Secretariat’s big race similar to what this nation faces

Published 8:36 am Wednesday, October 27, 2010

As someone born and raised in Virginia, I have always had a love for horses. When I was in college, the athlete I admired most was not an NBA or NFL superstar, but rather it was a Virginia-born thoroughbred racehorse named Secretariat.

Secretariat had a way of keeping his fans in suspense by always starting at the back of the pack, yet he inevitably ended up winning. No horse had won the U.S. Triple Crown in the 25 years before Secretariat. Secretariat had an opportunity to do that after he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

There was a theory that said trainers needed to rest their horses between races to give the horses proper time to build strength for the next race. But Secretariat’s trainer had a different philosophy.

His trainer believed that Secretariat was such a unique horse that he needed to continue to push Secretariat, even between races. The trainer believed the more he challenged Secretariat, the stronger and the better he would get.

This was a gamble, of course. If Secretariat tired out, he could stand to lose the race and possibly injure himself. It was an abnormal technique most trainers did not embrace for their horses. But Secretariat was not a normal horse.

At the Belmont Stakes, the last race of U.S. Triple Crown, there was chatter amongst the crowd, and the announcers over whether Secretariat could pull off a win after having won the previous two races and lacking much rest time. Would Secretariat be able to withstand the continuous training? Would Secretariat fall down from exhaustion? Would he even be able to keep up?

While I remember watching the race on television as a young college student, just a few weeks ago, my wife Shirley and I got to relive the race when we watched the newly released movie about Secretariat. At the climax of the movie, the scene picked up at the Belmont Stakes, with announcers, spectators and the world watching with bated breath to see whether Secretariat would succeed.

As Secretariat began the race, for the first time ever he started out with an abnormally fast pace, running aggressively to keep up with the pace horse. The announcers were in disbelief.

As Secretariat made the far turn at the track, the announcers and the spectators questioned the strategy and waited on edge to see if Secretariat would pull off the Triple Crown, when the screen suddenly went still. The music stopped. The movie moved in slow motion. And with a silence that seemed to suspend forever, the audience held on the edge of their seats. Then the stillness broke to reality as the announcer yelled “Secretariat is 31 lengths in the lead!”

Secretariat became the first horse to win the U.S. Triple Crown in 25 years.

As I relived Secretariat’s race on the big screen, I realized how this scenario is not very different from where we are as a nation right now. Our country has been pulled through the ringer.

Americans are questioning whether we have pushed too hard as a country. Americans look at the debt we have accrued and wonder if we can ever reverse course.

And with all of those questions suspended in the air as we head into November, the screen has gone still; the crowd has become silent; the country seems to move in slow motion as Americans.

Will it be an America that continues to spend itself into bankruptcy? Or will it be an America that rebounds back and makes the necessary and difficult steps to get our finances under control? Will it be an America that taxes her employers to the point where they cannot make decisions based on what is best for their business?

Or will we seek to empower those employers to hire more people as the cornerstone of our nation’s economy? Will it be an America that continues to make government our fallback?

I still believe in the greatness of America. I believe that our hope for the future is not in Washington; it is in the hard work and the ideas of the American people who realize that we cannot borrow and spend our way to the American Dream; we must earn it.

I believe that the American people have not lost sight of that reality. And I believe that when the stillness breaks way to reality, and this chapter of the story is finished, the world will be once again astonished that our nation will be 31 lengths ahead.

You see, part of the reason that Secretariat was able to make that 31 length jump was because of something else unique about him. When he died at the age of 19, an autopsy found that his heart was two-and-a-half times the size of a normal horse.

Many across the globe do not think we can do it. Sadly, some here at home agree. They say no nation can do what we have tried to do. They forget the United States is not just any nation.

America is unique. She is the greatest experiment in democracy that this world has ever birthed. And the reason for her uniqueness is the heart of her people who will not let her go. It is the heart of her people who are determined to keep America great.

U.S. Rep. RANDY FORBES, R-Va., represents Western Tidewater in the U.S. House of Representatives. His e-mail address is