Drivers coming into Lexington on scenic Old Frankfort Pike are now greeted by a larger-than-life statue of one of the most famous Thoroughbred racehorses in history. Although he wasn’t foaled in Kentucky, Secretariat spent his life after racing in nearby Paris, and he left an indelible mark on the state’s signature industry.
The statue is situated in a roundabout located west of downtown Lexington at the intersection of Old Frankfort and Alexandria Drive. The location offers drivers a 360-degree view of the statue, which is the work of Washington-based artist Jocelyn Russell.
“I got the call in June of 2018, and I was just blown away that it was Secretariat,” says Russell. “Doing the research, learning more about the horse, it was just mind-blowing how amazing he really was.”
Secretariat won Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown in 1973. He’s best remembered for his incredible run in the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, where he finished 31 lengths ahead of the second-place horse. His record finish of 2:24 in the mile-and-a-half race still stands to this day.
To capture the legendary equine in her sculpture, Russell studied photos and videos, and spoke with the people who knew him, including jockey Ron Turcotte.
“I had the privilege of sitting with [Turcotte] in his office as he recounted each one of the races in the Triple Crown,” says Russell. “We had them up on YouTube and he told us everything that he was doing at the time when he was on the back of that horse; the choices he was making and the choices that Secretariat was also making. They made such a team, and feeling how he experienced the moment himself comes through me, and then comes out in my hands when I’m working.”
“He was such a good-looking horse,” says Dell Hancock, co-owner of Claiborne Farm, where Secretariat lived during his stud career and retirement. “He was charismatic. He just wowed you when you saw him.”
Russell did four months of research and soliciting feedback and approvals from Secretariat’s connections before beginning the work of designing the sculpture. Creating a sculpture the size of Lexington’s Secretariat statue is a multi-step process.
“The 20-inch maquette, I hand-delivered to the foundry in Norman, Okla.,” says Russell. “Then they molded it, poured a wax from that, scanned the wax, cut it into pieces and milled those out of foam at the site that I requested. We got the foam assembled and I retooled it and got all the detail cut back in. I put a layer of clay on that, then I tooled the clay, and handed it over the Crucible Foundry for the final eight months.
“The foundry cut him up in pieces, molded him, poured wax in the molds, built shell around the wax, fired the shell and the wax was melted out. Then they filled the void with molten bronze,” Russell continues. “The foundry had a three-dimensional puzzle to put together, weld it, tack weld it, fill in all the seams, retexture, and then a patina, and that’s the final color.”
The statue was unveiled on October 12, 2019, at Keeneland Race Course during the annual Secretariat Festival before it was installed at the roundabout. The sculpture has already become an iconic part of Lexington’s scenery.
“We tried to keep [Secretariat’s] glory going for all the years that he was here,” says Hancock. “We’re really proud that it’s recognized in the statue that I think is just amazing. What Secretariat was in life, Jocelyn has perpetuated forever.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2519, which originally aired on July 18, 2020. Watch the full episode.