|Dam||With a Flair|
|Trainer||H. Allen Jerkens|
|Whitney Handicap (1973)|
|Last updated on May 4, 2009|
The chestnut gelding was bred and owned by Hobeau Farm, based outside of Ocala, Florida, and was trained by Allen Jerkens. Onion was initially not considered a top-tier horse and the early part of his career was focused on lower grade non-stakes races. On July 24, 1973, Onion achieved his first claim to notability by breaking the Saratoga Race Course track record for a six-furlong race.
The Whitney Handicap upset
Jerkens entered Onion in the Whitney Handicap, which was receiving added attention because of the presence of Secretariat, the winner of the Triple Crown, in his first race against older horses. Jerkens later stated that he was skeptical on whether Onion could defeat Secretariat, but he noted that Secretariat’s pre-race workout was flat and surmised the champion thoroughbred was not performing at his best.
The Whitney Handicap was held on August 4, 1973, at Saratoga in front of a record crowd of 30,119. Secretariat was the 1:10 favorite, with Onion a 5:1 second choice among bettors. Three other horses participated in the race.
When the race began, Jacinto Vasquez, Onion’s jockey, took the early lead and never relinquished control. Secretariat, who was bumped against the rail in the course of the race by Eddie Belmonte riding on West Coast Scout, attempted to overtake Onion during the latter part of the race. But by the 16th pole, Onion pulled ahead and won his first stakes race by a length.
After the race, Secretariat’s jockey Ron Turcotte and trainer Lucien Laurin debated the unexpected upset, with Laurin publicly questioning Turcotte’s handling of the race. Penny Tweedy, Secretariat’s owner, later acknowledged the horse was running a low-grade fever on the racing day, but agreed to keep him in the race because she felt he could triumph over the field. Even Vasquez noted Onion’s victory as a fluke, telling an interviewer: "I probably caught him on a bad day. Onion wasn't the same caliber. It's just that he loved Saratoga and had a good day."
Later career and retirement
Onion and Secretariat met for a second and final time on September 15, 1973, for the inaugural running of the $250,000 Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap at Belmont Park. Secretariat had returned to full health by this time and won the race while setting a new world record of 1:45 2/5 for 1⅛ miles; Onion finished in fourth place.
Onion never won another stakes race, and his post-Whitney career was undistinguished and troubled with injuries. Before his retirement in 1977, he was running in low-grade claiming races. Onion was retired to Hobeau Farms and died on October 24, 1995.
- Bill Finley (August 4, 1998). "Spa’s Secretariat Shocker: Onion’s Whitney Upset, 25 Years Later". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
- Dan Howley (May 18, 2008). "Secretariat Shows His Greatness in Defeat". Albany Times-Union. Retrieved 2009-05-04.[dead link]
- Whitney Tower (August 13, 1973). "Marlboro Country is a Vale of Tears". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
- Kent Hollingsworth (1985). The Kentucky Thoroughbred. University Press of Kentucky. p. 155. ISBN 0-8131-1547-7.