Triple Crown Legacy: Secretariat's Statistical Dominance in the 1973 Belmont Stakes

Oliver Franz | 5/23/2024

Topics: Minitab Statistical Software, Data Analysis, Outlier Test

One thing we know for sure is that there will not be a Triple Crown winner in 2024.  

For those unfamiliar, winning the Triple Crown in horse racing requires the same horse to win the three major races in the same calendar year: The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. The fact that there will not be a Triple Crown winner this year is not necessarily a surprise—there have only been 13 triple crown winners in the past 105 years. As we look to the Belmont Stakes in early June, we examined past Triple Crown winners to see if we could identify trends or outliers. 


Secretariat’s Legendary 1973 Belmont Stakes Victory 

If you are a horse racing enthusiast, you no doubt are familiar with Secretariat’s iconic 1973 Belmont Stakes victory, which secured a Triple Crown win. Secretariat still holds the record for the fastest Belmont Stakes run ever (2 minutes and 24 seconds) and the largest margin of victory (31 lengths). At 1.5 miles, the Belmont Stakes is the longest of the big three races. 

It is rare in any sport to hold a record for twenty years, let alone over fifty years. Many experts believe that Secretariat’s record may never be broken, alongside legendary sporting feats such as Cal Ripken Jr’s consecutive games streak, Wilt Chamberlin’s 100-point game, or Joe DiMaggio’s hit streak. Even with modern technology, advanced training, expert trainers, and advanced breeding techniques, no horse has ever even come within two seconds of Secretariat’s record, which is a large margin of victory in horse racing. In fact, the second fastest time of 2 minutes and 26 seconds was achieved by Risen Star in 1988, who was Secretariat’s colt.

It’s indisputable that Secretariat was a powerful, fast racehorse. But was he a statistically significant outlier? Is there definitive proof to establish that he outperformed all other horses to a statistically significant extent? 

To answer with certainty, we turned to Minitab Statistical Software. 


Analyzing Secretariat’s Performance. Was He an Outlier? 

To begin, we collected the margins of victory for the winning horses for the seven Belmont Stakes before Secretariat’s 1973 run and the seven immediately following. We entered the data in Minitab Statistical Software.  

We then navigated to the outlier test, found within the basic statistics menu. An outlier test is a statistical analysis tool used to identify data points that significantly deviate from the overall pattern of the data set. 

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We ran the test with our data to determine whether the 1973 result was statistically significant compared to other margins of victory. Here is what we found:  

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Minitab did indeed identify Secretariat's race as an outlier compared to other results around the time. With a P-Value of 0.000, we can be confident that this result must be statistically significant.  

We also can visualize this data with an outlier plot:  

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The red data point on the right-hand side of the outlier plot represents Secretariat’s margin of victory. We can clearly see here just how significant Secretariat’s 31 length victory was—no other horse within the 1960s and 1970s came within 23 lengths of his margin. 


Secretariat’s Unmatched Legacy  

This analysis confirms what many have long believed: Secretariat's performance in the 1973 Belmont Stakes was truly extraordinary. The statistical significance of his margin of victory underscores his dominance in a way that raw numbers alone might not fully convey. As we continue to witness incredible athletic feats across various sports, Secretariat's record remains a benchmark of unparalleled excellence. 


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