Fan Club

“Vox Populi” Award

Horse racing already has established avenues to award outstanding accomplishments, and we certainly should honor superior performance. But achievement can be measured in many ways, and fans occasionally feel a disconnect when the horses who most impacted the public are not recognized through the traditional equine awards. The industry is long overdue in annually acknowledging the star horse who brings the most excitement and attention to the sport. It is my hope that the Secretariat “Vox Populi” Award will be an honor that reflects the heart and soul of racing and will help build upon the devotion the public has for a horse they love.”

~ Penny Chenery, 2010

Hot Rod Charlie Wins 2021 Secretariat Vox Populi Award 

Horse racing fans have spoken, and they have chosen Hot Rod Charlie, the gutsy 3-year-old colt who was a force along the Triple Crown trail, as the winner of the 2021 Secretariat Vox Populi Award. Created by Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery, the award annually recognizes the horse whose popularity and racing excellence best resounded with the general public and gained recognition for Thoroughbred racing.

Emerging as the favorite among the thousands of fans who voted in the year-end online poll, Hot Rod Charlie started the season as a longshot but consistently showed speed and determination that carried him through the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Hot Rod Charlie is owned in a partnership with Boat Racing LLC, Gainesway Stable, Roadrunner Racing, and William Strauss. Trained by Doug O’Neill and piloted by Flavien Prat, he was a surprise winner of the Louisiana Derby and later finished third in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Belmont Stakes, where his blistering fractions in the first quarter mile rivaled the record-setting pace set in 1973 by Secretariat. Later in the year, Hot Rod Charlie answered an infamous disqualification in the Haskell Stakes with a breathtaking comeback in the Pennsylvania Derby, his first graded stakes win.

The Oxbow colt’s thrilling performances and his tenacity on the track endeared him to racing fans. Finishing in the money for five of his seven 2021 starts, Hot Rod Charlie tallied more than $2 million in earnings in 2021 and is poised for a sensational 4-year-old season in 2022. Off the track, his owners have donated a portion of Hot Rod Charlie’s earnings to causes such as the Melanoma Research Alliance to honor O’Neill family members who had succumbed to the disease, as well as the Folds of Honor Foundation and the Jake Panus Walk-On Football Endowed Scholarship Fund at the University of South Carolina.

“Hot Rod Charlie represents the heart and purpose of the Secretariat Vox Populi Award, and his feel-good story and grit as a competitor remind us why we love racing.” said Kate Chenery Tweedy, family historian and daughter of Penny Chenery. “Traditional awards may overlook his accomplishments, but this award celebrates his endearing connection with fans.”

Greg Helm of Roadrunner Racing, representing Hot Rod Charlie’s ownership interests, expressed gratitude for the honor, given the talented field of nominees.

“This colt has given our team such an incredible ride this year, and we are overjoyed he has been recognized as the winner of the Vox Populi Award,” Helm said. “We saw something special in him early on, and ‘Charlie’ has validated that time and time again. It means so much to us that fans have connected with him too.”

Hot Rod Charlie was one of a select group of six nominees submitted by the Vox Populi Committee and presented to thousands of voters in all 50 states and more than 40 countries who spoke as the “Voice of the People” in the online poll. Other nominees were Echo Zulu, Essential Quality, Knicks Go, Letruska and Life is Good. Voters also had the option to write in their own favorite candidate to recognize other exceptional horses.

Hot Rod Charlie now joins a list of cherished racing stars who have also received the Vox Populi Award: Authentic (2020), Bricks and Mortar (2019), Winx (2018), Ben’s Cat (2017), California Chrome (2016 and 2014), American Pharoah (2015), Mucho Macho Man (2013), Paynter (2012), Rapid Redux (2011), and Zenyatta (inaugural 2010).

Secretariat Vox Populi Auction featuring the presentation bust of Hot Rod Charlie by Vox Populi trophy artists Caroline Boydston and Kitty Cantrell; a track-worn Hot Rod Charlie halter; “Little Hot Rod” miniature pewter figurine; original 2007 Hollywood Gold Cup winning shoe worn by Hot Rod Charlie’s famed and beloved stable companion Lava Man; and coveted limited edition prints of California Chrome and American Pharoah autographed by Vox Populi Award founder Penny Chenery. 

Read more about Hot Rod Charlie in the Askin’ Haskin posting “Travels with Charlie”

Q & A with Penny Chenery about the Secretariat Vox Populi” Award

What is the Secretariat “Vox Populi” Award?
“Vox Populi” is an age-old Latin expression that literally means “voice of the people.” The award gives recognition to the horse that generated the most fan response during the year.

What motivated you to create the Award?
Racing has an established award system in place that is fundamentally based on past performance. But there is nothing that honors the horse that best captures the attention and affection of the public. The fans are the life-blood of our sport and their collective “voice” deserves to be heard and formally recognized. In the past decade alone, extremely popular horses like Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, and Barbaro all captivated the imagination of the public but were ultimately left unrecognized in terms of traditional divisional year-end honors. How can we, as an industry, expect the rest of the world to embrace our sport when we don’t annually honor our most beloved horses internally?

How will the winner of the Award be decided?
Each year the winner will be selected based upon the horse who most resonates with the public and gains recognition for the sport. I envision a democratic process involving a diverse panel of distinguished racing personalities and representatives, from within and outside the industry, working together in unison with the “voice” of the general public. The selection process will involve the utilization of an open on-line poll to help quantify public opinion.

What is the Secretariat “Vox Populi” Award’s relationship to the Eclipse Awards?
The Eclipse Awards recognizes the “professional’s” choice based upon the evaluation of statistical track performances. The Secretariat “Vox Populi” Award measures the “public’s” choice and their emotional sentiment. While the Secretariat “Vox Populi” Award may or may not be bestowed upon an Eclipse Award candidate, it is simply not concerned or constrained by who beat whom in which race. The Award reflects who the fans were pulling for. And it is not meant to conflict with the Eclipse Awards but to enhance how we honor our racing heroes.

How will the Secretariat “Vox Populi” Award be presented?
An award that speaks for the public should allow the public to participate in its ceremony. It is my hope the presentation to the winner can take place at a public racing venue where fans of any age are invited to come and celebrate the winner’s accomplishments and express their affection with the connections.

What is your future vision for the Secretariat “Vox Populi” Award?
I would like it to provide an ongoing platform for the voice of the fans to honor the horses they love, a touchstone for what they deem best and brightest
within our sport.


Secretariat “Vox Populi” Award committee members:

Charlsie Cantey – National television horse racing analyst and commentator
Steve Cauthen – Hall of Fame jockey and 1978 Triple Crown winner aboard Affirmed
Mark Ciardi – President of Select Films and producer of 2010 Disney Studio’s film “Secretariat”
Bob Curran – Former Vice President of Corporate Communications for The Jockey Club
Steve Haskin – Racing historian and former journalist for Blood-Horse Magazine
Jack Knowlton – Operating Manager of Sackatoga Stable
Laffit Pincay III – NBC and Fox Sports Horse Racing Analyst
Amy Zimmerman – Executive Producer, HRTV and Producer for NBC and ESPN racing telecasts
Brian Zipse – Senior writer for Horse Racing Nation and Host of HorseCenter


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