Forty-eight years ago today, racetrack announcer Chic Anderson had a very good day. So did the star of his television show: Preakness Stakes-winning colt Secretariat. Anderson's even more electrifying call in the third leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown would come three weeks later at Belmont Park, and in its way was as impressive as Secretariat's historic performance. But the announcer -- like Secretariat and his rider, Ron Turcotte -- performed damned well at Pimlico, too.
NBC Sports airs the big horse races today, and last weekend the network pulled no punches while covering the drug scandal enmeshing trainer Bob Baffert and the entire sport this year. Baffert isn't just any trainer. His win with Medina Spirit in this year's Kentucky Derby was his seventh, a record. But racing fans are now starting to wonder about those records and even about horses such as American Pharoah and Justify, Baffert-trained horses that, like Secretariat, won the Triple Crown.
I'm put in mind of a caustic banner I saw in a ballpark aimed at steroid-using baseball star Barry Bonds when the Giants slugger broke home run records previously held by Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron, respectively: "Ruth did it on hot dogs and beer. Aaron did it with class. How did you do it?"
In 1973, Secretariat and his connections -- owner Penny Chenery, trainer Lucien Laurin, and jockey Turcotte -- certainly did it with class. As for Chic Anderson, well, he shared the Babe's appetite not just for hot dogs and beer, but also copious servings of rich food, fine wine, and Kentucky bourbon. His excesses caught up with him, as they did with the Babe: Chic Anderson was felled by a heart attack at 47.
He left us with memorable recordings that, through the magic of YouTube, are available today with the click of the mouse.
Although he lost his last Kentucky Derby prep race in the Wood Memorial, Secretariat was the 2-year-old Horse of the Year and a solid favorite in the 1973 Derby. He lollygagged out of the starting gate and was last early in the race before powering to an impressive win over 2nd place Sham in Kentucky. Next up was the Preakness in Baltimore. I'll hand it over to Chic Anderson:
"Secretariat is last, again, as they move into the first turn. … But here comes Secretariat! He's moving fast. And he's going to the outside. He's looking for the lead - and it's right now he's going for it! Ronnie Turcotte sends him along Ecole Etage.
"They're on the turn and here's the race, folks. Secretariat is trying to hold it and Sham is driving to get him. Head of the stretch -- Secretariat by two-and-a-half. Sham under a strong left-handed whip. And he's making his run now, but it's still Secretariat holding on. Secretariat by two lengths. Sham driving second. There's a strong left-handed whip again by Pincay -- he goes to it time and time again, but Ronnie Turcotte has his whip put away. And Secretariat has 'em put away. … He wins it by two-and-half, almost three. It was a powerhouse race again by the big, strong Secretariat."
Three weeks later, in New York, the great horse put on a performance for the ages, winning by 31 lengths. Chic Anderson was up to the moment. His work at the microphone that day can still produce chills, even among racing fans who've heard it many times. Other announcers are still in awe of it.
"They're on the turn and Secretariat is blazing along. The first three quarters of a mile in 1:09 and four-fifths. Secretariat is widening now. He is moving like a tremendous machine! Secretariat by 12. Secretariat by 14 lengths on the turn. Sham is dropping back. … Secretariat is all alone!"
Except for the rider, they are almost all gone now, the humans and horses who gave racing fans that extraordinary series of races in 1973.
Secretariat, "Big Red" to his fans, died in 1989, a few months before he would have turned 20. Lucien Laurin, a French-Canadian rider-turned-trainer, lasted until he was 88, living in Key Largo and passing away in 2000. Penny Chenery gravitated to Colorado to be near grandchildren, surviving until 2017 when she was 95. Bill Hartack, one of the great race-riders of all time, passed away in 2007. Aboard a horse named Warbucks, Hartack had shouted at Ronnie Turcotte during the fractious part of the Derby, "Stay Out! Stay Out!" as a warning to keep the jockey and Secretariat out of trouble.
But no guardian angel was on the track five years later when Turcotte took a spill at Belmont, the same track that gave him his thrilling ride aboard Secretariat. He's been in a wheelchair ever since. Today, Turcotte lives in New Brunswick, Canada, where he's an active spokesman for the disabled.
As for Charles David "Chic" Anderson, he is buried near his old Indiana home. The back of the headstone has an etching of Churchill Downs' famed Twin Spires, and a proud epitaph: Besides identifying him as a husband and father, it says this: "Chic Anderson -- World's Greatest Thoroughbred Racing Announcer."
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.