Great Was Second Best
by Phil Dandrea
Sham: Great Was Second Best is the story of the now-famous 1973 racing season, a year when two remarkable horses found themselves locked in a rivalry that would eventually see Secretariat win the first Triple Crown in 25 years. Sham and Secretariat's intense rivalry form the heart of this tale. Interviews with Sham's owner, trainer, and jockeys who bore witness to the rivalry provide an insider's look at the drama surrounding the two horses.
The rivalry hailed the end of horse racing's glory days. Waning were the times when the likes of Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, the Kennedys, Bouviers, and Vanderbilts regularly attended. Though an era was ending, track veterans who could still recall past greats like Man o' War, Seabiscuit, and Citation saw it off with the thrill and the glory delivered by the run for the 1973 Triple Crown. Sham and Secretariat battled four times during their careers. The clashes produced the best performances of their lives.
Sham: Great Was Second Best began as a column written by the author in 2003 while a graduate student attending Emerson College (Boston, Massachusetts), though he had been collecting notes on the subject even earlier. The column's development into Sham's biography was begun in 2004 as part of the author's final thesis project.
The book is a result of approximately five years of research, including numerous hours spent at the Keeneland Association Library in Lexington, Kentucky digging though old racing publications for contemporary accounts of Sham's career, as well as gathering old press releases and clipped newspaper articles from the Belmont Park Press Office. Hours studying microfilmed magazines and newspapers at public libraries in Massachusetts, New York (Albany, New York City, and Saratoga Springs), Kentucky (Lexington and Louisville), and California (Arcadia and Los Angeles) followed. The scope of work also included traveling to every track at which Sham raced and interviewing Sham's jockeys, trainer, owner, stallion groom, and some members of the media who had seen Sham run. The author also visited each of Sham's homes—Claiborne Farm, where Sham was bred, and Spendthrift Farm and Walmac Farm where Sham spent his retirement and stud career.
About the Book
Some horses just get lucky. They're assigned a starting gate along the rail, putting them in a position to hug the bend and save valuable ground at the turn. Others aren't so lucky and are shut into outside stalls when the lots are drawn. They'll need to make an extra effort to keep up.
If birthdays were starting gates, Sham was the victim of the worst possible draw. Less than two weeks before Sham's birth, another horse was foaled who would come to define and overshadow Sham's racing career: a chestnut thoroughbred named Secretariat. In the prime of his career as a three-year-old, Sham was pitted against a legend in the making. Simply put, Sham was born the wrong year.
Sham (No. 1A) in the Santa Catalina Stakes.
Photo: George Andrus, Bill Mochon Archival Photo