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Secretariat: The Chicago Connection

More than 41,000 fans were on hand at Arlington Park to great the legendary racehorse Secretariat. (1973 File Photo/Daily Herald)

More than 41,000 fans were on hand at Arlington Park to great the legendary racehorse Secretariat. (1973 File Photo/Daily Herald)

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Julie Mann is the managing editor of Newsradio 780. You...
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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (WBBM) – The opening of the movie “Secretariat” is Thursday and tells the story of the legendary thoroughbred nation-grabbing Triple Crown win. But there is a local angle in the success of Secretariat.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Julie Mann Talks With William Thayer

It was June 30th, 1973 and a four horse race at Arlington Park in the Northwest suburbs that brought spectators in record numbers to the suffering racetrack. The reason?

People flocked to see the Triple Crown winner Secretariat. The three-year-old chestnut won the race that day and so did William Thayer.

It’s Thayer who brought Secretariat to Arlington Park just three weeks after the horse took the Triple Crown. He tells Newsradio 780’s Julie Mann that he flew to Belmont where Secretariat’s trainer Lucien Lauren had the horse stabled. He says he had $100,000 dollars to tray and bring Secretariat to the track which was no match to the offers made by Monmouth Park and Hollywood Park.

But he says Lauren was a friend and recalled a favor Thayer had done for him and wanted to help him out. Thayer, to this day can’t remember what the favor was, says it was critical to Arlington Park to bring a star to the track. He says attendance was way down because of the recent trial of former Governor Otto Kerner. Kerner was convicted of corruption involving the track. Lauren got the owner Secretariat to the phone and with an additional $25,000 dollars on the table, Helen “Penny” Chenery agreed.

Thayer says he still had a big problem. He had to fly back to Chicago and tell his boss Arlington Park President Jack Loome that he increased the purse without asking.
Thayer says Loome only words were “great going old buddy.” There was one more hurdle, finding horses to race against the newest Triple Crown winner. Eventually, he signed on My Gallant, Our Native and Blue Chip Dan.

Attendance the day of Secretariat’s appearance surged to 43,000 according to Thayer and boosted the yearly attendance by 13 percent.

He says he remembers the race and the spectators who were on their feet cheering the horse and its owner chanting “Penny, Penny, Penny.”

Thayer is still at Arlington Park and is the Senior Vice President of racing. As for the movie about the famous horse, Thayer says he won’t go see it. He says at 84-years-old he would just fall asleep and plans to watch it when its available on TV.