VANCE — A rural church cemetery in Vance is the final resting place of Eddie Sweat, longtime groom of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat.
Sweat, who died at age 58 of leukemia in 1998, grew up on the outskirts of Vance and was hired by trainer Lucien Laurin when Sweat was 16.
Atop Sweat’s grave in the Rock Hill AME Church Cemetery in Vance is a plastic toy horse with small silk flowers. There is also a trophy, topped with a horse and jockey, bearing the inscription: “In Memory of Mr. Eddie Sweat, Secretariat’s Beloved Groom.”
Sweat was the sixth of nine children born to David and Mary Sweat.
Actor Nelsan Ellis played Sweat in Walt Disney Pictures’ 2010 movie “Secretariat.”
In an interview with The T&D around the time of the movie’s world premiere, Sweat’s oldest sister, Bertha Lee Walker of Florida, said her brother “worked with horses ever since he was 13 years old, until he died. … He was good with horses from when he was a child.”
Walker also talked about one of Sweat’s trademarks: wearing colorful plaid pants.
“We used to laugh at him when he wore those pants. But he would say, ‘I don’t care about your laughing because I know I’m going to win. They’re my pants, and I’m going to wear them,’ ” Walker said.
Between Holly Hill and Vance, not far from the Rock Hill AME Church Cemetery, is the Holly Hill Training Center, which was originally founded as the Branchdale Racetrack.
Laurin owned the track for many years. He hired Sweat for various duties there.
Local lore has it that Secretariat was trained at the track near Holly Hill, but those who worked at the track or lived nearby say that likely wasn’t the case.
A life-sized tribute to Secretariat, in the form of a bronze sculpture, welcomes visitors to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky.
The commissioned bronze statue was dedicated on April 8, 2006. It features Secretariat immediately after his Kentucky Derby victory on May 5, 1973, at Churchill Downs. Jockey Ron Turcotte is seated on Secretariat and Sweat is leading the champion horse.
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