"I'm a numbers person when it comes to sports," Nack said. "Batting averages, how many passes you complete, how many touchdowns thrown and how fast a time a horse has run. That's important stuff in sports. And I like to get it right."

Several attempts to challenge the time failed before the Maryland Racing Commission. But Secretariat's supporters finally got their happy ending 39 years after the race, when frame-by-frame video evidence convinced the commission to award Secretariat the record in 1 minute, 53 seconds.

"It's a sense of completion," Chenery said of the belated decision. "We knew that time was wrong."

Secretariat left Baltimore a bona fide sensation. Nack knows better than anyone because he rode with the horse back to Belmont Park. As he and Secretariat leaned out of the van window to glimpse at traffic on I-95, Nack flashed a sign to surrounding drivers with the colt's name on it. They honked and thrust their thumbs in the air. One man just about drove his convertible off the road at the sight of the big red champion.

"It was so much fun," remembered Nack, sitting in his Washington home across from a portrait of the horse.

Secretariat would run to even greater glory at the Belmont, where he won by an unfathomable 31 lengths and crushed Sham's spirit for good.

Many consider him the greatest thoroughbred there ever was. And those who went through the Triple Crown with him hold that period among their most cherished memories.

"I'm telling you, there was no one like him," said Pincay, the jockey who tried to beat him.

"I covered everything, from World Series to heavyweight championship fights, and I still think that Triple Crown is the most exciting of all," said Maisel, who, like Nack, keeps a portrait of Secretariat on his wall.

Pimlico was the place where Secretariat erased the last doubts about him.

Said Nack: "The Derby made him a star. The Preakness made him spectacular. And the Belmont made him immortal."


Baltimore Sun reporter Chris Korman contributed to this article.