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Sham: Great Was Second Best

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Sham: Great Was Second Best by Phil Dandrea

"Sham: Great Was Second Best" by Phil Dandrea

Acanthus Publishing

The Bottom Line

The 1973 Triple Crown will be remembered into eternity, and is kept in the limelight by regular mainstream reminders such as the movie "Secretariat" in 2010. However, lost in the shuffle was Sham, who finished second in the Derby and Preakness. In his new book, Massachusetts-based author and IEAH Stables partner Phil Dandrea seeks to correct this with this tribute to Sham and his trainer Pancho Martin. Fans of racing history will enjoy this well-written, entertaining account of the sleek sturdy bay who brought out the best in Secretariat.
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  • Well-written account of the life and times of Sham
  • Dandrea used first-hand accounts from trainer Pancho Martin to paint an accurate picture
  • Entertaining story on how Sham's connections were the "Rodney Dangerfields" of the Triple Crown
  • Readers will appreciate that Sham wasn't just an also-ran, but he pushed Secretariat to greatness


  • May not be of interest to all racing fans, such as those who only participate in it for gambling


  • The Triple Crown of 1973 is familiar territory for most racing fans but mostly from Secretariat's perspective
  • Dandrea describes how it was experienced by owners Sigmund and Viola Sommer, trainer Pancho Martin, and jockey Laffit Pincay.
  • A poll found that most turf writers actually picked Sham to defeat Secretariat in the Derby
  • Both Secretariat and Sham ran faster than 2 minutes in the Derby, but only Secretariat's winning time is officialy recognized
  • Sham returned bleeding heavily from deep gashes in his mouth which required teeth to be extracted later that evening.
  • Sham's losing effort in the Belmont Stakes would be his final career start.
  • Martin intended to switch him to the turf in the Hollywood Derby but Sham was injured in a workout.
  • Successful surgery to his broken cannon bone allowed him to go on to stud duty, syndicated for $2.88 million

Guide Review - Sham: Great Was Second Best

The Disney movie "Secretariat" renewed interest in the 1973 Triple Crown, and with it, racing history buffs may want to learn more, not just about Secretariat but about Sham, who was his rival from the Wood Memorial through the Belmont Stakes. One key character in the movie was hot-headed trainer Frank "Pancho" Martin, who sent out California invader Sham to take on Big Red. Much has been written about Secretariat and his connections, but his main rival has mostly been forgotten. Martin was an old-school trainer, serving Mountain Valley Spring Water to Sham, specially imported from Hot Springs, Arkansas in large jugs, the mineral content proving beneficial to his horse.

Through hours of research and personal interviews with Sham's connections, Dandrea pieced together this accurate, easy to read story about the forgotten horse. Sham's career began in New York under trainer Woody Stephens for owner-breeder Claiborne Farm. However, after Bull Hancock died from lung cancer, his horses were auctioned off in a Fasig-Tipton dispersal sale held at Belmont Park in November 1972. Pancho Martin, whose horses had finished behind Sham earlier in the season, recommended to owner Sigmund Sommer that he should bid on the horse. The gavel fell at $200,000 and Sham was on his way to California.

Dandrea shows how Sham and his connections were the "Rodney Dangerfields" of the Triple Crown, as several turf writers misspelled their names in major publications including the New York Daily News. During the Triple Crown, Penny Chenery received plenty of Secretariat fan mail, on the other hand Pancho Martin received by mail, unsolicited advice on how to train Sham. As if it was a set-up for a comedy routine, Sham and Secretariat were at opposite ends of the same barn at Churchill Downs. Writers would get a quote from Martin about Secretariat, and then promptly go over to repeat it to Lucien Laurin to get a response. One publication wrote that Martin was offering a $5,000 wager with Laurin on which of their horses finishes in front of the other; such an offer was never made. The scene was repeated at Pimlico where again the two trainers were at the same barn.

Dandrea points out that Sham's heart weighed a stunning 18 pounds, not quite as large as Secretariat's 22. Charles Hatton said that Secretariat's "only point of reference is himself," but Dandrea disagrees, saying that his point of reference was actually Sham. Sham suffered from bad luck. as a member of the 1970 foal crop that included Secretariat, but he played a key role in the 1973 Triple Crown, pushing Big Red to those record-breaking efforts, especially the suicidal early fractions in the Belmont. Sham could have been "the superhorse" had he been born any other year, but without question he was still "a superhorse" in his own right.

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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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