18 May 2011


SECRETARIAT. Yesterday I watched the film "Secretariat", a biographical movie about the legendary American thoroughbred and his rise to fame. In 1973 Secretariat "became the first U.S. Triple Crown champion in 25 years, setting new race records in two of the three events in the series (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes) -- records which still stand today.

The Kentucky Derby is one and a quarter miles in length, the Preakness is one and three/sixteenths miles in length, and the Belmont is one and a half miles in length. In the first two races, Secretariat started last in the field, and surged to take the win. In the Belmont, he took the lead early and never stopped accelerating. By the first turn, Secretariat was running faster than most thoroughbreds are capable of running. At each succeeding quarter of the distance, his speed actually increased, stunning spectators as he flew past the finish line, a full 31 lengths ahead of his nearest competitor.

Secretariat died at age 19, after a successful racing and breeding career. It was learned at his death that his heart was nearly twice the size of a normal horse, accounting for his superb athleticism. Those who know horses agree that he was virtually a perfect physical specimen by any measure -- musculature, conformation, temperament, and size.

The movie was somewhat formulaic in structure, and to the extent that we already know Secretariat's history, it was predictable. But I was moved to tears every time the camera settled on the horse -- whether in training, at play, or racing. The cinematography was superb during those passages. Grace and power and poetry in motion, with the heart of a champion.

SLAVERY. On this day in 1652, Rhode Island passed the first law in North America making slavery illegal. Thus America's smallest state by area (1045 square miles) made a large impression on the ideals of the nascent nation, even though it took another two hundred years for the U.S. to pass a similar law, during the American Civil War. The cruel and sordid practice of slavery is an abomination on the history of this and any other nation which tolerated it -- a form of inhumanity which, like genocide, we must always remind ourselves to guard against, lest it take fresh root in subtle or overt fashion. How fitting that the state flag features the word "Hope".

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