Lucien Laurin, who trained Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner who was perhaps the fastest thoroughbred that ever raced, died yesterday at a hospital in Miami. Laurin, who lived in Key Largo, Fla., was 88.
He trained 36 stakes winners, he won an Eclipse Award as horse racing's leading trainer in 1972 and he was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1977. But Laurin, a former jockey who spent more than 40 years as a trainer, achieved overriding fame as the man who saddled the charismatic chestnut Secretariat.
In the summer of 1971, Laurin became the prime trainer for Meadow Stable in Virginia. ''He had retired before I hired him,'' Penny Chenery, who bred and raced Secretariat, recalled. ''His son, Roger, was training for me, but he moved to the Phipps family. He said, 'My dad will help you out.' I called him 'my temporary trainer.' ''
Laurin had already captured a Triple Crown race, saddling Amberoid, the winner of the Belmont Stakes in 1966. When he arrived at Meadow Stable, Riva Ridge was in the process of becoming the 2-year-old champion. In 1972, Laurin saddled Riva Ridge to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.
But Riva Ridge would always be second best to the handsome and powerfully built Secretariat, who was a 2-year-old when Riva Ridge was dominating the Triple Crown.
Chenery would remember what happened when Secretariat was beaten the first time he raced. ''Laurin kicked a chair across the box and said, 'Damn, he never should have been beaten.' Then I knew Lucien thought he was a great horse.' ''
Laurin and his fellow French-Canadian, the jockey Ron Turcotte, teamed up for five Triple Crown victories -- the two by Riva Ridge and then Secretariat's epic 1973 season when he became the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948.
Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby in record time, captured the Preakness Stakes and then turned in one of the most memorable performances in sports history when he captured the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths in 2 minutes 24 seconds, the fastest mile and a half ever run on a dirt course in the United States.
As Chenery remembered the moment: ''When the race began, Lucien said: 'Oh my God, Ronnie, you're going too fast. This is a mile and a half.' And then, when it was clear Secretariat had passed all the other horses, Lucien said, 'For God's sake, Ronnie, don't fall off.' ''
Laurin broke into racing as a jockey, winning 161 races in Canada, including the 1935 King's Plate aboard Sir Michael. He achieved moderate success as a jockey in New England, but then his career almost came to an end. He was banned for life in 1938 when stewards at Narragansett Park in Rhode Island found a buzzer -- a device that can spur a horse with an electric shock -- in Laurin's jacket before the start of a racing card.
Racing authorities rejected Laurin's contention that someone had slipped the device into his jacket while he was playing cards in the jockeys' room.
Laurin got a job exercising horses at Alfred Vanderbilt's Sagamore Farm, rode briefly after the suspension was lifted in 1941, then turned to training the following year in New England, working for Reginald Webster. He later trained for A. B. Hancock Jr.
Laurin resigned as trainer for Meadow Stable in 1976 but returned to racing in 1983 as trainer and part owner of Evergreen Stable.
Recalling his ride on Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby, Turcotte remembered the faith that Laurin showed in him.
''In the paddock at the Derby that day, Mr. Laurin asked me, 'Do you really think he can go a mile and a quarter?' And I told him, 'Yes, but he hasn't proved it to me.' I told him, 'I don't want to push him, let him relax and gallop along.' Mr. Laurin told me, 'You ride him to the best of your knowledge, you won't be second-guessed.' He gave me confidence. Instead of making me tense, he made me relax. If he puts pressure on me, God knows what happens.' ''
What happened were victories at Churchill Downs that day, at Pimlico in the Preakness and then at Belmont Park in the Belmont Stakes that catapulted Secretariat to horse racing greatness and Laurin to a niche as one of the sport's foremost trainers.
''He could do everything,'' Laurin once said of Secretariat, who died in 1989 at age 19. ''There was never a horse like him.''