument to be centered in the roundabout. Horse owners Alec Campbell and Tracy Farmer played major roles in carrying the vision forward.
Triangle Foundation, which is funding the bronze memorial and accompanying landscape features designed by Barrett Partners, Inc., has not disclosed its cost. A $300,000 figure for both a sculpture and landscaping inside the roundabout was cited in 2012 when the neighborhood organization called Lexington-Frankfort Scenic Corridor, Inc., first looked into improving the site.
The nearby viewing and parking area, which will not be Triangle’s responsibility, will cost $753,900. Of that amount, the federal Transportation Alternative Program Funds is contributing $603,120, the Lexington-Frankfort Scenic Corridor, Inc., is contributing land valued at $58,500, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky is contributing $92,280.