April 14, 2018

SAY HELLO TO BIG RED FOR US:

Legendary Writer Bill Nack Dies at Age 77: Seven-time media Eclipse Award winner was best known for coverage of Secretariat. (BloodHorse, 4/14/18)

William "Bill" Nack, a renowned sports journalist and author, died April 13 at his home in Washington D.C. after a lengthy illness, according to Secretariat.com. He was 77.

A seven-time media Eclipse Award winner, Nack was best known for his coverage of Secretariat. His acclaimed biography on "Big Red" is considered the definitive account chronicling the history of the Meadow Stable colt and his ascent to the 1973 Triple Crown. The book was used as the inspiration for the 2010 Disney movie "Secretariat."

Nack joined Sports Illustrated in 1978 and became one of the signature voices of the publication. He wrote on everything from racing to boxing to chess. Nack left the magazine in 2001 and freelanced for numerous publications, including ESPN and GQ.



MORE:
Pure Heart (William Nack, 6/04/90, Sports Illustrated)

In the late afternoon of Monday, Oct. 2, 1989, as I headed my car from the driveway of Arthur Hancock's Stone Farm onto Winchester Road outside of Paris, Ky., I was seized by an impulse as beckoning as the wind that strums through the trees there, mingling the scents of new grass and old history.

For reasons as obscure to me then as now, I felt compelled to see Lawrence Robinson. For almost 30 years, until he suffered a stroke in March of 1983, Robinson was the head caretaker of stallions at Claiborne Farm. I had not seen him since his illness, but I knew he still lived on the farm, in a small white frame house set on a hill overlooking the lush stallion paddocks and the main stallion barn. In the first stall of that barn, in the same space that was once home to the great Bold Ruler, lived Secretariat, Bold Ruler's greatest son.

It was through Secretariat that I had met Robinson. On the bright, cold afternoon of Nov. 12, 1973, he was one of several hundred people gathered at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington to greet the horse on his flight from New York into retirement in Kentucky. I flew with the horse that day, and as the plane banked over the field, a voice from the tower crackled over the airplane radio: "There's more people out here to meet Secretariat than there was to greet the governor."

"Well, he's won more races than the governor," pilot Dan Neff replied.

An hour later, after a van ride out the Paris Pike behind a police escort with blue lights flashing, Robinson led Secretariat onto a ramp at Claiborne and toward his sire's old stall--out of racing and into history. For me, that final walk beneath a grove of trees, with the colt slanting like a buck through the autumn gloaming, brought to a melancholy close the richest, grandest, damnedest, most exhilarating time of my life. For eight months, first as the racing writer for Long Island, N.Y.'s Newsday and then as the designated chronicler of the horse's career, I had a daily front-row seat to watch Secretariat. I was at the barn in the morning and the racetrack in the afternoon for what turned out to be the year's greatest show in sports, at the heart of which lay a Triple Crown performance unmatched in the history of American racing.

Sixteen years had come and gone since then, and I had never attended a Kentucky Derby or a yearling sale at Keeneland without driving out to Claiborne to visit Secretariat, often in the company of friends who had never seen him. On the long ride from Louisville, I would regale them with stories about the horse--how on that early morning in March of '73 he had materialized out of the quickening blue darkness in the upper stretch at Belmont Park, his cars pinned back, running as fast as horses run: how he had lost the Wood Memorial and won the Derby, and how he had been bothered by a pigeon feather at Pimlico on the eve of the Preakness (at the end of this tale I would pluck the delicate, mashed feather out of my wallet, like a picture of my kids, to pass around the car); how on the morning of the Belmont Stakes he had burst from the barn like a stud horse going to the breeding shed and had walked around the outdoor ring on his hind legs, pawing at the sky; how he had once grabbed my notebook and refused to give it back, and how he had seized a rake in his teeth and begun raking the shed; and, finally, I told about that magical, unforgettable instant, frozen now in time, when he had turned for home, appearing out of a dark drizzle at Woodbine, near Toronto, in the last race of his career, 12 in front and steam puffing from his nostrils as from a factory whistle, bounding like some mythical beast out of Greek lore.

Oh, I knew all the stories, knew them well, had crushed and rolled them in my hand, until their quaint musk lay in the saddle of my palm. Knew them as I knew the stories of my children. Knew them as I knew the stories of my own life. Told them at dinner parties, swapped them with horseplayers as if they were trading cards, argued over them with old men and blind fools who had seen the show but missed the message. Dreamed them and turned them over like pillows in my rubbery sleep. Woke up with them, brushed my aging teeth with them, grinned at them in the mirror. Horses have a way of getting inside of you, and so it was that Secretariat became like a fifth child in our house, the older boy who was off at school and never around but who was as loved and true a part of the family as Muffin, our shaggy, epileptic dog.

The story I now tell begins on that Monday afternoon last October on the macadam outside of Stone Farm.

Posted by at April 14, 2018 6:50 PM

  

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