On Saturday, September 16 at her home in Boulder, Colorado, and at the age of 95, Penny Chenery passed away, leaving behind a world that can really never repay her.
When she took over her father's Thoroughbred farm, Meadow Stable, Chenery paved the way for women everywhere to play a more prominent role in horse racing. She was the first female to join The Jockey Club and she also gave us Secretariat, arguably the greatest race horse that ever lived.
Thanks to the 2010 Disney film, "Secretariat," it has become common knowledge that Chenery, played by Diane Lane, first got Secretariat through a coin toss with the Phipps family of Wheatley Stable. The coin toss was used to determine who would receive first choice of the foals out of two of Meadow's mares, that had been bred to Wheatley's stallion Bold Ruler.
Chenery ended up with the colt out of Somethingroyal, born March 30, 1970. He was christened Secretariat by Meadow racing stable employee Elizabeth Ham.
It was in 1972, during Secretariat's two-year-old year that Chenery first gained prominence. Secretariat had won seven of his nine races, and was named Horse of the Year. Meanwhile, his stablemate Riva Ridge, had a spectacular three-year-old season, winning the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.
The following year Secretariat would do even more than that, becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948. The last of the three Triple Crown races was perhaps the greatest horse racing performance ever -- his legendary Belmont Stakes, which he won by an astounding 31 lengths.
Recalling these glory years later, Chenery said:
"Lucien Laurin trained and campaigned the horse, not me. I discovered I had the ability to communicate with the public, though, and as the horse's spokeswoman I suppose people began to think of horses being owned by women."
Following his Belmont performance, Crown-winner Secretariat made the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated. Following Mr. Chenery's death in January 1973, he was syndicated for a record $6.08 million, which enabled Chenery to keep the stable running.
Secretariat was retired to stud at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., in November 1973, and produced many stakes winners. He still holds the records for fastest times in all of the Triple Crown races.
In The New York Times, Chenery wrote:
"In 1973, the country was in an emotional slump. It was the time of the Watergate and Nixon scandals, and people were looking for something wholesome to admire. I've always felt that because he was a chestnut horse and our stable colors were blue and white, he was running in red, white and blue."
This love for "Big Red" continued throughout his time at stud; Chenery continued to receive letters, poems and children's drawings from his many fans. She even started The Secretariat Foundation, a non-profit charity supporting Thoroughbred racing, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and Thoroughbred owners should they need aid.
"We have always been overwhelmed and amazed by the love and support Mom received from her many fans," son John Tweedy said. Her daughter Kate Tweedy echoed the sadness and reverence.
"We are deeply proud of our mother, her accomplishments, and her courage. As we mourn her loss, the example of her strength, her intelligence and her enduring spirit continue to inspire us."
When Secretariat passed away in 1989 at the age of 19, Chenery expressed the same thoughts many might have expressed at her own death.
"I'm going to miss him terribly," she said. "He was not only a champion race horse but a cherished friend."
How do you view Penny Chenery's legacy? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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