There are few Thoroughbreds—living or dead—in the history of Thoroughbred racing that have managed to attain a mythic status as the one enjoyed by Secretariat.
Arguably the greatest racehorse of all time, the stallion known lovingly as “Big Red” turned in some of the most eye-popping, brain-searing, super-equine performances of any Thoroughbred in modern history. His very name is ubiquitous with the sport.
Today, Secretariat remains a source of fascination for fans who feel a connection to the horse and to the legacy he left behind. But 33 years after Secretariat’s death, the direct line of connection to Big Red has frayed as the number of his living offspring has dwindled.
One of the only remaining descendants of Secretariat is Maritime Traveler, who lives as a pensioner at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, Fla.
“He’s always been an easy-going horse to be around for as long as I remember,” said George Isaacs, who has been the general manager of Bridlewood since 1996. “I started here in 1989 as the stallion manager. I know he arrived not long after I started.”
Retired to stud for the 1974 breeding season, Secretariat stood at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky until his death in 1989 at 19 from laminitis. In that time, he sired 663 foals including Maritime Traveler, who was born in 1990 from the last crop.
Produced from the Northern Dancer mare Oceana, Maritime Traveler was bred in Ontario at the famed Windfields Farm. A commercial breeding operation founded by E.P. Taylor in 1950, Windfields was the birthplace of many breed-shaping names in racing. Among the most notable were Nearctic, Nijinsky, and Vice Regent as well as Maritime Traveler’s maternal grandsire, Northern Dancer, the first-ever Canadian Thoroughbred to win the Kentucky Derby.
Consigned to the 1991 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Maritime Traveler’s breeding did much to recommend him. He was purchased by Bridlewood founder Arthur Appleton for a modest $55,000.
Despite the high hopes that ferry any new runner to the track, Maritime Traveler did not quite live up to the heights of his father. Racing exclusively at Woodbine, the chestnut made five attempts in maiden special weight company for trainer Emile Allain. His best effort came at two when he took fourth. The decision to suspend his racing career was made shortly after.
“As we all know, buying well-bred colts at the yearling sales is a gamble,” said Isaacs. “Very few make it as good racehorses and even fewer make it as potential stallions. I think any owner buying colts at the sales know that this is the metric they’re playing against. But Mr. Appleton loved it as much as anybody. We’ve always said he would have spent his last dollar buying horses because he loved them so much.”
Instead of selling as so many do, Appleton brought Maritime Traveler home to Ocala, where he was enlisted as a teaser for the ever-expanding breeding program. It was there that the horse’s stamina and obliging disposition would serve him well in years to come.
“Thank goodness for breeders and owners like Mr. Appleton who always took great care of the horses and made sure they always had a home,” said Isaacs. “My memory of Maritime Traveler was that once I returned as general manager, he was a horse that I got to know well. I always playfully say that there is probably no lower job on the horse farm than being the teaser, but that being said, he did his job well.
“He was a very, as they say, ‘push button’ kind of teaser. You wouldn’t see this on too many farms, but he’s always been the kind of horse where you could just click a shank on the ring underneath the halter and he would do his job. You could tease him without a chain over his nose—he is that easy to handle and that much of a gentleman. Most teasers are not like that at all.
“He was in the broodmare area many years until another teaser that was in the breeding shed—who was by In Reality and had also been purchased as a yearling prospect that didn’t make it on the track— got so old he couldn’t do his job. He eventually passed away, but that meant Maritime Traveler became the teaser in the shed, so he pulled double duty. He did a great job, but he finally lost his zest four or five years ago. At that point he had more than earned his due. We tuned him out to the stallion paddock, and he’s been living the life of Riley since.
“We just never could really believe that we were using a son of Secretariat as a teaser, but we have always been happy to have him, and he’s always been more than willing to do his job.”
Soon to be 33 years young, Maritime Traveler spends his days in the stallion paddock complex at Bridlewood enjoying his well-earned retirement. His nearest neighbor is another Bridlewood homebred and retired stallion Stormy Atlantic, who returned home from Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms in Kentucky in 2021, where he had stood for the majority of his breeding career.
Isaacs said Maritime Traveler and Stormy Atlantic are the remaining two horses on the property from the original Appleton-owned version of Bridlewood Farm, and seeing them in opposing paddocks always stirs up pleasant memories from the past.
“When John Sikura at Hill ‘n’ Dale called me up last year he said, ‘George, I’m going to retire Stormy, would you be interested in having him come back home?’ We said, ‘Absolutely. Put him on the van.’
“Maritime Traveler is in one of our front paddocks that backs up to 100 acres of forest. He’s really in horse nirvana. Stormy Atlantic is in the paddock right there next so him. It’s always been our philosophy that if you’re one of our own, we’re going to take care of you for life. Both of those horses live at home where they belong.”
For a son of Secretariat, Maritime Traveler’s story is not entirely unique. Despite his obvious prowess on the track, Secretariat made his mark in the breeding shed largely through his daughters. Considered among the most influential sire of line-founding stallions, Secretariat mares have produced some of the most critically important sires in modern memory such as A.P. Indy, Storm Cat, and Gone West.
Maritime Traveler is one of three known remaining horses by Secretariat still living. Among the others is Trusted Company, who resides at Bright Futures Farm in Pennsylvania. Bred by Stone Ridge in New York out of Star Snoop (by Stage Door Johnny), the chestnut mare was born in 1989.
Rounding out the trio is 34-year-old Border Run, who is a gelding out of the Crimson Satan mare Crimson Saint. Bred in Kentucky by Olin Gentry, he is a full brother to Terlingua, the dam of Storm Cat. Purchased for $650,000 as a yearling in 1988, the hard-knocking runner raced 41 times for Robert Dempsey before retiring.