He still had a ways to go to reach the finish line. But for one day at least, he was OK with taking his time.
A bronze monument honoring legendary racehorse Secretariat took a break in Tulsa on Tuesday for public viewing, before continuing on to its final destination in Lexington, Kentucky.
The larger-than-life-size work, titled “Racing into History,” was completed at a Norman foundry by longtime Tulsa NatureWorks Art Show artist Jocelyn Russell.
After leaving Norman on a trailer Tuesday morning, the monument stopped off at Jim Glover auto locations in Tulsa and Owasso. Glover is providing the transportation for the monument to Lexington, where it will be unveiled and dedicated Saturday at Keeneland Race Course.
Nancy and Ken Sutter were among several onlookers at the Tulsa dealership Tuesday. The longtime NatureWorks patrons said they’ve kept up with Russell’s progress on the work via Facebook and were thrilled to finally see it in person.
“It’s amazing, just phenomenal,” Ken Sutter said of the monument, which captures the record-setting 1973 Triple Crown winner at full gallop, with jockey Ron Turcotte on his back.
“We’ve followed Jocelyn and her work for years,” Nancy Sutter said, adding that they are purchasing a maquette of the 13-foot-tall statue.
The Sutters remember the real Secretariat well. The horse’s performances inspired a nation that was sorely in need of some encouragement, Nancy said.
“It was the time of Watergate and Vietnam,” she said. “Everyone watched those races, even if you didn’t know anything about horse-racing.”
Russell, an award-winning wildlife sculptor based in Washington state, is the artist behind three of the NatureWorks monuments on display around Tulsa, including of an elk, a group of wolves and one featuring a bobcat and pheasant.
She began the current project in June 2018, and is accompanying the monument to Lexington.
As she studied Secretariat’s anatomy — the “powerhouse” physique and “beautiful” face — the task in front of her seemed all the more daunting, Russell said Tuesday, recalling the project’s early stages.
“He was so absolutely perfect in almost every way,” she said.
Thankfully, she added, she had a lot of help and input. The planning process included interviews with people close to the late horse, including Turcotte, former handlers and late owner Penny Chenery’s family, as well as visits to stables where he was born and trained.
Meeting and talking to Turcotte, the jockey who rode the horse to his Triple Crown wins, was a highlight, Russell said.
“Hearing about the horse through his eyes was amazing,” she said. “He brought so much life to the project.”
The monument was created at the Crucible Foundry in Norman. The foundry is able to accommodate projects of this scale, Russell said. She previously used it for five life-size elephants she created for the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.
Kristen Douglas-Seitz, a Broken Arrow native and sculptor who is apprenticed to Russell, has been her assistant on the Secretariat project.
“We are beyond excited and to get to bring it through Tulsa is extra special for me,” said Douglas-Seitz, who is also accompanying it on its road trip to Kentucky.
Russell credits NatureWorks and its late co-founder Tiny Tomsen with setting her on her current artistic path.
“Before,” she said, “I just did small sculptures. Then Tiny said, ‘I want you to do a monument for us.’ I said, ‘I can’t, I’ve never done one.’ He said, ‘Who says you can’t?’”
Now, a few years later, she’s just finished a monument of what many consider to be the greatest racehorse of all time.
“He’s the most historically notable figure I’ve done,” Russell said. “This is a horse that graced the cover of magazines.”