Secretariat

Ask Penny Archives

Ask Penny Archives

Dear Penny,

Hello Penny. I am a 13 year old girl from Maryland and has totally devoted my life to racing. I watch racing every day and when I was younger I found out about Secretariat. I loved him from the start, I read the book about him, I read it over and over. So I was just wondering, this is a simple question. What was it like to be with Secretariat, to touch him, to know that you owned the Triple Crown winner and for my opinion the greatest racer in the racing world?

Thanks Kelley McLaughlin

Dear Kelley,

I’ve never been able to articulate my feelings about Secretariat and our racing experiences in 1973. Try every superlative in the book and they all apply, but there was also a great feeling of responsibility to his fans and to racing in general. What if he failed as a three year old? Could he fulfill the promise he showed as Horse of the Year as a two year old? I was really so proud of him and grateful that he was ours!

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Dear Penny:

Dear Ms. Chenery, I have a video tape of the television broadcasts of the ’73 Triple Crown which also has Espn’s Sports Century production of Secretariat. I have watched this tape countless times, and frequently embarrass my wife with my verbatim quote of the Belmont race call. The Sports Century discussion of Secretariat by Pat Lynch, William Mack, Jerry Izenberg, etc. is extraordinary. It appears to me that Heywood Broun had a special feeling about Secretariat. He was always a great storyteller, but there seemed to be something extra there when he is speaking about Secretariat. Can you add to this or relate conversations you had with him?

Sincerely,

 

Kent Hodek

Dear Kent,

Woody Broun was especially proud of Secretariat and considered him the epitome of a sports hero. He carried Secretariat’s picture in his wallet at all times. He made a feature vignette of the horse in his first year of retirement that is included in the Secretariat Video now available on the Secretariat.com website.

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Dear Penny:

Hello Penny, I am a 12 year old girl from PA. I love horses and ride every day. I read the book SECRETARIAT: THE MAKING OF A CHAMPION by William Nack. I finished it last week. It was excellent! I just wish I will someday get to ride a magnificent horse like him, though I know there will never be another like him. I write poems about him and other racehorses, but mainly him. I also have a question, did you ever ride Secretariat? I really would have killed to feel how Turcotte must have felt riding him, I can’t believe how lucky you and Lucien and Turcotte and Sweat were to know and love such an incredible horse. I bet he taught you a lot of things. Please Miss Chenery, answer my question if you can. I agree with you when you called him “sexy”! LOL

Always, Aislinn V.

 

Dear Aislinn,

Secretariat was big and strong and trained to the peak of fitness. It took a professional to ride him, and really very few people ever did:
the exercise rider on the farm, two exercise riders on the race track who worked for Lucien – Jim Gaffney and Charlie Davis, and three jockeys only – Paul Feliciano, Ron Turcotte, and Eddie Maple. It would have been the height of self-indulgence for me to ride him – what if he got hurt then? He taught me respect for greatness, especially in an animal.

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Dear Penny:

Race tracks are in such trouble today. What is your opinion of adding video slot machines to help increase revenue for larger purses? It seems people are really divided on this issue. Do you think another Triple Crown winner would be of any help in attracting larger crowds?

Thank you for this wonderful site. I’ve loved Secretariat since he was two; and he still lives on in my heart.

 

Connie

Dear Connie,

I would love to see another Triple Crown winner. It would be a great boost for racing, attracting more media attention and new fans.

 

Slot machines may be a needed source of revenue short term, but they are not going to strengthen racing in the long run – just a temporary “fix”.
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Dear Penny:

First I would just like to say how much I admire you and everyone who was part of Secretariat’s “team”. What a great time that was! I also loved Riva Ridge – and from what I have read, he was yours and Ron Turcotte’s favorite horse. Why is that? Was it his personality? What was it that made him so special to the people around him? I think it’s wonderful how much you loved your horses, for more than just the sport. Thank you so much for your time.

Marian

Dear Marian,

I loved Riva Ridge because Meadow Stable really needed a big winner to keep the farm going in 1972. He was not so talented nor self-confident as Secretariat but he came through when we needed him, and he was always affectionate and grateful for attention. Secretariat took himself seriously and knew he was “big stuff”, spoiled and beautiful. I loved them both, but differently.

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Dear Penny:

I have loved Secretariat since 1973, and will always love him. If you had to name just one aspect of his make-up that made him “the greatest”, what would it be?

Kim Curtsinger

Dear Kim,

Heart! Both it’s physical size (twice the normal size), but also his courage in competition and his delight in running.

Dear Penny,

I’ve read the book on Secretariat about 2 times, of the hard times you have been through and the greatest moments of your life and others. I was wondering if you’ve ever felt any resentments towards Angle Light or Sham or Prove Out or Onion? Do you think they won because of luck because Secretariat was having an off day (like the time he had abscess) or because the horse proved to be better? I know that he beat Angle Light and Sham, but how about Onion or Prove Out.

Thanks,

Kelley McLaughlin

Dear Kelley,

Racing is basically about competition so I never resented any horse that beat one of my horses on a given day. They were simply better in that race, not necessarily superior overall. Secretariat beat Onion in the Marlboro Cup September 15, 1973. He never raced against Prove Out a second time.

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Dear Penny:

I am 16 and live a few miles from where you and Secretariat once lived (Meadow Farm). I was wondering whatever happened to your farm. Do you still own Meadow Farm and are you still actively involved in racing? If not, when did you leave the racing business and or sell the farm?

Liz Alexander

Dear Liz,

My Dad’s farm “The Meadow” was sold in 1979 to Darrel’s Truck Stop’s owner as an investment, but he went broke shortly afterwards. It has had several owners since then and the old house became so dilapidated it was torn down. The Training Center and horse barns are intact, but no one has used it as a full scale horse operation.

An historical marker is on Route 30 at the entrances on either side. There is a movement to purchase the farm by Caroline County and to maintain it as a museum or tourist attraction. I hope it will be preserved and put to use again.

I am still in the business on a small scale as I have one in-foal mare, a three year old colt and a four year old filly for racing. I hope I never leave the business of racing.

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Dear Penny,

I’m only 14 and have been into horses since the 3rd grade. Even though I’m around Saddlebreds, Paints, and Quarter Horses…hearing the name Secretariat sends shivers up my spine! My trainer and her husband saw Secretariat run all 3 races. Was Secretariat all you could imagine? Was he like a super hero to…did he make all your dreams come true? Thanks for reading all this!!!!

One of his biggest fans, Lindsay

Yes Lindsay, He made all my dreams come true – even ones I didn’t know I had. The best of his era, the time after Man O’ War, he knew he was a champion and behaved with the dignity his success required. He enjoyed the attention and always responded to the sound of a camera clicking – head up, ears pricked, gazing at distant objects like the hero he knew he was.

Thanks for writing.

Penny

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Dear Ms. Chenery: I am trying to find out what Secretariat’s maximum length of stride was. I cannot find this information anywhere. At some point, somewhere, Man O’ War’ s stride was documented at 30 feet. This woman (who is not a fan of his) told me Secretariat’s stride was only 23 feet. I find that very tough to believe and have actually gotten into an argument with her over it. Can you please help? Thank you!

We measured Secretariat’s stride on a freshly harrowed track at 25 feet. I never accepted that because he was accelerating at the point of measurement and not yet at full stride. Native Dancer was measured at 29′ and I’m sure Secretariat had a similar range but I have no proof.

Penny

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Hi, Penny! A number of years ago I worked on the Secretariat Stamp campaign & I met you at the Arlington Million a number of years ago. I just wondered….after Secretariat went to stud at Claiborne….did you visit him very often? And if so, did he seem to recognize you?

Diane Whiffin,
Kansas City, MO

Dear Diane,

Secretariat and Riva Ridge both knew me and greeted me in their stalls at Belmont Park. At Claiborne, they both recognized me at first. As time went on, so many visitors came to see Secretariat that I think I
became, to him,
just one of his admirers, not a distinct voice. Riva knew and responded to me to the end of his life.

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Dear Penny, When is the new Bronze Statute of Secretariat due to be created and placed at the Kentucky Horse Park? I sure hope that those who contributed (like me) will be invited for the dedication.

Joanne Rose,
Oregon, Ohio e-mail address


dernet2002@yahoo.com

Dear Joanne,

We have a target month of October 2003, but it is a huge undertaking and the artist, Edwin Bogucki, has not yet established a firm completion date. There will be announcements and hopefully lots of publicity about the unveiling. All his fans will be welcome at the ceremony. Look for more information on the website over the course of the year. Thanks for your support!

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Dear Penny,

I am 12 years old and have just been learning about your horse from this website. I want to do something as a job with race horses when I grow up. How did you come about being a race horse owner? Did you go to college? If so which one? Did you ever learn how to ride a race horse? If so where and from whom? When did you start thinking of a career with horse? Have you always loved horses? Thank you, Penny.

Berlyn

Dear Berlyn,

There are several ways to become a race horse owner. You can start out with money, a little or a lot, and hire knowledgeable people to make the operating decisions and hope they are trustworthy. Most people do this. My dad chose to become knowledgeable first and this is the way he directed me.

 

My father was just plain “horse crazy” and he started fulfilling his dreams when he taught us all to ride and bought a string of cow ponies in Colorado when I was five. For the next ten years I rode whatever horses he was interested in. We would get his hunters fit in the fall with long hours of trotting on dirt roads. When he turned to Polo I learned to do figure eights, sudden starts and stops and direction changes with his Argentine fillies. One year I even had a Saddlehorse to show. It was a magical childhood and with the riding came lessons in horse care, proper tack selection and cleaning, barn care and endless hours of walking “hots” between chukkas at the Polo matches. I never thought I was being schooled, just keeping up with my dad.

In 1937 I went away to school and he bought his first Thoroughbred mare and started a small racing stable. He also bought back an old family farm, The Meadow, in Virginia where he had spent his summers and rode his first horse. In time it had rolling pastures, white fences and solid barns. He also put in a one mile training track. This is where Secretariat was foaled, played in the pastures and was broken to saddle, not leaving until January of his two year old year, 1972.

I never learned to ride races, nor did I want to be a jockey, but Dad did let me ride out with the exercise boys at The Meadow for a few weeks. You have to be very fit and agile to ride the babies, but also patient, gentle and consistent. It was a lot harder than I expected. The next year I took my hunter with me to Smith College in Massachusetts but gradually my interest in riding began to wane as my social life took precedence over my riding.

Being an owner of racehorses didn’t occur to me, although I continued to ride and rode out with the Arapahoe Hunt in Colorado, along with being a housewife, mother of four children and a skier. Dad’s racing and breeding operations had grown to 140 horses and enjoyed considerable success. Then in 1967 my mother died suddenly and Dad went into the hospital where he gradually weakened from Alzheimer’s Disease and died six years latter. During that time I ran the farm and the racing stable for him and entered a very steep learning curves as I knew so little about the business of racing. I followed his plans and listened to his associates for about 3 years until I felt comfortable. Dad lived long enough to know that Riva Ridge had finally won a Kentucky Derby for him, but he died before Secretariat won the Triple Crown. I never owned these horses, I was the manager representing the Chenery family. Since Dad could not appear at the track for their races and I did, the public came to believe they were mine.

The best way to learn to be an owner is to learn everything you can about horses. Take every job you can get, observe the people who do well, learn the pedigrees of successful horses and study the operations of successful trainers and owners. Preparing yourself can take a long time but, as this is a very expensive pursuit, all this ground work can increase your odds of success. Hard work beats luck any day, and if you love horses it will be a joy just being around them.

Thoroughbred racing is a business, one that involves far more people than you might realize. Besides the barn workers there are the feed and tack providers, Veterinarians and lab staff, Jockeys’ Agents and Valets, photographers, van drivers, security people etc. Directly or indirectly all these jobs are paid by you, the owner, or by the betting public. No other group supplies the money that fuels this industry so you ought to learn how racing operates before you invest in it. The potential jubilation of winning races, large or small, should be balanced by the potential disappointment of losing all or part of your investment.

Good luck,

Penny Chenery

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Dear Mrs. Chenery, In 2003 it will be 25 years since Affirmed won the last triple crown. How do you feel about the prospects of Vindication becoming the 12th winner of the crown? The great ones seems to come in bunches ever 25 years or so, do you think this son of the Great Slew is the one to carry the torch of greatness?

Each year I hope for another Triple Crown winner. War Emblem seemed a likely successor – but it is really hard to accomplish. Vindication has a beautiful distance pedigree, but he doesn’t appear to be robust enough physically.

Certainly his record gives one hope. It would be fitting for Slew, and entirely satisfactory to me, but it all depends on how he develops from two to three years old and if he “trains on”. I’m still hoping.

Penny

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In the Secretariat days racing was fun and exciting to watch and the horses were all for the most part sound. Now for example at Belmont, at the Breeders Cup, horses had accidents, broke down, etc. Any reason why? Are they racing them too much or are they not breed like in Secretariat’s day?

Dear Unsigned,

I do believe the breed is more fragile than the crop of 1970. They actually race less often today, but the criterion in selecting matings is to create a precocious sprinter not a sound horse with stamina who will earn his money in classic races. The early payoff of the sales ring is the motivation for most breedings.

Penny

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Mrs. Chenery,
Besides Secretariat what horse of the 1970s would you consider worthy of being called great?

After Secretariat, my next great horse of the 1970s, or of any period since Citation, would be Seattle Slew. His great energy and determination earned his undefeated Triple Crown record. After theĀ  colitis X scare he again showed his strength and athletic ability in his four year old campaign. His finest race he lost to Exceller, but gained universal respect in the effort. Alydar also has my admiration, as he never stopped trying to beat Affirmed. A very high class horse.

Penny

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From November, 2002

I love horses. I don’t ride thoroughbreds but I did once and they are fantastic. I think Secretariat is the best without a fact. Do you think there will be any others that compare. Such as Man ‘O War or Seattle Slew?

Man ‘O War and Seattle Slew were great champions deserving of the love and admiration they engender. There is no way properly to choose among horses of different eras – they raced on different surfaces, with different weather and competition. They were all great!

Penny

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Hi Penny,

I bought the video tape “Life and Times of Secretariat,” last winter from you and wrote you a couple of letters (the tape was excellent!). It was also great to get a letter back from you! But there was one question I didn’t get an answer from … and that is … do you think there will be a movie made about Secretariat?

I think his life story and all the people that surrounded his life would make an excellent movie! I know they are in the process of making a movie about Seabiscuit, so why notĀ  Secretariat!!!???

Thanks,

Dave Brewer

Novi, Michigan

Dear Dave,

It is only a question of details: whose version of his life and career, and of mine, will be used for the script, and what production company will buy the screen rights. There will definitely be a movie. Stay Tuned!

Penny

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Hello, Ms. Chenery, I am a 16 year-old resident of suburban Chicago & A GIGANTIC fan of Big-Red, and I was wondering were you able to notice some sort of rivalry between Secretariat & Sham?–I mean did these two horses act any differently around one another? Also, I would like to know what were some of personal characteristics? What kind of things did he like & dislike? I would like to commend you, because of your association with a truly phenomenal racehorse.

 

Thank you & God Bless

I do think Secretariat and Sham recognized each other on the track. Secretariat held back enough to let Sham take the lead in the Belmont. When he saw his rival could not sustain his run, our horse moved ahead decisively. Was the 31 lengths a message to Sham? Who knows.

Secretariat loved attention, carrots, photographers, and winning. He hated losing.

Penny

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Dear Penny,

What did it feel like when Secretariat won the Triple Crown? I love horses and always will and want to be a trainer. What does it feel like when your horse wins big?

Brianna Clark

Dear Brianna,

It is a feeling too rare and too trilling to describe – pride, wonder, gratitude are all in there. Any win is wonderful – a big one even better.

Penny

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