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How Secretariat changed the life of this Virginia woman

'It was just surreal. He is coming around this turn and pulling away there is this pandemonium. He knew what he was doing. He knew if he got to the finish line first.'
Penny Chenery and Secretariat
Posted at 10:37 PM, Jun 09, 2023

DOSWELL, Va. -- In the world of competitive sports, records measure greatness. But year after year those records fall and new athletes climb to the top.

In the spring of 1973, one athlete set the bar so high his mark of perfection has stood the test of time for a half-century.

Secretariat

In one five-week span, Secretariat captured The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, and Belmont Stakes — all races won in record times.

A horse racing accomplishment unmatched before or since.

Kate Tweedy
Kate Tweedy

Kate Tweedy remembers witnessing greatness unfold.

“It was just surreal. Everybody in the stands everybody was screaming. Everyone was on their feet. As he is coming around this turn and pulling away there is this pandemonium,” Tweedy said. “He knew what he was doing. He knew if he got to the finish line first.”

Secretariat left his mark on the Ashland woman during his chase for the Triple Crown. What Tweedy didn’t know was how the horse would change the course of her family’s life.

Kate Tweedy is the daughter of the late Penny Chenery.

Penny Chenery and Secretariat
Penny Chenery and Secretariat

Chenery owned Secretariat while shattering glass ceilings around the track.

“There were a lot of traditions and customs that she said, ‘Not happening.’ She was tough. She was tough and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Tweedy said.

Chenery watched her thoroughbred develop into a bronze force at her Meadow horse farm in Doswell.

Secretariat

“(Secretariat) wasn’t temperamental or mean. He was mischievous and high powered. Kind of like Mom,” Tweedy said with a laugh.

She said no one in her family predicted their horse would hurtle into history.

“There were a lot of naysayers but we had faith. We had faith but it was all hope you know,” Tweedy said.

 James Littlejohn
James Littlejohn

Horse racing pilgrims like James Littlejohn from Virginia pay homage to the legend at the preserved stable and shed where Secretariat was born and trained.

“He walked here. He was here. The greatest horse of all time Secretariat,” Littlejohn said. “The feeling when you get on the ground. It is like mystique. It is like hallowed ground.”

Littlejohn is confident we’ll never see the likes of a Big Red again.

“There is just no question when you look at the fact that Secretariat holds the track record for all three races for 50 years,” Littlejohn said.

Secretariat
Alvin Mines

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Few people got closer to Secretariat than Alvin Mines.

“Once you get to know a horse they’ll love you back,” Mines said. “He knew when the camera was on him. He’d take a peek at the camera every now and then.”

The Caroline County man worked as a stableman at The Meadow when Secretariat was a foal.

“I touched him and felt him. It is amazing. You don’t get that in a lifetime you know?” Mines said. “I treasure that. That is right Never forget.”

Secretariat

Leeanne Meadows Ladin, author of Secretariat’s Meadow, remembers watching the third leg of the Triple Crown on a tiny black and white TV in her college dorm.

“He was named number 35 out of the top 50 athletes of the 20th century. Racehorses are athletes,” Ladin said. “He just took people’s breath away. His physical presence was so impressive. He was put together as the perfect horse.”

Ladin said with the 50th anniversary upon us, newer generations are swept up by Secretariat’s mystical milestones.

“He is still very much a presence today,” she said.“Still a winner. The champion.”

Kate Tweedy wishes her mother, the woman considered The First Lady of Horse Racing, could have lived to see this golden anniversary. Fifty years may have raced by, but Kate Tweedy said those five electric weeks in the Spring 1973 remain vivid.

Penny Chenery and Secretariat
Penny Chenery and Secretariat

“Then afterward everyone is babbling and repeating themselves. People were crying,” she recalled. “It was like ‘Wow. We’ve seen something unbelievable.’”

Twelve other horses have earned the rare Triple Crown but no animal has finished better than Secretariat. A shooting star with a saddle.

“He is now a standard of excellence in all sports. He is considered the greatest of all time,” Tweedy said. “It tears you up and it is emotional.”

Colonial Downs in New Kent County will honor the life and legacy of Secretariat on Aug. 11. If you would like to visit the shed and stable where Secretariat roamed Meadow Event Park in Doswell is open to the public.

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