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Syracuse Mets manager Tony DeFrancesco, a veteran of Triple-A baseball, has watched the 6-foot-3, pound Tebow, with his thick arms and imposing frame, from both sides of the diamond. He was big and thick. He was slow. It does take a lot of reps for him to really understand how to hit major league pitching, and I think this will be a great adjustment for him here.

That Tebow is a former client of new Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who took the job last October after serving as an agent, has helped. The forecast for the opener calls for temperatures in the low 40s with a slight wind and a very slight chance of rain.

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There is anticipation in the air, just as there was an hour down the road in Binghamton a year ago. It would be a great story and you always root for an underdog. Tim is going to fight all the way through. Tim Tebow is about to begin his third full season of minor league baseball, this time with the Mets' Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse. Buy Tickets. Close Get Sports Updates. Boston Globe Media Privacy Policy.

Connect with Facebook - or -. Thanks for signing up! Privacy Policy. Watched him as he was shoved sideways at the break, dropping almost to his knees, when a colt named Quebec turned left out of the gate and crashed into him. Saw him blocked in traffic down the back side and shut off again on the turn for home. Saw him cut off a second time deep in the stretch as he was making a final run.

You should have seen Clem. We see horses like Secretariat all the time. T he Secretariat phenomenon, with all the theater and passion that would attend it, had begun. All you had to do was watch the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. I was at the races that August afternoon with Arthur Kennedy, an old-time racetracker and handicapper who had been around the horses since the s, and even he had never seen anything quite like it.

Dropping back to dead last out of the gate, Secretariat trailed eight horses into the far turn, where jockey Ron Turcotte swung him to the outside. Three jumps past the half-mile pole the colt exploded. You could see the blue-and-white silks as they disappeared behind one horse, reappeared in a gap between horses, dropped out of sight again and finally reemerged as Secretariat powered to the lead off the turn. He dashed from last to first in yards, blazing through a quarter in , and galloped home in a laugher to win by six. It was a performance with style, touched by art.

So that was when I knew. Like everyone else, I thought Secretariat would surely begin his campaign in Florida, and I did not expect to see him again until the week before the Kentucky Derby. I was browsing through a newspaper over breakfast one day when I saw a news dispatch whose message went through me like a current. At the time I had in mind doing a diary about the horse, a chronicle of the adventures of a Triple Crown contender, which I thought might one day make a magazine piece.

The colt arrived at Belmont Park on March 10, and the next day I was there at 7 a.

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For the next 40 days, in what became a routine, I would fall out of bed at 6 a. I took notes compulsively, endlessly, feeling for the texture of the life around the horse. You behave now Sweat moves around colt. Brush in hand. Flicks off dust. Secretariat sidesteps and pushes Sweat. Blue Sky. Easy Sunday morning. Secretariat was an amiable, gentlemanly colt, with a poised and playful nature that at times made him seem as much a pet as the stable dog was.

I was standing in front of his stall one morning, writing, when he reached out, grabbed my notebook in his teeth and sank back inside, looking to see what I would do. As the groom dipped under the webbing. Secretariat dropped the notebook on the bed of straw. Another time, after raking the shed, Sweat leaned the handle of the rake against the stall webbing and turned to walk away.

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Secretariat seized the handle in his mouth and began pushing and pulling it across the floor. All up and down the barn.

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By his personality and temperament. Secretariat became the most engaging character in the barn. His own stable pony, a roan named Billy Silver, began an unrequited love affair with him. Secretariat just ignores him. Kind of sad, really. Hoeffner did a double take.

Spinning around on his heels, jabbing a finger in the air, he bellowed. He smelled the wrong horse! I remember wishing that those days could breeze on forever—the mornings over coffee and doughnuts at the truck outside the barn, the hours spent watching the red colt walk to the track and gallop once around, the days absorbing the rhythms of the life around the horse.

I had been following racehorses since I was 12, back in the days of Native Dancer, and now I was an observer on an odyssey, a quest for the Triple Crown.


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The colt had filled out substantially since I had last seen him under tack, in the fall, and he looked like some medieval charger—his thick neck bowed and his chin drawn up beneath its mass, his huge shoulders shifting as he strode, his coat radiant and his eyes darting left and right. He was walking to the track for his final workout, a three-eighths-of-a-mile drill designed to light the fire in him for the seven-furlong Bay Shore Stakes three days later.

Laurin, Tweedy and I went to the clubhouse fence near the finish line, where we watched and waited as Turcotte headed toward the pole and let Secretariat rip. Laurin clicked his stopwatch. The colt was all by himself through the lane, and the sight and sound of him racing toward us is etched forever in memory: Turcotte was bent over him, his jacket blown up like a parachute, and the horse was reaching out with his forelegs in that distinctive way he had, raising them high and then, at the top of the lift, snapping them out straight and with tremendous force, the snapping hard as bone, the hooves striking the ground and folding it beneath him.

Laurin clicked his watch as Secretariat raced under the wire. How fast did you get him? Oh, it did that. I could hear a man screaming behind me. I had ridden horses during my youth in Morton Grove, Ill. I had been to the races a few times, had seen the jockeys ride, and I wanted to feel what it was like. So I hitched up my stirrups and galloped her around the east turn, standing straight up. Coming off the turn, I dropped into a crouch and clucked to her. I could feel the tears streaming down my face, and then I looked down and saw her knees pumping like pistons. No car ever took me on a ride like that.

And no roller coaster, either. Running loose, without rails, she gave me the wildest, most thrilling ride I had ever had. And there was nothing like the ride that Secretariat gave me in the 12 weeks from the Bay Shore through the Belmont Stakes. Three weeks after the Bay Shore, Turcotte sent the colt to the lead down the backstretch in the one-mile Gotham.

By then I had begun visiting Charles Hatton, a columnist for the Daily Racing Form who the previous summer had proclaimed Secretariat the finest physical specimen he had ever seen. At 67, Hatton had seen them all.

I was his backstretch eyes, he my personal guru. On the day of the Wood, I drove directly to Aqueduct and spent the hour before the race in the receiving barn with Sweat, exercise rider Charlie Davis and Secretariat. When the voice over the loudspeaker asked the grooms to ready their horses. Sweat approached the colt with the bridle. Secretariat always took the bit easily, opening his mouth when Sweat moved to fit it in, but that afternoon it took Sweat a full five minutes to bridle him.

Secretariat threw his nose in the air, backed up, shook his head. In fact, just that morning. Laurin decided to run Secretariat anyway—the colt needed the race—but he never told anyone else about the boil. Worse than the abscess, though, was the fact that Secretariat had had the feeblest workout of his career four days earlier when Turcotte, seeing a riderless horse on the track, had slowed the colt to protect him from a collision. Thus he came to the Wood doubly compromised.

The race was a disaster. Turcotte held the colt back early, but when he tried to get Secretariat to pick up the bit and run. I could see at the far turn that the horse was dead. He never made a race of it, struggling to finish third, beaten by four lengths by his own stablemate, Angle Light, and by Sham. Laurin trained him, too, and so Laurin had just won the Wood, but with the wrong horse.

I was sick. All those hours at the barn, all those early mornings at the shed, all that time and energy for naught. And in the most important race of his career. Secretariat had come up as hollow as a gourd. The next two weeks were among the most agonizing of my life. As great a stallion as he was, Bold Ruler had been essentially a speed sire and had never produced a single winner of a Triple Crown race.

In the next two weeks Churchill Downs became a nest of rumors that Secretariat was unsound. Jimmy the Greek Snyder caused an uproar when he said the colt had a bum knee that was being treated with ice packs. I had been around Secretariat all spring, and the most ice I had seen near him was in a glass of tea. All I could hope for, in those final days before the Derby, was that the colt had been suffering from a bellyache on the day of the Wood and had not been up to it.

He greeted me in an anteroom, looking surprisingly relaxed. Gilman had taken him aside a few days earlier and told him of the abscess. Turcotte saw that the boil had been treated and had disappeared. The news had made him euphoric, telling him all he needed to know about the Wood. I shrugged. He shook me off. Something was wrong.

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I shook his hand, wished him luck and left. Despite what Turcotte had said, I was resigned to the worst, and Secretariat looked hopelessly beaten as the field of 13 dashed past the finish line the first time. He was dead last. Transfixed, I could not take my eyes off him. In the first turn Turcotte swung him to the outside, and Secretariat began passing horses, and down the back side I watched the jockey move him boldly from eighth to seventh to sixth. Secretariat was fifth around the far turn and gaining fast on the outside.

Ride him! Laffit Pincay, on Sham, glanced over and saw Secretariat and went to the whip. Turcotte lashed Secretariat. The two raced head and head for yards, until gradually Secretariat pulled away. A new track and Derby record. Throwing decorum to the wind, I vaulted from my seat and dashed madly through the press box, jubilantly throwing a fist in the air. Handicapper Steve Davidowitz came racing toward me from the other end.

We clasped arms and spun a jig in front of the copy machine. I bounded down a staircase, three steps at a time. Turcotte had dismounted and was crossing the racetrack when I reached him. I had just witnessed the greatest Kentucky Derby performance of all time. He ran each quarter faster than the preceding one. Not even the most veteran race-tracker could recall a horse who had done this in a mile-and-a-quarter race. As quickly as his legions I among them had abandoned him following the Wood, so did they now proclaim Secretariat a superhorse.

He thrived on work and the racetrack routine. Most every afternoon, long after the crowds had dispersed, Sweat would graze the colt on a patch of grass outside the shed, then lead him back into his stall and while away the hours doing chores. The feather floated into the palm of my hand. He dropped back to last out of the gate, but as the field dashed into the first turn, Turcotte nudged his right rein as subtly as a man adjusting his cuff, and the colt took off like a flushed deer.

The turns at Pimlico are tight, and it had always been considered suicidal to take the first bend too fast, but Secretariat sprinted full-bore around it. Here Turcotte hit the cruise control. I can still see Clem Florio shaking his head in disbelief. He had seen thousands of Pimlico races and dozens of Preaknesses but never anything like this. He was performing like an original, making it all up as he went along.

And everything was moving so fast, so unexpectedly, that I was having trouble keeping a perspective on it. Not three months before, after less than a year of working as a turf writer, I had started driving to the racetrack to see this one horse. For weeks I was often the only visitor there, and on many afternoons it was just Sweat, the horse and me in the fine dust with the pregnant stable cat. And then came the Derby and the Preakness, and two weeks later the colt graced the covers of time , sports illustrated and Newsweek , and he was a staple of the morning and evening news. Secretariat suddenly transcended horse racing and became a cultural phenomenon, a sort of undeclared national holiday from the tortures of Watergate and the Vietnam War.

Pure Heart

I threw myself with a passion into that final week before the Belmont. Out to the barn every morning, home late at night, I became almost manic. The night before the race I called Laurin at home, and we talked for a long while about the horse and the Belmont. I kept wondering, What is Secretariat going to do for an encore?

Laurin said.

I slept at the Newsday offices that night, and at 2 a. I drove to Belmont Park to begin my vigil at the barn. I circled around to the back of the shed, lay down against a tree and fell asleep. I awoke to the crowing of a cock and watched as the stable workers showed up. Sweat slipped into the stall, put the lead shank on Secretariat and handed it to Charlie Davis, who led the colt to the outdoor walking ring.

In a small stable not 30 feet away, pony girl Robin Edelstein knocked a water bucket against the wall. Secretariat, normally a docile colt on a shank, rose up on his hind legs, pawing at the sky, and started walking in circles. Davis cowered below, as if beneath a thunderclap, snatching at the chain and begging the horse to come down. Secretariat floated back to earth. He danced around the ring as if on springs, his nostrils flared and snorting, his eyes rimmed in white.

Unaware of the scene she was causing, Edelstein rattled the bucket again, and Secretariat spun in a circle, bucked and leaped in the air, kicking and spraying cinders along the walls of the pony barn. Come on down! I stood in awe. I had never seen a horse so fit. The Derby and Preakness had wound him as tight as a watch, and he seemed about to burst out of his coat. I had no idea what to expect that day in the Belmont, with him going a mile and a half, but I sensed we would see more of him than we had ever seen before.

Secretariat ran flat into legend, started running right out of the gate and never stopped, ran poor Sham into defeat around the first turn and down the backstretch and sprinted clear, opening two lengths, four, then five.