To wrap up the second GOP debate on September 16, candidates were asked what Secret Service code names they’d choose if elected president. Carly Fiorina’s response was “Secretariat.”
But his record is only one of the reasons Fiorina admires Secretariat. As she explained to National Review on Wednesday, Fiorina finds much in common with the equine athlete’s story. Her lifelong theme of triumph over adversity — from overcoming breast cancer to coping with the drug-related death of her stepdaughter — finds a similar expression in the life of the decorated racehorse, who was bet against before he was even born.
“Secretariat wasn’t afraid to run, to race, to compete,” she says. “Even though both Secretariat and [his owner, Penny Chenery] were underestimated from the start.”
Secretariat’s story begins with a coin toss in 1969. Chenery, in arranging to breed her mare, Somethingroyal, to Ogden Phipps’s formidable Bold Ruler, agreed to a coin toss to determine who would get first pick of the foals. Phipps won the toss, and opted for the first foal born — a filly. Chenery was left to wait for the next foal. It was a colt, born March 30, 1970, with a bright chestnut coat, three socks, a star, and a thin blaze. Determined to carve out her place in a male-dominated industry, Chenery partnered with trainer Lucien Laurin to mold this colt, whom they would name Secretariat, into the nation’s first Triple Crown winner in a quarter century. Chenery would be among the first group of women admitted to the Jockey Club.
“Between the second and third race in the Triple Crown, the tradition was that you rested the horse,” Fiorina explains. “But they ran Secretariat, very hard. And then he won the Belmont.”
She draws a parallel to her campaign. “We’re not following the usual playbook,” she says. “We haven’t released a single ad. We’re not spending our time or money that way. We know that the most effective thing we can do is make sure people know who I am, and that happens in debates and town halls — face-to-face.”
Fiorina says that, if she wins the presidency, she plans to use her background in technology to innovate in the legislative process, specifically to achieve zero-based budgeting, in which all expenses are accounted for and none are automatic. “In my weekly radio address, I’m going to ask citizens to take out their smartphones and answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to whether they think they should know where every dollar is going to be spent. People will vote; people will say yes,” she says. “Congress will have to act.”Secretariat also had what’s called the “x-factor,” a gene located on the X-chromosome that causes an unusually large heart. Fiorina says she identifies with this. “It’s about the size of his figurative heart, too.”
Fiorina has studied and admired Secretariat since the Disney movie of the same name — her favorite movie, she says — was released in 2010. As she moves forward in the primary cycle, having vaulted from an asterisk to third place in the latest NBC/WSJ poll, she says she’s finding the comparison more and more apt.
“[At the debate], it came to me in the moment,” she says with a laugh. “But I like it. I think we might just keep it.”
— Elaina Plott is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.