As he made his way from the stakes barn to the saddling area that afternoon, patrons pressed four-deep against the grandstand fence, fighting to get as close to him as possible. Nack recalled their roar of approval when the great horse paused to defecate.

"He was a showoff," Chenery said, recalling how Secretariat pricked his ears whenever the cameras clicked around him. "A performer responds to his audience, so Secretariat was having a good time."

The key juncture of the 1973 race happened much more quickly than anyone anticipated. Secretariat began in the back of the pack, as expected. Turcotte said he entered with no specific strategy, figuring he could read the field's behavior and react appropriately.

As they approached the first turn, Turcotte saw the pacesetter, Ecole Etage, lift his head. He took that as a sign that the horse's rider, George Cusimano, wanted to keep the race slow. In this, Turcotte saw an opportunity.

Pimlico is known for its tight turns, which Nack described as a visual illusion created by the track's relative flatness compared to Churchill Downs. Regardless, common wisdom held that if you tried to take the first turn too fast, you might end up on Belvedere Avenue, having careened completely off the track.

But with a subtle shift of his hands, which he equated to a man straightening his shirt cuff, Turcotte let Secretariat know it was time to run. In a quarter-mile, the colt surged from sixth and last to neck-and-neck with Ecole Etage. Cusimano told writers that Secretariat sounded "like a freight train" coming up on him.

Did he move too early?

Many in the stands, including Laurin, gasped at this audacious move, worrying that Turcotte had wasted Secretariat's burst too early in the race. The great New York sports columnist Red Smith turned to Maisel and said, "He'll have to run out of gas, won't he?"

Reflecting post-race on the speed of Secretariat's move around the first turn, longtime Pimlico handicapper Clem Florio muttered: "You just don't do that."

Pincay, though surprised, liked what he saw from aboard Sham. He thought he had an excellent chance to catch Secretariat in the stretch.

Only it never happened.

As the crowd roared, hoping for a showdown, Secretariat simply held the two-length lead he had established with his brilliant move. Pincay whipped Sham relentlessly, to no effect.

"My horse was working very hard," the Hall of Fame jockey recalled. "But he just couldn't catch him. I think any other horse who made that move, we would have gotten him. To withstand Sham that day, he had to be a very special horse."

Turcotte said he never worried as they charged to the wire, feeling Secretariat had more power in him and could establish an even bigger lead if challenged. "I told Lucien after the race that I thought I could have won by 10 or 15 lengths if I wanted," Turcotte said.

The crowd pressed in as Secretariat neared victory, with a few fans mounting the rail separating the track from the infield. None of it, however, distracted the horse. He remained calm, even as the throng celebrated around him in the winner's circle.

The only controversy arose over the official race time, a postscript that would last until 2012.

Record time

The electric timer at Pimlico malfunctioned, and no one believed the time of 1 minute, 55 seconds that flashed on the scoreboard. Two experienced timers from the Daily Racing Form clocked the race in just over 1 minute, 53 seconds, which would have been a record.

But Pimlico resorted to its official timer, E.T. McClean, who clocked the race at 1:54.40 — fast but no record. Nack happened to watch the race beside the fedora-topped McClean from the jockey's porch at Pimlico. He recalls McClean telling him that he was working crowd control that day and not timing the race. Certainly, the porch offered no proper vantage to catch the beginning of the Preakness.

Nack could never reconcile this, nor could Turcotte.