Celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown race season already have begun, with the unveiling of a 3,500-pound bronze statue of the horse by equine sculptor Jocelyn Russell in Ashland on Saturday.
Secretariat, considered one of the greatest thoroughbred racehorses of all time, was foaled at Meadow Stud in Caroline County on March 30, 1970.
Locally, a new limited-edition bourbon by a Charlottesville distillery will also honor the 50th anniversary.
Ragged Branch Secretariat Reserve Bourbon will be available from Virginia ABC stores and the Ragged Branch Distillery tasting room starting April 22. The corn in the mash bill of corn, rye and malted barley comes from the farm on which the legendary Virginia-bred thoroughbred was raised.
“His hooves touched the ground this corn was grown on,” said Alex Toomy, managing member at Ragged Branch. “I just feel like you always take advantage of an opportunity. When opportunity presents itself, you’re ready for it.”
News of the bourbon in Secretariat’s honor also coincided with his foaling day — although technically speaking, Jan. 1 is the official birthday of all thoroughbred racehorses in North America.
The chestnut known as Big Red captured the Triple Crown in 1973 by winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, but it was the way he won the Belmont —by an astonishing 31 lengths — that sealed his place in thoroughbred history. And, it is that finish that Russell captured in her “Secretariat Racing into History” monument.
As for the bourbon, there will be roughly 6,000 bottles of the 50th-anniversary salute.
Toomy said that he had been considering creating a Secretariat reserve bourbon for some time before he was asked if he had bourbon on hand that was old enough to be used in a 50th-anniversary edition, which he did.
“The Secretariat whiskey is five and a half years old,” he said. “I don’t bottle anything that’s not over five years old.”
Another source of inspiration came from a bar takeover event in Washington, D.C., during which some visitors from Kentucky claimed that their state has the best whiskey and the best horses. When Toomy asked them which horse was the greatest of all time, the Kentuckians all said Virginia’s Secretariat was the one, Toomy said.
He was not surprised to see requests coming in from across the country for the 50th-anniversary bourbon. Horse lovers may need to plan for a race of their own, he said.
“It’ll be gone in a few weeks,” Toomy said.
Moving forward after the 50th-anniversary product, the Secretariat bourbon will contain not only corn grown on the farm, but also rye. Toomy said the transition will take about three years, and there’s no need to hurry the handcrafted results.
Special projects like these make a job that’s already fun more so, Toomy said. “I love doing them,” he said. “I just get a kick out of it.”
Learn more about lottery distribution for the 50th-anniversary bourbon at abc.virginia.gov. To learn more about Ragged Branch Distillery, which is at 1015 Taylors Gap Road in Charlottesville, go to raggedbranch.com.
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