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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Happy Birthday, Penny Chenery

Penny in blueWe want to be the first to send the “First Lady of Racing,” Penny Chenery, our warmest wishes for a Happy Birthday on January 27!  

Last year was a milestone birthday at age 90, but this year will also be very special for Penny.  It marks the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s historic Triple Crown of 1973.  His fame remains undiminished by time, largely due to Penny’s tireless efforts as his ambassador and her dedicated stewardship of his glorious legacy.

As legions of fans know and appreciate, Penny did not retire from the scene after Secretariat retired from racing. She continued to graciously greet her horse’s admirers at events all across the country, signing autographs for hours at a time. She served as president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association from 1976-1984. She was also president of the Grayson Foundation supporting equine research in 1985-86. In 1983, she was elected to membership in The Jockey Club,  one of its first women members. A leading advocate for the health and welfare of retired Thoroughbreds, Penny was instrumental in creating the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. She established the Secretariat Foundation to help support worthy causes, such as laminitis research.  

 In 2005, Penny received the Eclipse Award of Merit for lifetime achievement in racing. In 2012, the Thoroughbred Club of America’s honored her at its 81st Testimonial Dinner.

At the TCA dinner, Julie Cauthen, club president said, “Through all of these years, Penny Chenery has remained the epitome of a grand lady of racing, always representing the highest ambitions and standards of those to whom the Thoroughbred is an important part of life. We can all be truly proud that she is a part of our sport.”

We in Virginia are proud of Penny’s ties to our state as the birthplace of Secretariat at The Meadow, the farm founded by her father, Christopher Chenery.  Under her leadership, Meadow Stable produced not only Secretariat, but Riva Ridge, who won the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont.  Together they won five of six consecutive Triple Crown races in 1972-73, something no other stable has ever done.

Moreover, we are thrilled that Penny is scheduled to attend the SECRETARIAT BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION AT THE MEADOW  on March 29-30.  This event, the bulk of which takes place on Secretariat’s birthday of March 30, will kick off the official celebration of his Triple Crown anniversary.  Ron Turcotte, Secretariat’s jockey, and Charlie Davis, exercise rider, are also slated to attend.

Penny said, “I am delighted to join Ronnie and Charlie on Secretariat’s birthday at The Meadow to kick off the celebration marking the 40th anniversary of his 1973 Triple Crown. Virginia holds such fond memories for me and I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones.”

To read more about the event, see www.secretariatsmeadow.com/events and also get updates on our Facebook page. For announcements of future 40th anniversary events and more info about Secretariat, see www.secretariat.com

In the meantime, Happy Birthday, Penny, with deep gratitude for your magnificent champions and your inspiring career!  We will see you soon!

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author “Secretariat’s Meadow –  the Land, the Family, The Legend” and “Riva Ridge – Penny’s First Champion”

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REMEMBERING CHRISTOPHER T. CHENERY, FOUNDER OF MEADOW STABLE

 Saratoga CTC portraitWe’re interrupting our “Ancestors of Secretariat” series to take a moment to remember the visionary founder of Meadow Stable, Christopher T. Chenery.  He died 40 years ago on January 3, 1973 at the age of 86.  The man who created “an empire built on broodmares” in Caroline County, Virginia, never lived to see his greatest horse win racing’s greatest prize – the Triple Crown – on June 9, 1973. And now, as we prepare to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s historic victory, it seems fitting to pay homage to the man who set it all in motion. 

Chris Chenery evinced a passion for horses starting in early childhood. Perhaps it began in 1888 when his father Jimmy Chenery lifted him aboard a horse as a toddler at The Meadow, the family’s ancestral homeplace owned by their cousin, Mary Ann Morris. Chris spent many happy summers there, riding over the fields and by the brambly riverbanks on a borrowed horse. 

Later, he would walk seven miles from his house in Ashland to exercise the Thoroughbreds owned by his cousin Bernard Doswell at his farm at Bullfield, once a legendary racing stable. There, young Chris soaked up the lore of Bullfield’s glory days and admired the gleaming trophies won at tracks from New York to New Orleans.  It inflamed his imagination and quite likely set the stage for what was to come.  

The horse-crazy boy grew up to become an accomplished horseman, teaching equitation for the U.S. Army during World War I.  Rising from humble roots, he became a self-made millionaire in the utilities industry.  Finally achieving financial security for his family, he could indulge his passion for horses further.  Robust and vigorous, he played polo, foxhunted and even started his own riding club, Boulder Brook, in Westchester, New York. 

 But Chenery longed for more.  In 1936, he made a decision that would forever change his life, his family’s life and the sport of horse racing.  In the middle of the Great Depression, he went back to Virginia and bought back The Meadow, which had been sold out of the family in 1912.  As a man accustomed to shaping his own destiny, Chenery was determined to restore and reshape the dilapidated property into his vision of a first-class Thoroughbred horse farm and racing stable. 

Once he rebuilt the farm, he set about building up his foundation stock.  Known to have “an eye for a mare,” Chenery purchased well-bred but affordable broodmares. Several of them, such as Hildene, Iberia, Imperatrice and her daughter,  Somethingroyal, became some of the most influential broodmares of the 20th century.

By 1950, Chris Chenery and his upstart Meadow Stable produced Horse of the Year, Hill Prince.   Hill Prince  won the Preakness and several other notable races that year, but ran second in the Kentucky Derby.  For the man who seemed to possess the golden touch in all his pursuits,  Chenery would find winning the golden trophy of the Kentucky Derby his most elusive goal.  

He sent two more Derby favorites to the post: First Landing in 1959 and Sir Gaylord in 1962.   First Landing finished third and Sir Gaylord broke down before the race.  Cicada, the favorite for the fillies’ race, the Kentucky Oaks, in 1962, could have run in the Derby after Sir Gaylord was injured.  However, Chenery kept her in the Oaks, which she won handily.  

Not until 1972 did Chris Chenery’s dream of breeding a Kentucky Derby winner finally come true.  Riva Ridge, by First Landing, avenged his sire’s defeat and brought home the roses for Meadow Stable. But by this time, Chenery was not in his customary box seats at Churchill Downs. He lay mute and immobile, confined to a hospital bed in New Rochelle,   felled like a giant timber by the ravages of Parkinson’s disease and what was then called hardening of the arteries.  When the nurse pointed out his daughter Penny in the winner’s circle with Riva, a tear rolled down his withered cheek. 

Penny had taken over management of Meadow Stable when her father fell ill in the late 1960s. Over the protests of her family, she vowed to keep racing the horses and to keep her father’s dream alive.  “At least he knew,” she has said about Riva winning the Derby.

 Of course, the next year in 1973, Secretariat, who was born and raised at The Meadow,  took  Chenery’s dream to heights no one imagined. Secretariat, the first Triple Crown winner since 1948, broke the track records for the Derby, Preakness and Belmont, the only champion to ever do so.  Together he and Riva Ridge won five of six consecutive Triple Crown races in 1972 and 1973, something no other stable had done. 

The bloodlines that Chris Chenery established for Meadow Stable produced 43 stakes winners.  Most outstanding were:

Hill Prince:  1949 Champion two-year-old colt; winner of 1950 Preakness; 1950 Champion three- year-old colt; 1950 Horse of the Year; 1951 Champion handicap male; elected to Racing Hall of Fame

First Landing:  1958 Champion two-year-old colt

Cicada:  1961 Champion two-year-old filly; 1962 Champion three-year-old filly; 1963 Champion handicap female; elected to Racing Hall of Fame (additionally she ranked as the top money-winning female for nine years)

Riva Ridge: 1971 Champion two-year-old colt; winner of 1972 Derby and Belmont; 1973 Champion handicap male; elected to Racing Hall of Fame

Secretariat:  1972 Champion two-year-old colt; 1972 Horse of the Year; winner of 1973 Triple Crown; 1973 Champion three-year-old colt; 1973 Champion turf male; 1973 Horse of the Year; elected to Racing Hall of Fame

Additionally, the great mares Hildene, dam of Hill Prince; Iberia,dam of Riva Ridge; and Somethingroyal, dam of Sir Gaylord and Secretariat, were named Broodmares of the Year. Sir Gaylord, after his pre-Derby injury, distinguished himself as a sire of international importance through his best son, Sir Ivor.

Today, Chris Chenery’s legacy lives on.  Many of racing’s brightest stars in the 21st century can trace their bloodlines back to Secretariat, who became a great broodmare sire.  His daughters such as Weekend Surprise, Terlingua and Secrettame  produced such outstanding sires as A.P. Indy, Storm Cat and Gone West.  The progeny of those stallions  – think Smarty Jones, Bernardini, the late Pulpit and his son, Tapit, for example – have further distinguished themselves in the sport.

And so we celebrate Chris Chenery, the  “Virginia gentleman” as sportswriters called him, whose dream turned into an American legend!

NOTE:  Look for our upcoming post on Penny Chenery, who celebrates her 91st birthday later this month and has kept the legacy of her father and Secretariat alive for over 40 years.

 by Leeanne Ladin

co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow –  The Land, The Family, The Legend”  and “Riva Ridge – Penny’s First Champion”

  In our book “Secretariat’s Meadow,” Chris Chenery’s granddaughter, Kate Chenery Tweedy, chronicles how her grandfather’s driving ambition lifted him from humble beginnings to the heights of corporate America and into the top tiers of Thoroughbred racing. You can order the book at  www.secretariatsmeadow.com

Secretariat’s Ancestors…Nasrullah, The Irish Rogue

(second in a series) 

 Nasrullah from CF

The potent influence of Nearco became personified in America by his talented but tempestuous son, Nasrullah. 

Foaled at the Aga Khan’s Sheshoon Stud in Ireland in 1940, Nasrullah earned an impressive reputation as a champion racehorse in Europe. Though he would not duplicate Nearco’s unbeaten record, he won five of ten stakes races and placed in three others. The bay stallion also won a notorious reputation at the track for being unruly, unpredictable and unmotivated.   

 Bill Nack, in “Secretariat – The Making of a Champion” describes how Nasrullah was “a rogue at the barrier and a rogue sometimes in the morning.”  Sometimes to motivate the horse to run, his handlers popped open an umbrella behind him. 

This was a horse with an attitude, as this blog post by John Sparkman of “The Pedigree Curmudgeon” colorfully illustrates. He describes Nasrullah’s behavior at his first start as a three-year-old: 

“He refused to leave the paddock; he refused to break into a trot; he refused to respond to the blandishments of the friendly hack sent out on the course to kid him; he refused to do anything except behave like a spoiled child. ….Could the catcalls and cries of derision which greeted this un-Thoroughbred-like behavior have been heard by [his sire] Nearco across at Beech House Stud…it might have had a serious effect on his fertility.”

Nasrullah’s jockey, Sir Gordon Richards, described the horse as “very, very difficult to ride.”  In a Sports Illustrated article of 1954, Richards attributed some of Nasrullah’s unruliness to wartime restrictions (World War II) “which forced many horses to compete at one track for such a long time that they became bored with the whole business.”

Nasrullah’s difficult behavior convinced the Aga Khan to sell him instead of standing him at stud. Irish trainer Joseph McGrath purchased Nasrullah for a reported $50,000.  At McGrath’s Brownstone Stud, Nasrullah soon distinguished himself as a top sire of champions. He caught the attention of Arthur B. “Bull” Hancock, Jr., of Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, who was seeking to infuse new blood from the Nearco line into his horses.

Hancock tried twice to purchase Nasrullah with no success. Finally, in what Bill Nack called “a masterstroke in American breeding,” Hancock put together a syndicate in 1949 which purchased the Irish stallion for $340,000. Its members comprised a “who’s who” of Thoroughbred breeding:   Harry F. Guggenheim, Henry Carnegie Phipps of Wheatley Stable, Marion du Pont Scott and several others.     

 Like a conquering hero, Nasrullah arrived on America’s shores in July 1950. (see video) http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid13320747001?bctid=89522948001

His star status had soared after his son Noor defeated the great Triple Crown winner Citation in four stakes races.  Noor was named champion older male horse, as well as top money winner that year. As Nasrullah settled into his paddock at Claiborne Farm, the stallion in the adjoining paddock was also having a very good year. His name was Princequillo. His son, Hill Prince, out of Chris Chenery’s Meadow Stable mare, Hildene, had won the 1950 Preakness and beaten Noor in the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup that year. (More on Princequillo in a future blog post.) 

Nasrullah excelled in the breeding shed, siring 98 stakes winners. Among his most famous are:U.S. Racing Hall of Fame horses Bold Ruler, Noor and Nashua. His most famous grandson, of course, was Secretariat, who was also the grandson of Princequillo on his dam’s side. Nasrullah topped the American sire list five times. Experts say he invigorated the blood of the American racehorse with new fire and speed.

 Nasrullah died at Claiborne on May 26, 1959 at the age of 19.  Thirty years later, his grandson Secretariat would die at age 19 at the farm. 

In his book on Secretariat, Nack related how the stallion grooms heard Nasrullah nickering in his paddock just before he died.  Knowing that the bay stallion never nickered, they realized something was wrong and rushed to him. Just as the vet arrived, Nasrullah toppled over, dead from a burst ventricle in his heart. His son, Bold Ruler, went wild in his adjoining paddock, screaming and racing up and down the fence line.  

The “Irish rogue” was dead, but his inextinguishable fire burned brightly in the blood of his son.    

And it would spark an American legend.    

Our next blog post will be about Bold Ruler, sire of Secretariat.  Coming soon in our Secretariat’s Ancestors series:  Princequillo, Discovery, Imperatrice, Somethingroyal.

 (photo of Nasrullah from Claiborne Farm website)

 By Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend’sec_barb__prints.qxd

and “Riva Ridge – Penny’s First Champion”

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Ancestors of Secretariat…New Series

ANCESTORS OF SECRETARIAT: NEARCO, the ITALIAN STALLION

While we have featured many of Secretariat’s descendants on our website and Secretariat’s Meadow Facebook page, we were overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response to our recent Facebook posts about Secretariat’s ancestors. Therefore, we’re going to devote our blog to this topic for awhile. 

We’ll start with Nearco, Secretariat’s paternal great grandsire, since this photo of him sparked a surge of interest when we posted it. It shows Nearco being led out of his specially built bomb shelter at Beech House Stud in Newmarket, England during World War II.  The photo was taken in 1941 by the noted equine photographer R Anscomb.   

That the stallion merited his own bomb shelter speaks to his enormous importance in the world of Thoroughbred breeding. Nearco (1935-1957) stamped his place in history as one of the most prepotent and influential sires of the 20th century. He was also one of the most successful racehorses of his era, undefeated in 14 races.  His victory in the Grand Prix de Paris in 1938 was called his crowning glory.  

Nearco was bred and raced by one of the most successful and influential horsemen of his time, the renowned Federico Tesio of Italy.  Tesio, a breeder and geneticist, held views that were often contrary to the prevailing wisdom of the day.  He would frequently purchase less “fashionable” mares and stallions because of something he discerned in their pedigrees. Many times over, his unorthodox formula produced international champions. 

 Mussolini and the looming threat of war curtailed Nearco’s time in Italy with Tesio. In 1938, Tesio sold Nearco to Martin Benson of Beech House Stud in England. The stallion went on to produce the winners of some 657 races.  

Some of his most famous progeny include Nasrullah (sire of Bold Ruler and grandsire of Secretariat), Nearctic and Royal Charger. Reportedly over 100 of Nearco’s sons have stood at stud around the world. Blood-Horse Magazine’s list of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century includes several Nearco descendants:  Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Bold Ruler, Nashua, Ruffian, Northern Dancer, Riva Ridge and Fort Marcy.

 While Secretariat’s lineage traces back to Nasrullah, Riva’s traces to Royal Charger.  Royal Charger sired Turn-To, who sired First Landing of Meadow Stable, a champion handicap horse, who then sired Riva Ridge out of the Meadow mare, Iberia.

Turn-To also sired Sir Gaylord of Meadow Stable, who was out of Somethingroyal. (She, of course. gave the world Secretariat when she was mated with Bold Ruler.)   Sir Gaylord, a strong Kentucky Derby favorite in 1962, broke his sesamoid before the race and was retired.  However his son, Sir Ivor, won the Epsom Derby and became British Horse of the Year and an important Thoroughbred sire.  

Thus, the influence of Nearco was surely felt at Meadow Stable and far beyond.  Secretariat, who sired 653 foals, and Riva Ridge, who sired 359 foals, continued to perpetuate his remarkable bloodline.

Next on the Ancestors Series:  Nasrullah, the Irish Rogue.

  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

 

 

 

Before there was Big Red…there was “the Great Red Fox”

                                                         

A century before Meadow Stable, home of Hall of Famers Secretariat, Riva Ridge, Hill Prince and Cicada, put Doswell, Virginia on the racing map, Bullfield Stable in nearby Hanover County dominated the American racing scene.  Its most famous son was a long-striding chestnut stallion named Planet, also called “the great red fox.” He was considered, after Lexington, the greatest racehorse up to the time of the Civil War.

On August 10, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga will induct Planet into the Hall of Fame in the historical category.  Not only did this great champion and Bullfield Stable symbolize an era known as “the golden age of Virginia horse racing,” but they were an early influence on a horse-crazy boy named Christopher T. Chenery and the future Meadow Stable.

 Founded in 1824, Bullfield became known as “the Red Stable” because so many of its winners were sorrels and its jockeys wore flashy orange silks.  Operated by Major Thomas  Walker Doswell and his father, Bullfield gained renown as one of the most successful Thoroughbred farms of the East Coast.  In fact, the locality of Doswell was named in their honor.

 Planet was born in 1855, sired by Revenue, the leading sire in 1850. His dam was the great racer and broodmare Nina, said to be the best racing daughter of the top sire Boston. A prolific broodmare, she gave Bullfield Stable 15 outstanding foals, including Exchequer and Ecliptic, a son of the great Eclipse. Planet was said to be Nina’s best. She was one of the reasons that writers of the period referred to Bullfield as “a nursery of Virginia racehorses.”

 Planet was a handsome horse, described by John Hervey in his book “Racing in America – 1665-1865” as follows:  “In color a rich chestnut, 15.2 ½ hands tall, he was remarkable for his symmetry of mould and the excellence of his limbs…” 

 Those limbs exhibited whirlwind speed against the top horses of the day such as Daniel Boone, Congaree, Hennie Farrow, Socks and Arthur Macon.   Planet won 27 of 31 races and became the top money winner with nearly $70,000 in purses, a record that stood for 20 years.  

He possessed enormous stamina as well. Those were the days when horses raced in heats ranging from one to four miles, sometimes running as much as 12 miles in one afternoon. Such races would be unthinkable today, as would the practice of racing the horse again after only a three-day layoff, as Planet’s schedule occasionally dictated.

 However, the versatile Planet could win at any distance, long or short, posting some of his best performances at four mile heats. He carried Bullfield’s orange silks on familiar Virginia tracks at Ashland, Petersburg and Broad Rock and further afield on the Southern circuit from New Orleans, Mobile, Savannah, Charleston and even north to New York.  

 Planet also displayed another form of versatility.  He was an accomplished trotter who could do a mile in three minutes. According to John Hervey, this talent landed him in trouble at the New York track in 1860 where he was being worked at a flying trot before a meet. A race official ordered Planet and his rider off the track, declaring that trotters were not allowed. Other horsemen jumped to Planet’s defense, finally convincing the official to rescind his order against the champion Thoroughbred.

 The Civil War and its aftermath curtailed racing in the South and interrupted what would have been Planet’s best years at stud (1861-1868). During that time, many of the Bullfield horses were hidden in the woods to protect them from marauding horse thieves. Nevertheless, an advertisement of the era proclaimed that “Planet – Virginia’s Unrivalled Race Horse will make his season of 1866 at Bullfield… commencing March 1st and ending July 15th, at $50 the season, with $2 to the groom.”  

 Despite the handicap of war, Planet managed to sire impressive offspring who made turf history of their own.  His blood figures in the pedigrees of Kingman, winner of the 1891 Kentucky Derby; Bowling Brook, winner of the 1895 Belmont Stakes; the great filly Regret who won the Kentucky Derby in 1915; Exterminator, winner of the 1918 Kentucky Derby; and (on the female side) Fleet Nasrullah, successful son of the legendary Nasrullah, the grandsire of Secretariat.

 Planet passed his trotting blood, which flowed from his sire Revenue, to his daughter Dame Winnie. She was bred to Electioneer, the great Standardbred, and produced the champion trotting stallion of his day, Palo Alto. 

 In the custom of the day, Planet’s portrait was painted by the famous equine artist Edward Troye, who at Major Doswell’s insistence, included Planet’s black jockey Jesse in the saddle.  During a raid on Bullfield, the portrait was cut from its frame by Yankee soldiers. It was later found in a ditch and returned to the Doswells by someone who recognized the orange silks worn by Jesse.  

Major Doswell sold Planet to Mr. Alexander of Woodburn Farm in Kentucky, where he lived until his death in 1875 at the age of 20.

Planet and Bullfield influenced not only Thoroughbred history but also the history of  Meadow Stable in neighboring Caroline County.  After Major Doswell died in 1890, his son Bernard inherited a portion of the farm called Hilldene and ran his own small stable there. Bernard’s younger cousin by marriage, Christopher T. Chenery, would walk seven miles from Ashland to Bernard’s farm and exercise his few remaining horses on the old Bullfield track.  Here, Bernard regaled Chris with tales of Bullfield’s glory days, introducing him to a  heady world of gleaming trophies and fine-blooded Thoroughbreds, a world far removed from  the boy’s humble circumstances in Ashland.  Perhaps it is no small coincidence that when Chenery purchased The Meadow in 1936 and began building his foundation bloodlines, he named one of his most prolific mares Hildene.

 And, as everyone knows, The Meadow also produced a great red stallion, one who became Virginia’s and the nation’s “unrivalled racehorse.”  Secretariat, “Big Red,” together with Planet, “the Great Red Fox” of Bullfield  stand as pillars of equine perfection and performance, reminding the world that some of the most magnificent horses of the American turf sprang from Virginia soil.

We will have the honor of attending the Hall of Fame ceremony in Saratoga next Friday with Sarah Wright, the 93-year-old granddaughter of Bernard Doswell and her daughter Cecelia.  Sarah’s meticulous documentation of her family history in her book “The Doswell Dynasty” helped the Secretariat’s Meadow book team offer the nomination of Planet for the Hall of Fame.  You can read more about  Planet, the Doswells and Bullfield in “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.”    

by Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author of “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

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

The Holy Grail on the Secretariat’s Meadow Tour…the Foaling Shed

Visitors are often moved to tears when they see it.  They touch the wooden door reverently.  They walk inside the stall, looking around in quiet awe. They snap photo after photo, not wanting to leave what many consider hallowed ground.

It’s a modest little structure of whitewashed barnboard.  Its appearance could be called “unprepossessing,” to use one of Penny Chenery’s favorite adjectives.  Here on March 30, 1970, shortly after midnight, The Meadow’s magnificent old broodmare, Somethingroyal, gave birth to a colt who would become the king of the sport of kings.

Contrary to what the Disney movie showed,  Secretariat was not born with a big audience in attendance. Penny and her son were not there.  Lucien Laurin was not there.  Eddie Sweat was not there. The only people present were Bob Southworth, the night watchman and Howard Gentry, the farm manager.  Dr. Olive Britt, the beloved Meadow vet,  arrived soon thereafter. 

When the birth was complete, Mr. Gentry exclaimed:  “There’s a whopper!”

“He was born practically standing up,” said Dr. Britt.  We interviewed her for our book shortly before she passed away in 2006.  She would point out what sportswriters would rhapsodize about two years later when the colt set foot on the track…his perfect conformation and how he “filled the eye.”    

“He was beautiful,” she said. “He was well put together, very correct; his legs were perfect.  He had a beautiful head and was as red as fire!”

When Penny first saw Secretariat, she famously said, “He’s too pretty to be any good.”

Secretariat’s foaling shed is the grand finale of our Secretariat’s Meadow Tour.  It is the original structure, carefully restored and preserved by the SFVA which owns The Meadow.  It was located by the old broodmare barn near the Cove, but was moved to the new equine complex across Rt. 30 after the crumbling broodmare barn could not be restored.  It is a fitting location, as this complex was formerly the grounds for Meadow Stable’s training center. The complex bustles with ongoing horse shows and will also be the site of the Museum of the Virginia Horse.

This modest little shed is where a legend began…and for the devoted fans who make their pilgrimage to see it…it’s where the legend lives on! 

The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” are sponsored by the SFVA. Private group tours are available for groups of 30 or more at $10 per person.  Tours are also offered to the general public on certain dates.  The next public tour is on September 10, 2011. For more information about the tours, see www.secretariatsmeadow.com  Tours are narrated by Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.”  Proceeds from the tours benefit the future Museum of the Virginia Horse to be built at The Meadow.

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011