During the 1973 thoroughbred racing season, Sham was winning races in California by impressive margins as great as 15 lengths. He defeated rival colts who were the best the West had to offer. Sham won the Santa Anita Derby in March of 1973, tying the record time with his effort. In April, during his final prep race before the Kentucky Derby, Sham beat the mighty Secretariat in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Many turf writers were touting Sham as the Derby favorite. The stage was set for Sham-mania to sweep the country at a time when the nation needed a hero. With rising inflation, the Vietnam conflict, and Watergate dominating current events, people were ready to cheer for someone, for something.
After the first two jewels of the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes), Sham had bettered the previous record time in each. But it was 1973, the year in thoroughbred racing when great was only second best. Secretariat had beaten Sham both times by a mere 2/5 of a second.
While Sham was nearly forgotten, Secretariat was praised as “America’s horse.” The chestnut colt known affectionately as “Big Red,” running under the white and blue silks of Meadow Stable, was the embodiment of the American flag. He was the handsome leading man, while Sham was relegated the role of character actor. But with his gutsy performances, Sham showed he didn't have to finish first to be a winner.
Great Was Second Best
by Phil Dandrea