DOSWELL, Va. — Snapshots of The Meadow horse farm remain frozen in black and white, but Alvin Mines remembers the Virginia landmark in Doswell bursting with vibrancy from an early age.
“The old house was beautiful. I used to help cut grass and trim around the whole house. It was beautiful,” recalled Mines. “Lot of good memories. With the white fences. You see the white fences and the foal and the paddock and stuff and the green grass. It was a beautiful place.”
The man from Caroline County recalls one color standing out from the rest.
“When you see the sun that bleed on him there is a brightness. Bronze like type,” described Mines.
In 1970, the historic farm was buzzing when a new addition entered the world on March 30.
The Meadow’s former employee said Secretariat commanded attention from the very beginning.
“I used to see him as a foal run up and down in the paddock,” Mines said. “I figured there was something about him.”
Mines and his many relatives who served as stablemen, farmhands and grooms recognized his potential.
“He was a horse with a mind of its own. What he wants he will do,” said Mines.
But Mines admits, he never expected Secretariat to leap into the status of a legend.
“Then you’d see him you know make the move...The bold move,” said Mines. “He probably said, ‘You can’t beat me. You can have all of your fun. You can’t beat me.’”
In the spring of 1973, Secretariat shattered records at the Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and at The Belmont Stakes. Records that still stand a half century later.
“He’d tell the people, ‘You have not seen anything yet. You know,’” Mines said.
He watched first-hand Secretariat’s raw power during the second leg of the Triple Crown in Maryland.
“I was looking and one man holler ‘He ain’t got it! He ain’t got it.’ I said, ‘I think he got it. I think he got it. I think he got it."
The 72-year-old still can’t reign in his excitement reliving that moment.
“As a matter of fact I got a spot right on the rail. Yes, indeed. I could see him coming and coming and coming. Oh yeah! Whooo! It was amazing I’ll tell you,” Mines said.
A few weeks later on June 9, Secretariat’s crowning moment arrived.
The horse rocked the racing world winning at Belmont in New York by an astounding 31 lengths.
The feat catapulted the 3-year-old colt into rarified air, and earned him global admiration.
“We knew he had the Triple Crown when he started pulling and the announcement kept saying 15, 20. He is going 30. He is moving like a tremendous machine. Wow,” recalled Mines.
Kentucky may be horse country and home to Churchill Downs, but Leeanne Meadows Ladin, author of "Secretariat’s Meadow," said Virginia’s neighbor cannot claim the greatest horse in history.
“It is just embedded in people’s memory as such an outstanding achievement,” explained Leeanne. “The foundation of the legend was right here. On these very grounds.”
At Meadow Event Park, equine enthusiasts still visit the barns and sheds where Secretariat was born and trained.
“To know that he is from right here where we are standing Virginian’s should all be extremely proud,” said Leanne.
Director of racing operations at Colonial Downs Dave Zenner said gifted horses will forever race history — but he believes they’ll never catch the one known as "Big Red."
“So it was a big deal in sports. It was a big deal in news. It was a big deal to the people of the United States. I think it was a big deal to the people around the world,” said Zenner. “I think it is wonderful that we have a horse like Secretariat to represent the Commonwealth.”
Back in Caroline County, one of the last surviving stablemen from The Meadow’s heyday cherishes his time working alongside an American icon.
“Well, talking about Superman with a cape right there. Ready to take off,” said Mines.
While most people were watching from afar, he was laying his hands on the mighty Secretariat.
“He had a diamond thing that came down and I used to rub up here. And then tickle him under here you know,” Mines said.
Mines witnessed the greatness gallop from the gate to the backstretch and beyond.
“Those 50 years have been gone. I couldn’t believe it. A lot of memories. Lot of memories,” Mines said. “I don’t think there will ever be another horse like him in my lifetime. It made a name for Virginia. Secretariat made a big name for Virginia you know.”
Colonial Downs in New Kent will be honoring the legendary horse this summer, Aug. 11 will be Secretariat Day at the track.
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