Secretariat & Ocala

There are several Ocala connections to Secretariat, who captured the 1973 Triple Crown, and Bridlewood Farm has a unique living link to the legendary thoroughbred racehorse.

Maritime Traveler & George Isaacs

In 1973, a big red equine comet named Secretariat streaked through the Triple Crown races and left his indelible mark. He set track record times that still stand 50 years later: Kentucky Derby (1:59 2/5 for a mile and a quarter); Preakness Stakes (1:53 for a mile and three-sixteenths) and Belmont Stakes (2:24 for a mile and a half). Secretariat’s otherworldly 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes is regarded as one of the most spectacular feats in all of sports. Big Red, as he was called by his legions of fans, graced the covers of Time and Newsweek, both declaring him a “Super Horse.”

Retired to stud in 1974 at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky, Secretariat was a successful sire. While he didn’t reproduce himself—after all, he was a singular phenomenon—he did sire 57 stakes winners, including Lady’s Secret, the 1986 North American Horse of the Year. Fillies by Secretariat were highly sought after as broodmares and made him a leading broodmare sire.

Secretariat unexpectedly died of laminitis, an incurable hoof disease, on October 4th, 1989. His death was covered by media outlets across the world. A necropsy conducted by the University of Kentucky Veterinary Sciences Department revealed that Secretariat’s heart was almost three times the size of a normal thoroughbred’s heart. Secretariat’s heart weighed 22 pounds, while the average thoroughbred heart weighs 8.5 pounds. Secretariat’s heart was not diseased, just extraordinarily large, as befitting a once-in-lifetime champion racehorse.

One of several Ocala connections to Secretariat was Charlie Davis, who was the champion’s exercise rider throughout his racing career. Davis moved to Ocala not long after the Triple Crown winner was retired. He continued to exercise racehorses in Ocala until he injured his back in 1981. Thanks to his connection to Secretariat, Davis was a sought-after special guest at events celebrating Big Red over the decades. Davis died in Ocala in December 2018, at age 75.

A Special Local Connection
With the racing world currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s 1973 Triple Crown, Ocala-based Bridlewood Farm is home to no ordinary pensioner in Maritime Traveler. In fact, Maritime Traveler belongs to an exclusive club of only two known living horses sired by Secretariat. Furthermore, Maritime Traveler, a chestnut colt foaled May 15th, 1990, has the distinction of being the only known living member of Secretariat’s last crop.

Maritime Traveler at Bridlewood Farm in 2023

Out of the Northern Dancer mare Oceana, Maritime Traveler was bred by the late E.P. Taylor’s Ontario-based Windfields Farm. His breeder consigned him to the 1991 Keeneland September yearling sale, where Arthur Appleton bought him for $55,000. Maritime Traveler made five lifetime starts, all at Canada’s Woodbine Racetrack, with his best finish being a fourth. His earned all of $1,572 and soon after his last start on June 12th, 1993, Appleton retired him to Bridlewood Farm. That operation, one of Ocala’s legacy thoroughbred farms, was founded by Appleton and his wife Martha in 1976. 

George Isaacs, who is the current president of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association board of directors, has a long history with Bridlewood Farm. He was the farm’s stallion manager from 1989-1992, leaving to become the general manager of Allen Paulson’s Ocala-based Brookside South Farm. In 1996, Isaacs returned to Bridlewood Farm as general manager, remaining in the position through the death of Arthur Appleton in 2008 and the ensuing Appleton Family Trust ownership. In 2013, John and Leslie Malone purchased Bridlewood Farm and Isaacs remains the operation’s general manager.

“When I returned to Bridlewood Farm in 1996, I found out that we had a son of Secretariat as a teaser, which is kind of a cool thing. Maritime Traveler was initially the broodmare division teaser, and he did his job very well for years,” says Isaacs. “When the breeding shed teaser was retired, Maritime Traveler was moved into that position, and he took to it just fine.”

A teaser stallion is used on thoroughbred farms to “tease” broodmares to elicit their readiness for breeding. Broodmares can be teased in paddocks, teasing barns and the breeding shed. Teasing is combined with veterinarian exams to determine the best time period to breed a broodmare to a resident breeding stallion. 

Isaacs notes that when Maritime Traveler lost his enthusiasm for being a teaser about five years ago, he was pensioned.

“He earned his keep. He’s 33 now and lives in a great paddock that backs up to 100 acres of forest. He has a great life,” shares Isaacs.

Indeed, Maritime Traveler is enjoying his retirement. And on a recent day, he is initially none too pleased with visitors entering his paddock. With a swish of his tail, he turns and walks away. Isaacs quietly follows him, and, with some gentle coaxing, Maritime Traveler allows Isaacs to snap a lead rope to his halter. Led toward the visitors, he stands quietly for the photographer. A bright chestnut like his sire, and with a white blaze the length of his face, Maritime Traveler is still handsome at 33.

When the photo session is over, Isaacs releases Maritime Traveler, who takes a dozen steps and begins grazing. Then realizing his visitors are still there, he lifts his head and directs a scowl at them as if to say, “Why are you people still here?” The photographer seizes the moment, taking a few more pictures. Now deciding he has absolutely given enough of his time, Maritime Traveler turns and ambles to the other end of the paddock, blissfully unaware of his celebrity status. 

Preserving A Legacy
Besides Maritime Traveler, the only other known living horse by Secretariat is Trusted Company, a 34-year-old chestnut mare. The New York-bred mare out of Star Snoop, by Stage Door Johnny, made only one start and earned a paltry $60. But she went on to become a successful broodmare before being retired from that duty. Trusted Company now resides with Bev Dee at Bright Futures Farm, a Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance-accredited sanctuary in Cochranton, Pennsylvania.

Maritime Traveler and Trusted Company are included in award-winning photojournalist Patricia McQueen’s recently released book, Secretariat’s Legacy.

“As a kid, I watched Secretariat on TV in 1973 become the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. I never let that memory go. I followed him through the rest of his racing career and then as a stallion,” shares McQueen. “In 1982, while I was still in college, I went to see Secretariat at Claiborne Farm. The following year, I started going to the races and always looked for sons and daughters of Secretariat at the racetrack.”

A journalist by profession first, McQueen became a self-taught photographer and combined both skills to honor Secretariat.

“After Secretariat’s death, I began to track his offspring over the years, documenting their lives with stories and photos. I was particularly interested in the foals of his last crop in 1990. And that’s how I came to Bridlewood Farm in March 1993, to photograph Maritime Traveler,” explains McQueen. “It was a very foggy morning and as Maritime Traveler cooled down from his morning gallop, the fog lifted. His chestnut coat just glowed in the Florida sunshine. To this day, I remember that magical morning and because of it, still feel a strong personal connection to Maritime Traveler.”

In addition to Maritime Traveler, there are other Ocala connections to Secretariat included in McQueen’s book. Among those, the late George Steinbrenner bred and raced Florida-bred Image of Greatness. Well-named, he was one of Secretariat’s major stakes winners. When retired, Image of Greatness stood stud at Steinbrenner’s Ocala-based Kinsman Farm. OS

Patricia McQueen’s book can be purchased at secretariatslegacy.com

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