Happy 90th Birthday to Secretariat’s Penny Chenery
Helen Bates “Penny” Chenery was part of the family that owned Meadow Farm, a thoroughbred breeding and racing operation founded by her father, Christopher Chenery. Her father suffered various illnesses starting in 1968 and remained ill for nearly five years until his death in January 1973. The stable began to lose money in the late 1960s, exacerbated by Christopher Chenery’s illness. Penny Chenery’s siblings planned to sell the operation when her father passed away but Penny had other ideas. She started spending more time taking care of the family business. In 1969, the trainer to the Meadow Farm retired and after talking to her father’s longtime friend, Bull Hancock of Claiborne Farm, Penny hired Roger Laurin to train the Meadow Farms horses. In 1971, Roger Laurin went to work for the Phipps family stable and Penny hired his father to train for Meadow Farm.
Many in the racing world first took notice of Penny during 1972 when Riva Ridge won the 1972 Kentucky Derby and 1972 Belmont Stakes. Without Penny there probably would never have been 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat. Secretariat captured the imagination of racing fans worldwide when he became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years.
Although Christopher Chenery was recorded as the official breeder of Secretariat, well-known racing columnist Bill Nack wrote in his book on Secretariat that Penny Chenery made the decision to breed their mare Somethingroyal to Bold Ruler twice. The first mating in 1968 produced the filly The Bride. The second breeding, in 1969, resulted in Secretariat.
My tour group, www.kentuckyderbytours.com had the pleasure of hearing Penny speak during many private luncheons and events over the years. From 2000-2004, when Penny was still living in Lexington, we enjoyed hearing the “I didn’t save the farm” story. She said she had been very lucky and has had a wonderful time in horse racing. Spindletop Hall was always made “magic” by her presence. Ever gracious, Penny would sign all sorts of items to raise money for charity. Going to Claiborne Farm to see Secretariat with Penny was indescribable.
I have attached a photo of her with some of our group and there are many others in our photo gallery on our website www.kentuckyderbytours.com
Penny now lives near her children in Boulder, Colorado and continues to be a big part of horse racing by attending the Eclipse Awards and the Kentucky Derby. In 2010, she was portrayed by actress Diane Lane in the Disney movie, Secretariat.
I truly cherish my time with Penny and wish her a very Happy 90th Birthday! I hope to have the opportunity to see again her soon.