Penny Chenery, owner of Secretariat, dies at age 95

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Penny Chenery, owner of 1973 Triple Crown champion Secretariat, died on Saturday, September 16, as the result of a stroke. She was 95 years old.

Born Helen Bates Chenery, Penny entered the Thoroughbred racing world through her father, Christopher Chenery. The elder Chenery built his fortune in the utilities industry and operated Meadow Stable, a breeding and racing stable. Penny grew up riding and kept the hobby up through adulthood. But it wasn’t until her father became ill in the late 1960s that she took over the business and became deeply involved in the sport of racing.

Under Penny Chenery’s direction, Meadow Stable won its first Kentucky Derby in 1972 with a horse called Riva Ridge, a solid bay colt who also won the Belmont Stakes that year. No one predicted that Riva Ridge’s phenomenal performances would be eclipsed so completely by his stablemate just one year later.

In 1973, Secretariat ended a 25-year-old Triple Crown drought by being the first to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes since Citation in 1948. His win at the Belmont, by a staggering 31 lengths, is still widely regarded as one of the greatest moments in sports.

 

But Chenery’s contributions to the Thoroughbred industry go far beyond a single horse. She helped break gender barriers in the boys’ club of the racing world—she was one of the first the first three women invited to be members of The Jockey Club in 1983. (Membership in The Jockey Club is by invitation only, and there are approximately 100 members.) She was also the first woman to serve as president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) from 1976 through 1984.

Chenery was one of the founders of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps connect Thoroughbreds with second careers or safe retirement once their racing careers are finished. The organization launched in 1983 and continues to be an important aftercare resource today.

She also established The Secretariat Foundation, an organization created to use Secretariat’s fame and appeal to draw attention and resources to horse-related causes. Specifically, the foundation is focused on Thoroughbred aftercare, therapeutic riding, and research into equine lameness.

In 2006, Chenery received an Eclipse Award of Merit for her lifetime dedication to Thoroughbred racing.

Chenery’s story—or a slightly romanticized version of it—was captured in Disney’s 2010 film, Secretariat, in which she was portrayed by Diane Lane. In 2013, her son John Tweedy Jr. produced and directed a documentary titled Penny & Red: The Story of Secretariat’s Owner.

Chenery died at her home in Boulder, Colorado, where she lived close to her children.


Leslie Potter is a writer and photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky. www.lesliepotterphoto.com

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