Recently, I had the joy of reading and writing about Phil Dandrea’s book Sham: Great Was Second Best here on the blog. Sham had a great career of his own, winning races like the Santa Anita Derby, but happened to be born in the same year as the second-best horse of the 20th century. Now, let’s hear from the author himself and find out a little bit more about writing this book on the horse that pushed Secretariat during his 1973 Triple Crown run.
Sham had a great career of his own, but he also happened to be running alongside Secretariat. What made you want to look deeper at Sham and his career?
I remembered Secretariat from when I was a boy. His name was everywhere during the Triple Crown races. When ESPN did a show listing him among the greatest athletes of the 20th century, it sounded like no horse could get near him on the track. Then they mentioned his rival, Sham, and how he challenged Secretariat. Originally, I wanted to find a book about Sham. I looked on-line, back around 2000, 2001, but I didn’t come up with much. What little I did find I used in a column I wrote for a course in graduate school. After lots of research and interviews and road trips, the column became the manuscript for my graduate thesis project, which (after more research) evolved into the book.
So many racing fans know Secretariat, but may not know Sham at all beyond any mention in the 1973 Triple Crown race calls. What did Sham’s presence in those races do for how the classics played out that year?
When Secretariat won the Triple Crown, he had to break a few records in order to beat Sham. I don’t think Secretariat would have run the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in record times if there were no need for Ron Turcotte to keep clear of Sham. The third-place horse in both races was Our Native. He finished 11 lengths behind Secretariat both times, not close enough to threaten Secretariat. And if Sham hadn’t challenged Secretariat for the early lead in the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat might not have run opening fractions so quickly and wouldn’t have run such an incredible race.
Sham raced over forty years ago so younger fans may not know his name. Whenever you talk about him, what contemporary horse do you compare him to?
I don’t really make comparisons with contemporary horses. When I talk about Sham, I usually say he ran the Kentucky Derby faster than any horse in almost 100 years. Unfortunately, Secretariat ran a little faster.
Though if comparing circumstance, I do remember Bodemeister had some tough-luck finishes in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2012. He led both races until deep into the stretch (with a lightning pace in the Derby) only to be nipped at the finish by I’ll Have Another both times. I confess, I didn’t feel bad for Bodemesiter, though. I’d bet on I’ll Have Another for the Derby.
You spend time in your book discussing Sham’s pedigree, making parallels with other horses of his time, like Secretariat. What aspect of his pedigree did you feel was the most important to understanding the impact of Sham’s career?
My first thought is Princequillo (Sham’s grandsire). But I also have to consider the dams in his line. Conventional wisdom with some breeders may be to get the best sire and let the dam’s side take care of itself. But I would put more emphasis on the dam and look toward a decent sire (one that has demonstrated stamina and a strong finish on the track). Let the sire’s side take care of itself.
In your research on Sham and his connections, what did you learn that surprised you the most? How did that change your perspective on this wonderful horse?
I would say my biggest surprise didn’t come from the research (though I really liked finding little odds and ends in the research, for example from old press releases I got from the Belmont Park Press Office), but from talking with people at events like book signings and the Secretariat Festival. When I started writing the book, I thought Sham was fairly unknown. But I met many people who remembered and appreciated him. I was surprised by the size of his fan base. I thought Sham’s story deserved to be told, and if I was going to presume to speak for him, I’d better do a good job of it. I’m happy with how the book turned out, but if I hadn’t written it, I think Sham’s legacy would be in good hands with his fans.
Thank you, Mr. Dandrea, for your contribution to the Sir Barton Project! We hope you’ve enjoyed reading more about Sham; look for Dandrea’s book at your favorite bookseller, including the Secretariat store. Visit the book’s website to learn more!