Secretariat Birthday Celebration at The Meadow

SECRETARIAT BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION AT THE MEADOW MARCH 29-30 KICKS OFF 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF SECRETARIAT’S 1973 TRIPLE CROWN  sec logo_v3_final_outlined_rgb.2

Come Join Us Where the Legend Began!   

 Forty years ago in 1973,  the big red horse pounded the turf in the Belmont Stakes like a “tremendous machine” and clinched the first Triple Crown in a quarter-century. 

Forty years and his fame is undiminished, his fans’ adoration unabated and his record unequalled.  Of the 11 champions who have won the Triple Crown since 1919, only the mighty Secretariat broke all three track records. His Derby was 1:59 2/5; his Preakness 1:53 (finally corrected this year) and his phenomenal Belmont was 2:24.

 On March 29-30, fans from all over the country are converging on Big Red’s birthplace at The Meadow in Doswell, VA to celebrate his birthday and kick off the 40th anniversary of his Triple Crown. It promises to be a historic gathering.

 Penny Chenery, Kate Chenery Tweedy, Ron Turcotte and Charlie Davis are all scheduled to appear. They will be joined by some of the original grooms and riders who assisted with Secretariat when he was a colt at the Virginia farm. This will be the first time that all of them have been together at the farm.  Also, for the first time ever, both of the very first training saddles worn by Secretariat and Riva Ridge will be on display by their owners.

 Fans will have the unique opportunity on Friday March 29 to watch the Secretariat movie at The Meadow with the Secretariat team.  There will be a panel discussion afterward as Penny, Kate, Ron and Charlie share their memories of Big Red.  

 The Saturday program will be chockfull of everything a fan could want:

  • autograph sessions with the Secretariat team;
  • extensive display of Secretariat merchandise and memorabilia;
  • local Secretariat descendants on hand;
  • tram tours of the historic farm, featuring Secretariat’s original foaling shed;
  • continuous showing of the Triple Crown races;
  • horse industry exhibits;
  • local vendors;
  • a “Kiddie Corral” for children;
  • and a special musical tribute to Secretariat.   

 The complete program schedule and ticket info is on our website at https://secretariatsmeadow.com/events/2013-events/. Come join us where the legend began!

 The Secretariat Birthday Celebration at The Meadow is being co-hosted by Commonwealth Fairs and Events of Virginia and Secretariat.com of Louisville, Kentucky.

 

by Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author of

“Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend” and “Riva Ridge – Penny’s First Champion”Secretariat's Meadow Book

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Secretariat Descendants Dominating the 2012 Derby!

Secretariat is running in the Derby this Saturday!  Of the 20 contenders in the field, 16 of them can boast Big Red in their bloodlines.  (verified through www.pedigreequery.com)  

The daughters of  America’s Super Horse  whose sons (Secretariat’s grandsons) established these dominant bloodlines are:

Weekend Surprise – A.P. Indy; Terlingua – Storm Cat; and Secrettame – Gone West

Of course other great bloodlines are present in these Derby contenders such as Seattle Slew, Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer for example.   But for the legions of Secretariat fans, the Big Red flame is still burning bright. This is also a source of great pride to us Virginians, as Secretariat was born and first trained at Chris Chenery’s Meadow Stable in Doswell, VA.

Here is the list of the 20 contenders in alphabetical order.      

Alpha   ( A.P. Indy line)
Bodemeister (A.P. Indy and Storm Cat lines) AND Virginia-bred by Audley Farm
Creative Cause (Storm Cat line)
Daddy Long Legs (Storm Cat line)
Daddy Nose Best (Storm Cat line)
Done Talking  (NO Secretariat connection)
Dullahan (NO Secretariat connection)
El Padrino  (A.P.Indy and Gone West lines)
Gemologist (NO Secretariat connection)
Hansen (A.P. Indy and Storm Cat lines)
I’ll Have Another (NO Secretariat connection)
Liaison (A.P. Indy line)

Optimizer (A.P. Indy and Riva Ridge)
Prospective (A.P. Indy line)
Rousing Sermon (A.P. Indy line)
Sabercat  (Storm Cat line)
Take Charge Indy (A.P. Indy line)

Trinniberg (Storm Cat line)

Union Rags (Gone West line)
Went the Day Well  (Gone West line)

We will be at Churchill Downs with Penny Chenery and Kate Tweedy, remembering the 98th running of the Derby, won by Riva Ridge  and of course the 99th won by Secretariat.  His track record of 1:59 2/5 still stands almost 40 years later.  Will one of his descendants dare to try and break it? 

by Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author, “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend”

Viva Riva! Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Riva Ridge’s Derby Victory

                                                                                 In 1969, a muddy-bay colt with floppy ears would be saved from the floodwaters of Hurricane Camille at his Virginia farm. Later, he would rescue the same farm as it was sinking into debt and preserve it as the launching pad of its greatest champion.  Though he would be swept aside in the wake of the national adulation for his charismatic stablemate, he never gave up.  Riva Ridge, the forgotten champion of Meadow Stable, most assuredly earned his place in racing history and in the hearts of his fans.

This is an excerpt from our upcoming book “Riva Ridge – Penny’s First Champion” (by Kate Chenery Tweedy and Leeanne Meadows Ladin) due out in September.  This coming Saturday, May 5, 2012 marks not only the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby, but the 40th anniversary of Riva’s Derby victory of 1972.  

 And Riva is getting some long-overdue recognition!   We are delighted that the Kentucky Derby Museum is hosting a party in Riva’s honor on Sunday, May 6.  (see http://www.derbymuseum.org/event_calendar.html)

To fully appreciate the signifciance of Riva’s victory in the 98th “Run for the Roses,”  here is another excerpt from our book. 

(from Chapter 4 – The Thirty Year Road to the Derby)

“I knew he was the best horse in the race, he was feeling good and had worked good over the track which was very fast. Everything was to his liking and I could smell the roses,” said Ron Turcotte.

The “Golden Boy” of Meadow Stable did not disappoint. Riva broke well out of the gate, grabbing the lead right away.  Bumped in the initial rush, he quickly recovered with no trace of his old timidity.  Galloping easily, he held off a challenge by Hold Your Peace as the two drew away from the field.

 Bill Nack, author of “Secretariat – The Making of a Champion,” described Riva’s Derby run.  “Riva toyed with Hold Your Peace like a cat with a mouse.  His attitude was ‘come and get me.’ I thought that day that Riva looked like a Triple Crown winner.”

No Le Hace also tried to make a run at Riva, but the bay colt sailed across the finish line under a hand ride by Ron. Winning by three lengths, Riva became only the thirteenth horse to win the Kentucky Derby wire to wire.  He posted a time of 2:01 4/5, the seventh fastest on record.

Mom (Penny Chenery is Kate Tweedy’s mother) could not contain her elation. She was sitting with Bull Hancock’s family and literally beating on Clay Hancock as she shouted “We’re winning! We’re winning!”

The Kentucky sun shone brightly on Virginia’s Meadow Stable that day as Granddaddy’s Derby jinx finally lifted. The stars had indeed lined up in our favor.  Lucien had trained Riva to peak at the perfect time.  Ron had kept Riva off the rail where the deep soil of the “cuppy” track could have tired him. This allowed the colt to sprint to the front where the field of fifteen couldn’t block him. The chancy, last-minute tactic of widening the blinker slits had helped Riva keep his challengers in sight.

The saying goes that the Kentucky Derby is the “most exciting two minutes in sports.”  Riva’s  two-minute run symbolized the culmination of a dream that kindled in an old horseman’s heart more than thirty years prior to May 6, 1972.  My grandfather Chris Chenery had defied all the skeptics when he founded Meadow Stable on the dilapidated land of his ancestral homeplace in Caroline County, Virginia in 1936. Breeding for both speed and stamina, he had sent three strong Derby contenders to the post (including Riva’s sire First Landing)  as well as many notable stakes winners. Now my mother too had defied all the skeptics and fulfilled her father’s lifelong ambition.  Her unshakable determination and perseverance, along with a solid belief in the homely bay horse who could run like a deer, had brought her far from those first tentative days of running a racing stable.

                                                         (end of excerpt)

Kate and I will be at Churchill Downs with Penny this Saturday watching the latest crop of Derby hopefuls vie for their place in racing history.  And we will be remembering Penny’s  first champion,  Riva Ridge, his speed, his spirit and his all too brief moment in the spotlight.

Here’s a link to Riva’s Derby on YouTube.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItlAMVUlo4M

by Leeanne Meadows Ladin

Co-author “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend”

The Secretariat Birthday Party Goes On!

Some of you may have heard the sad news that The Meadow, which was owned by the State Fair of Virginia, has been closed to the public.  The Fair (a private, not for profit organization) was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy on March 8 when the bank did not accept its plan to reorganize. 

This was heart-breaking news for Virginians who grew up going to the Fair and especially for those of us who had enjoyed a long association with its staff.  That association had become even more enjoyable in recent years as we worked together on  the annual Secretariat birthday party, which the Fair hosted at The Meadow,  and the popular  “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” for public and private groups. We even announced our “Secretariat’s Meadow” book there in 2010.  It was very sad to see our friends lose their jobs.

 Our book team  did not want these circumstances to force the cancellation of the annual Secretariat’s Birthday celebration, planned for Saturday March 31. So we took this on as a volunteer effort  and are happy to say that Randolph-Macon College in nearby Ashland will host the event on March 31 in Andrews Hall from 1 – 5 pm. There are longstanding ties with the college as Christopher Chenery, who founded The Meadow in 1936 as a Thoroughbred farm, attended school there, along with two of his brothers.  Last year, Randolph-Macon awarded Penny Chenery an Honorary Doctor of  Laws degree.

 Yes, the birthday  program is scaled back but we still have fans coming from Texas, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina and Delaware!  That speaks volumes about what this magnificent horse means to people across the country!

Here’s a brief outline of the program:

  •  1:00 pm. – Welcome and Presentation on the history of The Meadow,  Secretariat and Riva Ridge by Kate Chenery Tweedy and Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-authors of “Secretariat’s Meadow, The Land, The Family, The Legend”
  • Meeting former Meadow grooms and jockeys and seeing Riva’s first training saddle
  • Discussion of possible historical designation options for important sites at The Meadow
  • Continuous showing of Secretariat’s and Riva’s most famous races
  • Book signings and sale of Secretariat items
  • Secretariat and Riva cake
  • 3:00 p.m.  – Repeat presentation by authors 
  • 5:00  p.m. – EVENT CONCLUDES

Tickets are $5 at the door and advance registration is required.  Because seating is limited, we ask that you indicate whether you will attend the 1:00 pm or 3:00 pm presentation. Go to our website www.secretariatsmeadow.com for more info and to register.

As for The Meadow, we will keep our readers posted on future developments here, on our website and our Facebook page. 

In any event, we sincerely hope that next year in 2013, we will be back at The Meadow to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown!

by Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow”

copyright 2012

www.secretariatsmeadow.com

Secretariat’s Descendants – From the Homestretch to the Home Front: Little Red’s “Golden” Opportunity in the Rockies

This new series will look at some of Secretariat’s most famous progeny and how the mighty stallion of Meadow Stable continues to fire the blood of some of the best racehorses on the track today. We will also look at the descendants whose most important contributions have been made, not on the homestretch, but on the home front as pleasure horses, working horses and simply beloved companions. We are very grateful to the owners who send in the stories and photos of their Secretariat descendants. In this way, “the legend lives on!”

LITTLE RED’S “GOLDEN” OPPORTUNITY  IN THE ROCKIES

This great-great grandson of Big Red was born on March 29, 2010 in Ocala, Florida,  one day before Secretariat’s birthday of March 30.  His dam, Beautiful Wonder, has Secretariat on both the top and bottom of her pedigree. However, his illustrious bloodline did not protect him from a difficult start in life.

Born with an umbilical hernia for which his owner could not afford veterinary treatment, Little Red was relinquished to a local rescue group. He also had a badly infected foot. In the heartbreaking turn of events, the foal had to leave his mother before he was weaned. Her pitiful whinnying echoed in his ears as he was transported away to a strange new location.  However, thanks to the good volunteers at Beauty’s Haven Farm and Equine Rescue in Morriston, FLA,  the colt received the medical treatment he desperately needed and began to recover.

 Eventually, Kateri Nelson, who worked with the American Humane Association, heard about a beautiful chestnut colt nicknamed Armani up for adoption. Born in Montreal, she felt a special connection to this descendant of Secretariat, due to the French-Canadians, jockey Ron Turcotte and trainer Lucien Laurin, who were such an integral part of his success. Finally, Little Red’s pedigree was going to bring him some good luck.

He just had one more hurdle.  Kateri lived 1,800 miles from Ocala in Golden, Colorado.  The notion of shipping the colt across country seemed too far-fetched to consider.

However, benevolent forces were at work that would lead to a “Golden” opportunity for the colt and Kateri.  Her husband, Dean,  (in a move that should have awarded him “Husband of the Year” honors!) secretly arranged to adopt Little Red.  The colt was on his way to their ranch when  Dean finally told Kateri the good news.  An ecstatic Kateri described the colt’s arrival in early November 2010:

“At least I thought he was little until the driver unloaded him. At the tender age of seven months, Armani was already 14.2 hands and was walking on stilts. In fact, you could almost hear the bugle call when he walked down the ramp; he had the confidence of a champion!”

Kateri, along with her husband and son,  greeted him with open arms.  A few days later, the Florida colt got his first taste of Colorado snow!

Today, nearly a year later,  Little Red, now renamed Tristan,  continues to thrive in his new home.   Kateri describes how the once-sickly colt has developed in size and personality:

“Over time, his personality has blossomed. He shows more  and more assertiveness, and has developed a mischievous side directly proportionate to his great intelligence. He quickly found his place in our little herd of three horses and rarely needed to be reprimanded by his elders, even today. Fortunately for us he exhibits a similar behavior with humans. In fact, I’m still amazed that despite his painful early life and the long trip to Colorado, Little Red is as confident as he is. The son of a king, he deserved a name reflecting his noble birth and his great courage. So Sir Tristan of the Round Table became the obvious choice, especially for our 9-year old son. Since he arrived, our horse with many names has picked up a few inches —  three weeks or so before his first birthday, we measured him at 15.2 hands. The veterinarian thinks that he will reach 16.2 or 16.3 hands at maturity. Then Tristan will hopefully calmly carry us on his back despite the bugle call that will resonate in his head, and the beating of hooves pounding deep in his heart.”

This author can personally attest to Little Red’s personality.  Kate Tweedy and I stopped at Kateri’s place in Golden to meet Little Red on our way to Aspen this summer to go riding at a friend’s ranch.   The colt was prancing about in his paddock, exuding confidence but not cockiness. He was not skittish as we two strangers approached and, like his great-great grandsire, seemed to relish the attention as we cooed and fussed over him.  

Then he did the most amazing thing.  I was petting his glossy neck when he bent his head down and tucked it up under my neck and just stayed there, breathly softly on my shirt.  Kate and Kateri said it looked as if Little Red  was whispering a secret to me. I told them he was.

He was telling me that he was both proud and humbled to have the blood of a mighty  champion running through his veins.  I told him that this made him very special and that he always must honor the spirit of his legendary ancestor.    

By all indications, that is exactly what Little Red is doing. Thanks to the good work of the equine rescue group, a lifelong Secretariat fan, and a good-hearted husband, the young Thoroughbred now has a future befitting his lineage. The little colt who got off to a rocky start in life now has a forever family in the Rockies of Colorado.

Little Red October 2011 (19 mos.old)

Many thanks to  Kateri Nelson for sharing her photos and story.  And thanks to all the equine rescue groups who help find forever homes for horses like Little Red!

If you own or have owned a Secretariat descendant and would like to share your story, please email me at laladin@verizon.net, with pedigree verification.  

 By Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

www.secretariatsmeadow.com

 

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”

www.secretariatsmeadow.com

copyright 2011

Covert Action, Secretariat’s Grandson, Finds “Greener Pastures”

 

Secretariat’s descendants are helping to keep his legacy alive! As we get closer to Big Red’s birthday on March 30, we’re writing about some of his progeny here in Virginia.  Our last post was about Rainaway, his great grandson who lives at The Meadow in Doswell. 

 This is Covert Action, a Secretariat grandson, who quite generously, has helped us promote our book “Secretariat’s Meadow.” He lives in Goochland County at the James River Correctional Center.  No, he is not serving time. He is serving as  the resident “spokeshorse” for Greener Pastures, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) farm located there. 

This picture was taken during a barn tour last year of Greener Pastures, where I showed Covert Action the book about his grandfather. I’m not sure he grasped the significance of the occasion as he seemed more interested in looking for carrots. 

At Greener Pastures,  inmates and retired racehorses get a second chance at a new life.  The selected inmates care for the horses in a supervised program and can learn a new career suitable for the horse industry. In fact, Covert Action’s groom has now become a professional farrier.

 The horses learn how to transition from the track, or in some cases from unhealthy environments. Many are later adopted out to permanent, caring homes.   Read more about this inspiring program at www.jamesriverhorses.org.

Covert Action certainly had the pedigree to be a racehorse.  Born in 1995, his lineage included  Mr. Prospector, a very successful stallion whose get have won many of the classic races such as the Kentucky Derby. Even more auspicious, the colt’s grandsire on his dam’s side was our mighty Secretariat.  And Secretariat’s daughters have produced outstanding champions such as A.P.Indy, Storm Cat and Smarty Jones.

But Covert Action did not find much action on the racetrack.  He won only three of his 26 races and earned only $22,000 during his career.  Instead he found another calling, thanks to the  TRF and its dedicated volunteers. He also found a forever home. 

Kate Tweedy and I teamed up with him and TRF again at another book event at a Southern States store.  I believe he would have preferred to chew on our giant book poster but he was far too well-mannered for that! 

Covert Action and  his “cousin” Rainaway,  will be  on hand for “meet and greet” at the Secretariat birthday celebration at The Meadow on March 27.  

Surely Big Red would be glad that two of his descendants have found greener pastures in his home state of Virginia!

By Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

A Good Hand on a Horse…the Grooms of Meadow Stable

                                       

In honor of February as Black History Month, we’d like to share some stories about the African-American grooms of The Meadow in Doswell, Virginia, birthplace of Secretariat.  Though they were never well known like Secretariat’s racetrack groom Eddie Sweat and exercise rider Charlie Davis,  the grooms in Doswell were the first to take care of Big Red and the other champions of Chris Chenery’s Meadow Stable.  

Though some of the men had passed away before Kate Tweedy and I started working on “Secretariat’s Meadow” in 2007, we were able to interview several of the grooms over time and even do a videotaped oral history.  They shared stories that had never been told and we are greatly indebted to them for so vividly enriching our book.

Here is the excerpt of their chapter from”Secretariat’s Meadow:”

” A Good Hand on a Horse…the Grooms of Meadow Stable.”  

They grew up working with their hands in the rural Caroline County of the post-Depression years.  Local jobs were scarce and mostly limited to cutting pulpwood for the local sawmill, working on the railroad, in a mechanic shop or as a farm laborer. But the calloused black hands of the men who became the grooms of Meadow Stable would touch some of the greatest Thoroughbreds in racing …and leave their own indelible imprint on the history of The Meadow.

Their names did not appear in the headlines or record books, but Lewis Tillman, Sr. and Lewis Tillman, Jr., Bannie Mines, Alvin Mines, Charlie Ross, Wesley Tillman, Garfield Tillman, Raymond “Peter Blue” Goodall, Howard Gregory and others from the closeknit web of local families most assuredly contributed to the success of Meadow Stable. Personally selected for their jobs, these men would be entrusted with the daily care of the valuable broodmares and their foals, helping with the early training of skittish colts and fillies, the transportation of finely-tuned racehorses and the handling of powerful stallions in the breeding shed.

Wesley Tillman came to work at The Meadow as a youngster.  In 1946, at the age of twelve, he began helping in the hay fields with his grandfather Samuel Tillman during the summer.

“My grandfather said, ‘If you’re big enough to walk all the way down here to the farm, you’re big enough to work.’  So he gave me a pitchfork and I started throwing hay on the wagon. That was my first job,” Tillman said. He made two dollars a day.

 By age eighteen, he was helping his uncle Lewis Tillman,Sr., who was in charge of the broodmare barn. They would turn the horses out in the morning after feeding and get them back up in the evening.  In the meantime, they would clean out the stalls and put in fresh bedding. When the mares and foals came back up from the Cove in the evening, they would feed them and put them in their stalls for the night. Wesley also pulled night watch duty when mares were getting ready to foal.

 His next job was “up the hill” to the yearling barn. “That’s when I started breaking horses,” Tillman said.  “You had to be real gentle with any horse and take your time with them. If you groomed them right, they would even get to like you so you could get them to cooperate with you.”  

 The next stop for young horses was the training center located across Route 30 where they would begin to learn the fundamentals of racing. The grooms would saddle the horses up for the exercise riders for the day’s work on the Meadow track. Afterwards, the grooms would wash the horses, brush them down and put them on the hot walker (a mechanical walking machine) for awhile. Lastly, they would lead them back to the barn and turn them out into the fields until feeding time. In between their grooming duties, the men would cut grass, fix fences, paint barns or do other chores around the farm.

Tillman, along with other grooms, sometimes traveled with the horses when they were shipped out as two-year-olds to the training stables in Hialeah, New York or Delaware. As they would see, it was a different world outside the rolling green fields of The Meadow. 

“Everybody was treated equally at the farm,” Tillman said.  “I didn’t see any racism.  We were all like a big family.”   

But on the road, in those days of segregation, “coloreds” were not allowed in many restaurants or hotels.  “I had to stay back in the back with the horses from here to New York,” Tillman explained.  When the van stopped for lunch, the white driver, Bill Street,  would bring him his meal which he ate in the van as the racehorses munched their hay and occasionally sneezed on his food.  If the grooms did take a break from the van, they had to go the back door of the restaurant to get a sandwich or eat in the kitchen with the cooks. Mostly they shrugged it off as part of their job.  

At the racetrack, the Meadow grooms would stay with the horses for maybe three or four weeks.  “We had our bunks right on the end of the barn, so  if anything happened, like if the horses would get down in the stall or start kicking,  we’d be right there with them,” Tillman said.   After new grooms were hired and the horses were settled in, the Meadow grooms would return to Virginia to start working with the next crop of young hopefuls.

Alvin Mines first came to The Meadow at the age of eight or nine, tagging along with his grandfather Lewis Tillman, Sr., who was affectionately called “the Mayor of Duval Town.”  (their nearby community)   He remembers playing in the fields with the other grandchildren until feeding time when his grandfather would call the mares and foals up from their pasture in the Cove.

“Man, the horses used to come running up, maybe about fifteen of them with their colts and the foals,” Mines recalled. “I remember we’re grabbing round his leg because we thought the horses would run us over. He said, ‘Don’t worry, the horse is not going to bother you.’ And sure enough, they’d come up and they’d just circle around you and go on.”

Alvin began working at Barn 33, also known as “First Landing’s Motel” around 1974. (First Landing was the sire of Riva Ridge.) There with groom Clarence Fells he helped with the visiting mares who were to be serviced by the Meadow stallions. Often the mares had foals at their sides, who did not want to leave their mothers for even a few minutes.

“I had to hold the foals and then you were in a rassling match!” Mines said.

Next he worked at the broodmare barn with his uncle Lewis Tillman, Jr.  Later he went across the road to work at the racetrack/training center, with his brother-in-law Raymond Goodall. Goodall was the chief groom for Riva Ridge.

He taught the short and stocky Alvin how to handle the tall, high-headed Thoroughbreds who often did not want to have a halter or bridle put on them. It seemed that farm manager Howard Gentry liked to test the young groom by giving him the tallest horse in the barn to lead.  Mines recalled being jerked off the ground more than once.

The grooms who had a special way with horses were highly respected at the farm.  This was particularly true of Howard Gregory, who worked at The Meadow for nearly thirty-two years.  He was known as “the stud man.”

He began as a farm worker, making twenty-five dollars a week in the 1940s.  Like the other grooms, he had no prior experience with horses, other than some farm mules. He simply learned by doing, mostly under the watchful eye of Howard Gentry, who supervised all the breeding.

He had been working at the training track for several years when Gentry offered him the job taking care of the stallions, along with a raise. “He told me I had a good hand on a horse and no fear,” Gregory recalled. “I had five young children to take care of, so I took the job. I did not know what I was getting into!”

He took charge of six stallions, each of which had his own paddock. Breeding time was around 2:00 p.m. each day in the breeding shed. Some days there would be four or five mares to be serviced. 

 “I had three horses that died in there,” Gregory noted.  “One was Third Brother, a full brother to Hill Prince. He just dropped dead after breeding the mare.” Another time, a stallion fell over dead, nearly crushing Howard Gregory and Howard Gentry against the wall.

One stallion, named Tillman in honor of Lewis Tillman, did little to flatter his namesake. He was especially rank and ill-tempered. “That horse looked to kill you!” Gregory said, adding that the horse would charge at any groom who entered his paddock.  Gregory was the only one who could handle him. “I had many people come watch me,” he said of those who came to learn his techniques.

His favorite stallion was First Landing.  “He was very, very mannerable,” Gregory noted. “When I would take him around to breed, you’d never hear him squeal or make a whimper or nothing.”

Despite the inherent dangers of his job, Gregory said, “I would turn back the hands of time” to do it all over again.

Charlie Ross also came to the Meadow in the early years. He would earn the distinction of being the last Virginia groom to take care of Secretariat before the colt was shipped down to Lucien Laurin’s training stable in Hialeah in January 1972. Though track groom Eddie Sweat and exercise rider Charlie Davis were more closely affiliated with “Big Red” during his meteoric racing career, it was Charlie Ross, along with trainer Meredith “Mert” Bailes, who helped start Secretariat under saddle. 

Ross had been working at the farm for over twenty years when Secretariat was transferred over to the training center and became one of his charges. He held the colt while Bailes first “backed” him, laying himself over the colt’s back to get him accustomed to human weight. He was the groom who led Secretariat around with his first rider, Bailes, in the saddle. 

“Yeah, he sat up on the saddle in the stall and I turned him around in the stall, waiting until he got used to that. Then the next move we would take him out in the big round shed and we’d walk him around in there until he’d get used to that,” Ross recalled.  He added that Secretariat did not act up or buck like some of the other horses did in those circumstances.

Typically taciturn, Ross admits he was a part of history. Then a flash of pride breaks through and he says, “They called me The Man,” for his way with horses. He agreed that the early care a young horse receives can influence him for life.

Alvin Mines put it best.  He said, “I think the horses, once they got the feel of the grooms that were working with them, there was something that growed up in them, you know. They go to someone else’s hands when they leave here, but I think the horses always know who had the first hand on them.”

 Meadow groom Lewis Tillman holding a colt for his Jockey Club ID photo. Photo by Bob Hart. 

Note:  To see what the grooms said about Secretariat and Riva Ridge as colts, read Chapters 11 and 12 in “Secretariat’s Meadow.”

by Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

This excerpt may not be reprinted without permission.

Guided Tour Program Starting at The Meadow, Birthplace of Secretariat

Millions of moviegoers saw the screen version of The Meadow, Secretariat’s Virginia birthplace, in the Disney movie “Secretariat.” Soon fans of “Big Red”will be able to visit the very grounds where the immortal 1973 Triple Crown winner was born. This spring, The Meadow Event Park, owned by SFVA, will begin offering guided tours of “Big Red’s” famed birthplace in Doswell, Virginia, just north of Richmond.  

I am very excited about this because I will be the guide! As co-author of the book “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend,” with Kate Chenery Tweedy (Penny Chenery’s daughter) I have lived and breathed the history and the mystique of The Meadow for several years.  I will share behind-the-scenes stories about the circa 1805 farm, its famous stallions and broodmares, and the people who lived and worked there during its heyday.

 Highlights of the tour will include seeing the foaling shed where Secretariat was born on March 30, 1970; the yearling and training barns with the stalls where Secretariat and  Riva Ridge (Meadow Stable’s first Kentucky Derby winner) stayed as young colts; the stallion barns; the fabled Cove, where the broodmares and foals grazed (pictured in our blog headline);  a horse cemetery; and much more!

Secretariat’s Meadow Tours will involve a tram ride, some walking and an indoor presentation which features video clips of Secretariat’s 1973 Triple Crown races.  Tour guests will have the opportunity to purchase a signed copy of Secretariat’s Meadow.  Proceeds from the tours will benefit the future Museum of the Virginia Horse to be built at The Meadow.

There will be two types of tours:  customized tours for groups which may be booked from March to December; and a limited schedule of tours for the general public.  The customized  tours are available for groups which may be renting The Meadow Event Park facilities for meetings, trade shows, horse shows and other functions, as well as for groups such as historical societies, civic and alumni organizations, book clubs and the like.   The basic cost is $10 per person, with a 40 guest minimum.  Other special features can be added to the tour for additional fees. For instance, a group could add a lunch or reception or perhaps a horseshoeing demonstration by a farrier. We can even arrange for a “photo op” with Rainaway, Secretariat’s great-grandson who lives on the property. The basic tour takes about an hour and advance registration is required.

 The general public tours are slated for March 27, May 7 and July 23.  The public tour cost is  $10 per person, $5 for children under 12, with a 40-guest minimum. Advance registration is required. More public tour dates may be added to the schedule as demand warrants. 

You can read more details about the customized group tours and the public tours at www.meadoweventpark.com. The Meadow Event Park is located off I-95, exit 98 to Doswell, 1.5 miles east of King’s Dominion, about 25 miles north of Richmond.  

You can learn more about the history of  The Meadow and its famous Thoroughbreds  at our website www.secretariatsmeadow.com (and order our book!)   

             

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

 

                                                     

Secretariat’s Meadow and Santa…Dashing through the Stores

The holiday rush began with a flurry of November book signings.  Lots of Secretariat fans are telling Kate and me that they are buying our book as presents for horse lovers and racing followers. We are happy and honored to hear that!

We kicked off the season by signing at the Holiday Shoppers Fair at the Virginia Historical Society.  This is a great event where all the Richmond area museum gift shops come together to offer their wares under one roof.  So we got some shopping done too!

Next we gave a talk to a wonderful audience at the Joseph-Beth Bookseller in Fredericksburg. Kate stayed in town to speak the following night at Mary Washington College.  We teamed up again at the Barnes & Noble in Charlottesville to do a Q&A session and signing with a large and enthusiastic crowd who was very knowledgeable about Big Red and The Meadow.  There are many Charlottesville ties to The Meadow.  Howard Gentry, the indispensable farm manager, came from Ellerslie farm  and we were thrilled that some of his relatives attended our event.

Then we sped down the road (almost as fast as Big Red) to Richmond for another Barnes & Noble signing that afternoon.  Kate flew back to Denver, only to turn around and fly back to Louisville, KY this past weekend for another event with our friends at the beautiful Kentucky Derby Museum.  I returned to The Meadow to sign at the Virginia Christmas Market show.

We have lots more book signings coming up in December, including two big  events in Ashland where Kate’s grandfather, Chris Chenery, the founder of Meadow Stable, grew up.  So check out our updated event section.  We hope to see you as we go dashing through the stores!

I had a little chat with Santa at the Virginia Christmas Market when he came over to get a book. He promised me that he would have plenty of copies of “Secretariat’s Meadow” in his knapsack for the holiday season!

Santa and Leeanne Ladin at the Virginia Christmas Market show