Friday, July 5, 2013

First Secretary: A Spotted Secretariat

$6.08 million was the price tag that followed Secretariat into the breeding shed, a record at the time. Consequently, when the big red horse entered his stud career at the iconic Claiborne Farm, hopes – and nerves – soared nearly as high as they had when the son of Bold Ruler stepped into the starting gate for the 1973 Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown triumph on the line. Shareholders could only hope that his success as a stallion would mirror his breathtaking Belmont victory.

But there was a major obstacle to tackle. When Secretariat began his stud career, an abundance of doubt hung over his connections like a dark cloud. Was he fertile? If the answer to that question was no, the record syndicate would immediately become cancelled, as it would be worthless. More than $6 million dollars would go down the drain and the dreams of carrying on the great champion's legacy would come to a sudden halt.

Secretariat was bred to a nurse mare - Leola, a mare owned by the manager of Claiborne, Bill Taylor - to test the stallion’s fertility. But this mare was no Thoroughbred. She was an Appaloosa – a breed that is now one of the most popular in the United States, but, at the time, was far from being highly respected.

A stocky, dark-colored mare with white splattered over her croup, Leola was not the sleek, plain-colored, and royally bred Thoroughbred mare everyone expected to carry Secretariat’s first foal, despite the fact that she was a top-class mare in her own right that had even commanded a record price in 1963. But while the Thoroughbred world was essentially ashamed of the situation, those in the Appaloosa world suddenly coveted the mare. After having been bred to Secretariat and confirmed in foal, she became the most sought-after Appaloosa in the world, one that could make a colossal difference in the breed with her unborn foal.

Into the picture stepped Jack Nankivil, a man from a riverside Minnesota town who ran an Appaloosa breeding operation. The possession of the mare who carried Secretariat’s first foal could serve as the perfect asset to his breeding program, but as is the case with any breeding, there were no guarantees when it came to the unborn foal Leola was carrying.

Nankivil was among many who had proposed offers for the mare, but he was the only one who succeeded. For an undisclosed amount, Nankivil acquired Leola and took her home, spending the time that elapsed before the birth of the foal hoping for a colt that carried the red color of his sire’s coat and the coat pattern of his dam.

The story up to this point was already close to unbelievable, portraying a storyline fit for a corny film. It only became more sentimental when Leola foaled a chestnut colt with a white blanket over his hip like his dam and three white socks like his sire. Maintaining the trend of being unconventional, the foal was born in November as opposed to the traditional foaling season that takes place from January through June.

The colt was named First Secretary and was initially registered with the Canadian Appaloosa Horse Club, as the American Appaloosa Association would not register First Secretary with Secretariat’s name listed as his sire. Rather, the Triple Crown winner would be referred to as “an unnamed Thoroughbred sire.” But the two organizations soon merged, solving this issue.

Virtually an Appaloosa version of his sire, First Secretary was a fine individual, standing nearly 17 hands high and carrying the same impressive build as Secretariat (Please click here and here to view photos of him). He became successful in the breeding shed, producing numerous foals that boasted their sire’s remarkable conformation, thus leading to much success in halter classes at various Appaloosa shows for offspring of First Secretary. First Secretary also quickly encountered success with his racing progeny, with three of the five horses that were among the stallion’s first racing crop finding the winner’s circle.

Nankivil’s investment had proven ingenious and in 1988, he sold First Secretary to a New Hampshire farm, where Secretariat’s first son would then stand for $1,000. The later stages of his life saw him stand stud in Maryland, where he died in 1993 after a bout of colic.

His 247 foals covered a wide range of disciplines, including Appaloosa shows, speed events, racing, eventing, hunter/jumpers, endurance riding, dressage, and trail riding. His produce record of show horses actually eclipsed his produce record of racehorses, as he sired the likes of the National and World Champions Jetta Rue, Helen Wheels, Nanny Brow, Secret Ingredient, and Something’s Sweet in the show ring.

Whereas Secretariat’s effect is still being felt in the Thoroughbred world through descendants of horses like A.P. Indy and Storm Cat, there is far from a strong amount of his blood remaining in the gene pool of Appaloosas. However, numerous Appaloosa descendants of First Secretary do still remain, allowing Appaloosa owners to hold onto a piece of the legendary Secretariat.

FUN FACTS: During his racing days, Secretariat was accompanied by Billy Silver, a pony horse with Appaloosa markings.

As for me, my pieces of the 1973 Triple Crown winner are both Thoroughbreds – Miss Fifty and Wet Paint – both descendants of Secretariat through Storm Cat. But I am proud to own a very talented Appaloosa, Lads Reality Star (AKA Colby), who is not a descendant of Secretariat but does trace back to a few Thoroughbreds, including classic winner and legendary sire Sir Gallahad, as well as English champion Fairway.

Lads Reality Star, AKA Colby
Photo by Terri Cage


  1. We have a appy mare that carries this bloodline, however she doesn't carry the red coat and is almost all black. We are excited to see what she will produce for us next year!

  2. Am happy for you that Secretariat's amazing gene pool lives in that of your beloved Appaloosas'. A feeling of freedom and excellence for sure!. Best wishes for good health and un-bounding joy to you and your Appaloosas!

  3. I am doing a study on Secretariat and it is interesting that his first colt was an appalosa!

    1. Used to watch him run in his pasture in Minnesota, absolutely breathtaking animal.

  4. I have a mare with his blood lines. She started life as a very red bay and is now grey and spotting out. She is beautiful.

  5. I have a mare with his blood lines. She started life as a very red bay and is now grey and spotting out. She is beautiful.

  6. I owned a granddaughter and great-grandson of First Secretaty. The mare was an almost exact duplicate of the famous Secretariat...the exact color and markings. Both horses were National and World ApHC Champions.