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How Big was Secretariat’s Heart?

With his Triple Crown achievement, Secretariat set a record no racing horse could beat. Even as a 2-year old horse, many recognized the vastness of his potential. Acknowledged by Time, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and many more, nobody could ignore the powerful speed generated by Big Red. 

During Secretariat’s necropsy, Dr. Swerczek was shocked to see that the great horse’s heart was double the size of an average horse’s heart, weighing between a staggering 21 to 22 pounds. 

The Greatness of Secretariat

A foal that emerged from the breeding of the mare Somethingroyal and the stud Bold Ruler, Secretariat, or Big Red as people referred him to, was already a large and chunky horse from the start. His size showed much potential as a horse, and by two years old, he already stood 66 inches tall, with a weight nearing 1,200 pounds. Eddie Sweat, his long-spanning groomer, expressed his initial hesitations with the massive horse.

I didn’t think much of him when we first got him. I thought he was just a big clown. He was real clumsy and a bit on the wild side, you know. And I remember saying to myself I didn’t think he was going to be an outstanding horse.

Eddie Sweat

During Secretariat’s first race, he managed to land in fourth place from the tenth place, and by his third race, he was already the crowd favorite due to his impressive and powerful speed. In the same year of his first race, he earned the Horse of the Year title at the young age of two years old due to the seven wins he garnered from his nine races.

Secretariat lived his years by accomplishing amazing feats, setting an unsurpassed record of winning the Triple Crown in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. Admitted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of fame and inducted into the 1999 ESPN’s 50 greatest athletes of the century, nothing ever compared to the excellency of Secretariat, not even the 41 stake winners he sired from his 582 offsprings. (Source: History

Big Red’s Heart

When Secretariat passed away in October 1989 because of laminitis, a severely painful and incurable hoof condition, many medical practitioners were shocked when they discovered the size of the great horse’s heart. (Source: History

Dr. Thomas Swerczek, the veterinarian that performed Secretariat’s necropsy, was shocked when he saw that Secretariat’s heart was more than double the size of an average horse heart. Weighing between 21 and 22 pounds, it was the most massive heart Dr. Swerczek has seen. (Source: Horse Racing Nation


In a 1940 issue of Sports Illustrated within an article entitled Pure Heart, William Nack writes about Dr. Swerczek’s insights on Big Red.

I’ve seen and done thousands of autopsies on horses, and nothing I’d ever seen compared to it. The heart of the average horse weighs about nine pounds. This was almost twice the average size, and a third larger than any equine heart I’d ever seen. And it wasn’t pathologically enlarged. All the chambers and the valves were normal. It was just larger. I think it told us why he was able to do what he did.

Dr. Thomas Swerczek

(Source: Sports Illustrated)

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