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What Killed Secretariat: The Most Famous Horse Of The 70s and 80s

No matter if you are interested in horse racing or not, chances are you’ve definitely heard about the legendary Secretariat, which managed to break all records in horse racing. This was an amazing horse with exceptional abilities that are not yet seen in the world of horse racing.

Photo via Dottie Day on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Secretariat managed to win the Triple Crown races in blisteringly fast time setting a record on every track individually. At the time no one in the box betting could predict the success this horse would achieve.

This incredible specimen had true horse racing attributes that were very different compared to other horses. After his win in 1973, Secretariat continued to be making covers of magazines and throughout the '80s while he was siring many Derby contenders and having a happy retirement life.

But after winning the Triple Crown, and retiring from professional racing, Secretariat started his stud career, which was short-lived due to a rare disease that will be the cause of his death.

For starters, Secretariat’s heart was 22 pounds, which is more than double the size of the average Thoroughbred. This means that the heart was pumping more oxygen into his lungs which resulted in explosive power and great stamina.

So How Did Secretariat Die?

After the impressive run of Secretariat and retiring from professional racing, he got the most attention from the media and the best vets and trainers possible to take care of him. Dr. Swerczek was his assigned vet, and he developed an awe-inspired respect for the horse just like everyone else.

He was one of the teams of veterinarians at Claiborne farm, where Secretariat retired from racing and transitioned to a stud career. However, after an unexpected discovery of a rare illness, Secretariat’s days were numbered.

The horse has developed laminitis, which is a painful and debilitating hoof condition. Claiborne farm realized that Secretariat days were numbered in the fall of 1989 and nobody knew how long since they didn’t know how the disease progressed.

Secretariat went into a lab with 10 people from the farm. Even though Dr. Swerczek performed hundreds of necropsies each year, this one brought in an incredible sense of respect and relevance that was felt everywhere.

After the examination, Dr. Swerczek said that Secretariat’s laminitis was the worst case he had ever seen. There was no chance of a cure or any kind of improvement, which left only one option for the medical team.

Secretariat was put down via lethal injection on October 4, 1989. Since the illness of this incredible horse was very painful and came to a point where there isn’t any cure or a way to improve his condition, this was the only ethical option.

Dr.Swerczek had to do multiple checks on other organs like the kidney and liver just to satisfy the insurance company’s requirements, even though everyone knew about the cause of Secretariat’s death.

During the process of checking Secretariat's organs, Dr. Kaufman which was a resident veterinarian at Claiborne Farm asked out of curiosity, What does this legendary horse's heart look like.

Dr. Swerczek started to open up the horse and felt awful since this was everyone’s legend.

However, the veterinarians were amazed by what they found. Dr.Swerczek stated that the heart of Secretariat was the largest heart he had ever seen in a horse. It is common for animals with a larger heart to find some kind of abnormalities, but with Secretariat’s heart, everything looked normal, except the size.

Secretariat was a unique specimen that had incredible speed and stamina. It is truly a horse that is born once in thousands of years, which proves his result from his professional career which is not beaten to this day.

It is very unfortunate to see how this horse died, especially since he didn’t have a long stud career, which is why there aren’t many horses that are related to Secretariat. No matter how the outcome was, Secretariat was more than just a racehorse. He gave hope to many people and showed what is truly possible in the world of horse racing if you have a large heart.

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