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Nobody ever remembers who finishes 2nd

By Paul Niemann

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[June 05, 2008]  Everybody remembers who wins, but nobody remembers who finishes second.

InsuranceYou know that Bobby Thompson's home run won the pennant for the Giants, but do you know which team they beat?

Likewise, when the gravelly voiced announcer told us that "Havlicek stole the ball, Havlicek stole the ball," you knew that the Celtics won, but do you know who lost?

That's the point: Nobody ever remembers who finishes second.

Now back to our story. His name was Sham, and he ran the kind of race that no other 3-year-old had ever run before. Yes, he was just 3 years old at the time.


Sham was born in 1970 on a horse farm just outside of Lexington, Ky. His father was named Pretense and his mother was named Sequoia. If these names sound unusual to you, it's because Sham was a racehorse, and racehorses are sometimes given unusual names. That explains why they had no last names. It also explains why he was born on a horse farm.

As the 2008 racing season is in full form with the Kentucky Derby and Preakness behind us and the Belmont Stakes upon us, this is a good time to take a look at one of the fastest racehorses of all time. In fact, Sham was the fastest racehorse that you never heard of. He was owned by a man named Sigmund Sommer, another name that you probably never heard of.

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Sham ran the 1973 Kentucky Derby faster than any racehorse had run it in the previous 99 years. He was so fast that he was able to run the 1 1/4-mile race in one minute, 59 and four-fifths seconds. By comparison, no other horse in the previous 99 Kentucky Derby races had run the race in less than two minutes. Except one.

So Sham won the Kentucky Derby and went on to win the Triple Crown, right?

Not exactly.

You see, Sham lost that historic Kentucky Derby race, and he lost his next two races as well. He came in second that day, finishing 2 1/2 lengths behind perhaps the greatest racehorse in history -- the only other horse to run the race in less than two minutes: Secretariat.

Even though he owns the second-fastest time in Kentucky Derby history, his name remains virtually anonymous, even in the racing community. Sham was in the right place at the wrong time. The Triple Crown races are open only to 3-year-old horses, and Sham was born the same year as the great Secretariat.

Like I said, nobody ever remembers who finishes second.


Paul Niemann is the author of the "Invention Mysteries" series of books. He can be reached at

Copyright Paul Niemann 2008

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