October 4, 1989…Remembering Big Red


It’s hard to believe that 22 years have passed since Secretariat died on October 4, 1989.    It’s hard to believe because, in many respects, his presence seems stronger than ever.  

 Kate Chenery Tweedy and I see the unquenchable passion for this horse firsthand as we travel around the country doing book talks and signings for “Secretariat’s Meadow.” Everyone wants to share their Secretariat story. For countless fans,  his Belmont win stands as one of the defining moments of their lives. Many fans cry unashamedly when they talk about him. And now a whole new generation of fans has emerged, thanks to the Disney movie about Secretariat.

He continues to make his presence known  at the racetrack. Every year, at the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont, sportscasters ask  what has become a rhetorical question – “Will there ever be another Secretariat?”

His presence at the track is much more than symbolic.  Secretariat’s progeny continue to carry his influence well into the 21st century.  As a great broodmare sire, Secretariat figures in the pedigrees of such champions as A. P. Indy, Storm Cat, Smarty Jones, Summer Bird, Rags to Riches, to name a few.  Bernardini, a great-grandson of Secretariat, is one of the most successful Thoroughbred sires today.  

For Penny Chenery, Secretariat has remained a constant presence in her life.  For nearly 40 years, she has been a tireless ambassador for her horse and the true “keeper of the flame.”   At age 89, she continues to be accessible to fans, who turn out in droves when she makes an appearance at an event.   She is their link to a legend.

 As we reflect on Secretariat’s life and legacy, Penny’s eulogy for her horse expresses what he meant to people and most of all, to her. It ran in the New York Times and was excerpted in our book “Secretariat’s Meadow  – The Land, the Family, The Legend.” 

(from Penny Chenery’s eulogy for Secretariat:)

“Secretariat’s death on Wednesday marked the end of a wonderful dream I have been privileged to live. In my eyes, he was the finest thoroughbred performer of the last 50 years and he certainly provided me with a unique experience.

I used to think that we had created him but, having tried to duplicate him for 15 years, I now realize it was just the luck of the draw. A marvelous horse was born and he happened to be born to us.

…. Secretariat seemed to realize his role then was to be a folk hero. His demeanor was that of a champion in whatever he was asked to do.

….I’m going to miss him terribly. My family and I join the many people who have been his loyal fans in great sadness at his loss. He was not only a champion race horse, but a cherished friend. “

 by Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author  “Secretariat’s Meadow”

copyright 2011

10 thoughts on “October 4, 1989…Remembering Big Red

  1. What a great champion. Rest in Peace with Man O’War, Ruffian and John Henry. You will always be remembered! Have your movie and watch it often. Thanks to your book we can relive your life through the love of the Chenery;s and the belief that you knew what task was ahead to achieve.
    22 years ago it was time to go and begin your run in Heaven for eternity. Thank you for blessing my life here. Miss you!

  2. One of my first confirmed memories was watching the Belmont as a small girl. Was in my grandparent’s living room and was already crazy about horses. If I hadn’t already been a horse crazy girl at that point, watching red run that day would certainly have converted me. I remember thinking that he was true magic.

  3. He truly will be missed forever, and was the most loving, adorable (no wonder he was given in huge heart!) horse. He was and forever will be the horse that is looked up to the most.

  4. He was a beautiful and proud. Age did not fade is beauty. As time passed his greatness grew because years passed and no one broke his record, no horse could equal his talent. The only foe he could not beat was illness. No one has said it, but I think the reason female horses are the rulers of the track now are because he was such a great broodmare sire. Rest well fella, we still remember you.

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