Viva Riva! Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Riva Ridge’s Derby Victory

                                                                                 In 1969, a muddy-bay colt with floppy ears would be saved from the floodwaters of Hurricane Camille at his Virginia farm. Later, he would rescue the same farm as it was sinking into debt and preserve it as the launching pad of its greatest champion.  Though he would be swept aside in the wake of the national adulation for his charismatic stablemate, he never gave up.  Riva Ridge, the forgotten champion of Meadow Stable, most assuredly earned his place in racing history and in the hearts of his fans.

This is an excerpt from our upcoming book “Riva Ridge – Penny’s First Champion” (by Kate Chenery Tweedy and Leeanne Meadows Ladin) due out in September.  This coming Saturday, May 5, 2012 marks not only the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby, but the 40th anniversary of Riva’s Derby victory of 1972.  

 And Riva is getting some long-overdue recognition!   We are delighted that the Kentucky Derby Museum is hosting a party in Riva’s honor on Sunday, May 6.  (see

To fully appreciate the signifciance of Riva’s victory in the 98th “Run for the Roses,”  here is another excerpt from our book. 

(from Chapter 4 – The Thirty Year Road to the Derby)

“I knew he was the best horse in the race, he was feeling good and had worked good over the track which was very fast. Everything was to his liking and I could smell the roses,” said Ron Turcotte.

The “Golden Boy” of Meadow Stable did not disappoint. Riva broke well out of the gate, grabbing the lead right away.  Bumped in the initial rush, he quickly recovered with no trace of his old timidity.  Galloping easily, he held off a challenge by Hold Your Peace as the two drew away from the field.

 Bill Nack, author of “Secretariat – The Making of a Champion,” described Riva’s Derby run.  “Riva toyed with Hold Your Peace like a cat with a mouse.  His attitude was ‘come and get me.’ I thought that day that Riva looked like a Triple Crown winner.”

No Le Hace also tried to make a run at Riva, but the bay colt sailed across the finish line under a hand ride by Ron. Winning by three lengths, Riva became only the thirteenth horse to win the Kentucky Derby wire to wire.  He posted a time of 2:01 4/5, the seventh fastest on record.

Mom (Penny Chenery is Kate Tweedy’s mother) could not contain her elation. She was sitting with Bull Hancock’s family and literally beating on Clay Hancock as she shouted “We’re winning! We’re winning!”

The Kentucky sun shone brightly on Virginia’s Meadow Stable that day as Granddaddy’s Derby jinx finally lifted. The stars had indeed lined up in our favor.  Lucien had trained Riva to peak at the perfect time.  Ron had kept Riva off the rail where the deep soil of the “cuppy” track could have tired him. This allowed the colt to sprint to the front where the field of fifteen couldn’t block him. The chancy, last-minute tactic of widening the blinker slits had helped Riva keep his challengers in sight.

The saying goes that the Kentucky Derby is the “most exciting two minutes in sports.”  Riva’s  two-minute run symbolized the culmination of a dream that kindled in an old horseman’s heart more than thirty years prior to May 6, 1972.  My grandfather Chris Chenery had defied all the skeptics when he founded Meadow Stable on the dilapidated land of his ancestral homeplace in Caroline County, Virginia in 1936. Breeding for both speed and stamina, he had sent three strong Derby contenders to the post (including Riva’s sire First Landing)  as well as many notable stakes winners. Now my mother too had defied all the skeptics and fulfilled her father’s lifelong ambition.  Her unshakable determination and perseverance, along with a solid belief in the homely bay horse who could run like a deer, had brought her far from those first tentative days of running a racing stable.

                                                         (end of excerpt)

Kate and I will be at Churchill Downs with Penny this Saturday watching the latest crop of Derby hopefuls vie for their place in racing history.  And we will be remembering Penny’s  first champion,  Riva Ridge, his speed, his spirit and his all too brief moment in the spotlight.

Here’s a link to Riva’s Derby on YouTube.

by Leeanne Meadows Ladin

Co-author “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend”

Happy Birthday Big Red!

March 30, 1970….a legend was born on a storied piece of land called The Meadow in Caroline County, Virginia. His fame would extend far beyond its pastures and paddocks.  Decades later, his legacy and the loyalty of his legions of fans remains undiminished by the passage of time.

Writers and commentators exhausted their adjectives in trying to describe Secretariat’s astounding career.  But here is a sampling of quotes from an ESPN documentary that captures that essence:

Secretariat came to us as a shining example of aristocracy, big, handsome and full of charge. He walked with style, stood tall, and displayed the best manners. On paper he wasn’t perfect, losing 5 of his 21 races as if to say, I’m only human. To the eye, he was perfection itself. And when he performed, he took your breath away. Yet some may ask, how could he have been voted among the 20th century’s 50 greatest athletes? The answer:  because he was Secretariat, more than just a horse.”  Chris Fowler, ESPN narrator

“In another quarter of a mile, he might have taken to the air and flown, which was obviously what was in his blood. ”   Heywood Hale Broun, CBS commentator, on Secretariat’s Derby.

He went into another level of consciousness in the public eye. There were actually kids standing on the rail as he came by. He had now captured the public, not just the racing crowd.”   Ed Bowen, The Blood-Horse

I believed in Pegasus that day, because I saw. I mean I never saw anything like that in my life. 31 lengths? That’s unbelievable. It was like they were racing on two different tracks.”  Jerry Izenberg, the Star-Ledger

And as the horses came out of the final turn, you could see Secretariat alone in front, and steam was blowing out of both nostrils with each exhale like a locomotive. It was an incredible sight. And that was the final competitive moment of a career that probably could have known no limits had he kept racing.”  Jay Hovdey, Daily Racing Form, on Secretariat’s last race at Woodbine

We waited a long time for him. We waited since Man O’War. I don’t expect in my lifetime to see another one like him. We might see another Affirmed or another Native Dancer or something. But he was perfect.”  Bill Nack, author of “Secretariat – The Making of a Champion. 

And here is a sampling, 42 years after he was born, of what Secretariat still means to his fans  (from our Facebook page) :

“I screamed and shouted in my living room, watching on black-and-white TV, then ran outside to tell someone, anyone – but nobody was home but me! I found a soft rock and wrote on the front walk, “Secretariat wins Belmont by 25 lengths – Triple Crown!” so everyone would see it when they came home! (I was 10, what do you want??) Oddly, not everyone was as excited as I was! For that entire summer, my pony’s name was not Thunder, but Secretariat (or “Big Red”), and I relived that thrill every single day! Now I remember it like it was yesterday, and I get goose bumps when I see footage. At that point in the Secretariat movie, I was sobbing in the theater, even though I knew the outcome.”  Rose Beebe

My favorite memory was seeing him in Kentucky after he retired to stud. He was not available to the public yet but we knew the farm manager and went to see him. He strolled around the field and went to his waterer for a big drink. Then he lifted his head and turned toward us for a “photo op”. What a magnificent horse!”  Anne Tucker

“Secretariat won my heart forever with his triple crown races especially after his amazing Belmont. I was 16 and took my huge wall poster of Secretariat in the Derby with me to Va Tech. I had that picture with me for 4 years where I could see it every day in my dorm room. Whenever I had difficulties or a bad day I always had Big Red to cheer me on. He really did help me realize I could get through anything. Now I have a Secretariat wall in my home.”  Susanne Di Carlo

 “I was chasing after a 2 year old in 1973 and did not know much about thoroughbred horse racing. But, I vividly remember flashes on the colored TV of a beautiful blonde lady in a white dress standing next to a gorgeous chestnut horse with a white star on his forehead. That glorious picture made me stop in my tracks. Secretariat and Mrs. Penny Chenery came to mean so much to America. They represented the best America has to offer. And, they still do.” Vera Conwicke

And that says it all.  Happy Birthday, Secretariat!  The Big Red flame burns brighter than ever.

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land,  The Family, The Legend

copyright 2012


The Secretariat Birthday Party Goes On!

Some of you may have heard the sad news that The Meadow, which was owned by the State Fair of Virginia, has been closed to the public.  The Fair (a private, not for profit organization) was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy on March 8 when the bank did not accept its plan to reorganize. 

This was heart-breaking news for Virginians who grew up going to the Fair and especially for those of us who had enjoyed a long association with its staff.  That association had become even more enjoyable in recent years as we worked together on  the annual Secretariat birthday party, which the Fair hosted at The Meadow,  and the popular  “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” for public and private groups. We even announced our “Secretariat’s Meadow” book there in 2010.  It was very sad to see our friends lose their jobs.

 Our book team  did not want these circumstances to force the cancellation of the annual Secretariat’s Birthday celebration, planned for Saturday March 31. So we took this on as a volunteer effort  and are happy to say that Randolph-Macon College in nearby Ashland will host the event on March 31 in Andrews Hall from 1 – 5 pm. There are longstanding ties with the college as Christopher Chenery, who founded The Meadow in 1936 as a Thoroughbred farm, attended school there, along with two of his brothers.  Last year, Randolph-Macon awarded Penny Chenery an Honorary Doctor of  Laws degree.

 Yes, the birthday  program is scaled back but we still have fans coming from Texas, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina and Delaware!  That speaks volumes about what this magnificent horse means to people across the country!

Here’s a brief outline of the program:

  •  1:00 pm. – Welcome and Presentation on the history of The Meadow,  Secretariat and Riva Ridge by Kate Chenery Tweedy and Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-authors of “Secretariat’s Meadow, The Land, The Family, The Legend”
  • Meeting former Meadow grooms and jockeys and seeing Riva’s first training saddle
  • Discussion of possible historical designation options for important sites at The Meadow
  • Continuous showing of Secretariat’s and Riva’s most famous races
  • Book signings and sale of Secretariat items
  • Secretariat and Riva cake
  • 3:00 p.m.  – Repeat presentation by authors 
  • 5:00  p.m. – EVENT CONCLUDES

Tickets are $5 at the door and advance registration is required.  Because seating is limited, we ask that you indicate whether you will attend the 1:00 pm or 3:00 pm presentation. Go to our website for more info and to register.

As for The Meadow, we will keep our readers posted on future developments here, on our website and our Facebook page. 

In any event, we sincerely hope that next year in 2013, we will be back at The Meadow to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown!

by Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow”

copyright 2012

Risen Star, Son of Secretariat

    In light of the upcoming Risen Star Stakes on Saturday, Feb. 25 at the Fairgrounds racetrack in New Orleans, we wanted to share a little something about its namesake. 

Risen Star  (1985–1998) was one of Big Red’s best and biggest colts.  He was a strapping 17-hand dark bay out of the mare Ribbon, who boasted the great Hail to Reason in her pedigree.

In 1988, Risen Star began his march toward the Kentucky Derby by winning the Louisiana Derby  and the Lexington Stakes. However, that would be one of the rare years when a filly, Winning Colors, beat the boys and took the roses.  Risen Star finished third in the Derby, but came roaring back to win the Preakness at 1:56 1/5, the second fastest time since Secretariat in 1973.

He then thrilled the crowds at the Belmont Stakes by winning by 14 ¾ lengths as the announcer shouted “He looks just like his daddy!” He posted the then-second fastest time of 2:26 2/5 behind his sire’s record-shattering 2:24.  Today it ranks as the fourth fastest time in the Belmont behind Secretariat, A.P. Indy and Easy Goer.

After the Belmont,  Risen Star’s groom Harold Joseph reportedly said, “You’re the champeen!  Your daddy jumped out of you today!”  Because he’d won two jewels of the Triple Crown, Risen Star earned the $1,000,000 Chrysler Triple Crown Bonus awarded to the three-year-old with the best finishes in the three races.

He won the 1988 Eclipse Award as the top three-year-old colt.  That established him as the first third-generation Eclipse Award winner in the same category, as he followed Secretariat in 1973 and his grandsire Bold Ruler in 1957.

Risen Star was retired to stud after an injury which occurred in his famous Belmont.   Tomorrow, in the $300,000 Risen Star Stakes, another Secretariat descendant will try to strengthen his resume as a Kentucky Derby contender.   His name is El Padrino.  He’s the son of Pulpit, thus a grandson of A.P. Indy and a great-great grandson of Big Red.  The odds-makers list El Padrino as the favorite for the 1 1/16 mile race.

To paraphrase that classic  Mardi Gras  line “Let the good times roll,”  we say “Let the good horses roll!” 

Good luck El Padrino!  Make Risen Star and Secretariat proud!

Here is a link to video of Risen Star’s great Belmont race of 1988.




Leeanne Meaadows Ladin

Co-author “Secretariat’s Meadow”

 copyright 2012


Happy 90th Birthday, Penny Chenery!

We want to be the first to wish “The First Lady of Thoroughbred Racing,” Penny Chenery, a very happy 90th birthday tomorrow, January 27.  In fact we will have the honor of relaying those wishes in person this weekend at a birthday party hosted by her family in Denver.

Not only we will be wishing Penny Happy Birthday, we will be delivering a 15-page “birthday card” containing nearly 200 greetings from the fans of our “Secretariat’s Meadow” Facebook page.  The postings came from all over, from Alabama to Bulgaria and many parts in between!

 The passing of time has done little to diminish the adoration and admiration that Penny’s fans feel for her, even though it’s been nearly four decades since Secretariat won the Triple Crown.   If anything, those feelings have grown even stronger, as these few excerpted messages will attest:

From Kimberly:  “Your winners-never-quit attitude  continues to inspire me on a daily basis. ..I know and understand that not only was Secretariat the greatest horse that ever lived, but that the whole world  would never have known this if it hadn’t been for you. Thanks for helping me never give up and never give in.”

From Della:  “God must think you are as special as we all  do to have such a long and wonderful life.  Thank you for being such an inspiration to many women the world over for many years. You did what others said could not be done and you did it on your terms!”

From Anita:  “Thank you for sharing “Big Red” with the world and for keeping his legacy alive! “

From Gardenia: “You and Secretariat have etched your places in history. If it weren’t for you, it is not clear how things would have turned out for your extraordinary colt.”   

From Lisa:  “You have brought so much joy into our hearts and homes with your champions.  I fell in love with Secretariat…and I will always carry a special spot in my heart for Riva as well.”

From Jackie:  “Your fortitude and faith are an inspiration to many and we will never forget your Big Red.”

From Pam:  “Thanks for all you do to continue to promote Secretariat’s legacy.  Thanks also for helping retired racehorses and research to find a cure for laminitis.”

From Vickie:  “Thank you for your contributions to the Thoroughbred industry and racing, and for being a wonderful, graceful ambassador  for the sport.”

From Sandy:  “She is like her horse was, one in a  million and there will never be anyone oe anything compared to them both!”

This is just a small sampling of the heartfelt greetings we received for Penny.  To read more, please visit our Facebook page.

We would like to add our thanks to Penny, too, for all she has contributed to our book and its ongoing success. And now she is helping us with our new book, which is about her first champion, Riva Ridge.  More on that project later!

We’ll close out this birthday blog with one of our favorite photos of Penny.  This was taken last year at the annual Secretariat birthday at The Meadow. 


 Penny Chenery, truly a Queen in the Sport of Kings

by Leeanne Ladin

co-author “Secretariat’s Meadow – the Land, The Family, The Legacy”




Secretariat’s Descendants – From the Homestretch to the Home Front: Good Showing at the Eclipse Awards



This continuing series looks at some of Secretariat’s most famous progeny and how the mighty stallion of Meadow Stable continues to fire the blood of some of the best racehorses on the track today. We will also look at the descendants whose most important contributions have been made, not on the homestretch, but on the home front as pleasure horses, working horses and simply beloved companions. We are very grateful to the owners who send in the stories and photos of their Secretariat descendants. In this way, “the legend lives on!”

Last time we discussed the Big Red “babies” who had distinguished themselves in the 2011 Breeders Cup races. Some of those same names will reappear in this listing of Eclipse Award winners, announced last night January 16, 2012.

Hansen, who won the Breeders Cup Juvenile,  captured Champion Two Year Old Male.  He’s by Tapit, who is making a good name for himself now as a sire. Hansen’s grandsire is Pulpit and great-grandsire is A. P. Indy, who of course is out of one of Secretariat’s best daughters, Weekend Surprise.

My Miss Aurelia won Champion Two-Year-Old Filly.  This great-granddaughter of Storm Cat won the Juvenile Fillies  race in the Breeders Cup.

Royal Delta won Three Year-Old Filly.  She won the Ladies Classic at the Breeders Cup, beating her “cousins” It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty. This A. P. Indy granddaughter is now gearing up for her 4 YO career and supposedly headed for Dubai!

Cape Blanco took honors as Champion Male Turf Horse.  His damsire was Presidium, a son of General  Assembly by Secretariat. . This Irish -bred has won the Irish Derby, Man O’ War Stakes and the Arlington Million, among many victories.

Congratulations to all the Eclipse winners!

Next time, we will go off topic to give you a sneak preview of our latest project…a special anniversary book celebrating Riva Ridge “the forgotten champion!”

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

Visit our Secretariat’s Meadow Facebook page for all the latest info on descendants, events, history and more! 

  This picture of Pulpit, sire of Tapit, was taken at Claiborne Farm in October 2010.

The Big Red Flame Keeps Burning Up the Track

(We’re a bit behind schedule because of the holidays but wanted to get in one more post before the New Year, so thanks for your patience.)

In our last post we promised to write about all the Secretariat descendants who ran in the 2011 Breeder’s Cup races.  That may have been a little ambitious, as one fan pointed out there were 83! We haven’t checked those numbers but will take his word for it.  To make this manageable, we will focus on the races where the winners and major contenders have Secretariat in their pedigree (or in some cases, Sir Ivor, son of Sir Gaylord, whose dam was Somethingroyal.)

 Ladies Classic – Royal Delta out of Delta Princess by A. P. Indy won this race. She beat It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty, also A. P. Indy girls.

Juvenile Sprint – Secret Circle by Eddington won this.  He’s not a direct descendant but his sire has Sir Ivor by Sir Gaylord  on his dam’s side. (Sir Ivor won the Epsom Derby, redeeming Sir Gaylord’s failure to run in the Kentucky Derby in 1962 due to a fractured sesamoid.)

Juvenile Fillies Turf – Stephanie’s Kitten by Kitten’s Joy  won this race. She has Sir Ivor/Sir Gaylord on the top and Storm Cat on the bottom of her pedigree.

Filly and Mare Sprint – Musical Romance beat Turbulent Descent, the heavy  favorite, who has both Indy and Storm Cat bloodlines. Turbulent Descent is cited as one to watch for 2012.

Juvenile Fillies – My Miss Aurelia took this one.  She is a great-granddaughter of Storm Cat.

Filly and Mare Turf – Perfect Shirl , a great-granddaughter of Big Red himself, took this one. 

Juvenile Turf – Wrote won this and he has the Sir Ivor/Sir Gaylord link on the bottom.

Turf Sprint – Regally Ready won it (no relation) but Country Day placed second.  He’s a great-grandson of Gone West out of the mare Secrettame.

Dirt Mile – Caleb’s Posse (no relation) won it but Shackleford, who won the 2011 Preakness, placed second.  Also in this race were Tapizar  byPulpit (A. P. Indy) and Wilburn  by Bernardini (A.P. Indy).

Breeder’s Cup Juvenile – Hansen won this.  He’s by Tapit by Pulpit and also has Storm Cat on the bottom.

Breeder’s Cup Mile – Court Vision won.  His dam is Weekend Storm out of Weekend Surprise, a Secretariat daughter. Other “cousins” who ran include: Gio Ponti , Sidney’s Candy, Get Stormy  and Courageous Cat  –  all of the Storm Cat bloodline.

Breeder’s Cup Classic –  Drosselmeyer (no relation) who won the 2011 Belmont, won this race.  Also in this talented field were: Flat Out by Flatter (A.P.Indy);  To Honor and Serve and Stay Thirsty, both by Bernardini; Ice Box by Pulpit; and Rattlesnake Bridge and Headache, both by Tapit.  Clearly the A.P.Indy line dominated this field. 

Good news for 2012:  Stay Thirsty will continue to race, as will Florida Derby winner Dialed In, a Mineshaft colt (A. P. Indy.)  

We’ll need a spread sheet but we’ll be keeping a close eye on these Big Red  babies for 2012!  In fact, we’ll start on Sunday, New Year’s Day with the  new Gulfstream Park Derby. Bernardini has Casual Trick running and Pulpit has Sacristy.  Silver Menace (Storm Cat) will also bear watching.

We close out this year by wishing all Thoroughbreds Happy Birthday on January 1, their official date of birth.  Happy New Year to all our readers and fans of Secretariat!

Leeanne Ladin

copyright 2011

Big Red’s Retirement…November 11, 1973

He pranced onto the track, copper coat gleaming in the sun that cold November day. At the sight of him,  33,000 fans burst into thunderous applause and cheers.  He was keyed up, ready to race and no doubt wondering where the other horses were.

But on November 6, 1973, there were no other horses, no starting gate, no finish line.  It was “Farewell to Secretariat Day” at Aqueduct racetrack in New York.  It was Big Red’s “last hurrah” before he and stablemate Riva Ridge would fly to Claiborne Farm near Lexington, Kentucky on November 11 to begin their new careers at stud.

Secretariat had to be content with Ron Turcotte jogging him up to the quarter pole and back in front of his adoring public thronging the stands. He wasn’t content. In fact, Lucien Laurin was quoted as saying that Secretariat was so mad he didn’t get to race, he ate the flowers in Penny’s bouquet when posing in the winner’s circle for the final time.

After his hero’s farewell at Aqueduct, Secretariat received a hero’s welcome  in Lexington, Kentucky. Over 300 fans gathered at the Blue Grass Airport to cheer the two Meadow Stable champions as their private plane touched down.  One person remarked that more people turned out to see Secretariat than they did to see their governor.

Fans waved signs that said, “Welcome Home, Secretariat!”  Penny recalled thinking, “He was not born in Kentucky.  Virginia was his home.” She, Lucien Laurin, Elizabeth Ham and Eddie Sweat, had accompanied their beloved horses to Claiborne,  capping off a journey that would have a lasting impact on their lives as well as the world of Thoroughbred racing.

The Claiborne team quickly loaded Secretariat and Riva into the horse van and, under police escort, headed for the farm.  It was not only a physical transition, but an emotional one as well,  for the horses and humans.  Secretariat did not seem to appreciate being handed over to Claiborne stud manager, Lawrence Robinson,  as his long-time groom Eddie Sweat stood on the sidelines.  Snorting and pulling away, he showed his displeasure by kicking his new handler on the way to the stallion barn.

The former stall of his great sire, Bold Ruler, was freshly bedded with straw and awaiting Secretariat. In the last act as his groom, Eddie helped take off Secretariat’s leg wraps.  Riva was settled into the adjoining stall.   Penny and Lucien came in to say their final goodbyes.  Penny remarked that leaving her two horses was like giving up a child for adoption. Eddie was in his own world of private grief at leaving his beloved “Red.”

Penny knew that Secretariat, “America’s Super Horse,” had  already transcended being her horse and had become the people’s horse. He would become the star attraction at the renowned farm,  bringing in 10,000 people a year. 

That may have surprised the short-sighted farm worker at Claiborne who reportedly said of Secretariat on that long-ago day of transition, “He’s just another horse,” until he proves himself at stud.

He did that too.  Here we are, 38 years later, and Secretariat’s “little children” as Eddie Sweat called them, are still carrying his flame into the winner’s circle. Our next post will look at how many of his descendants ran in the Breeders’ Cup races this year.

On the track, in the breeding shed and in the hearts of his legions of fans, Secretariat has indeed “gone the distance.”  On this date, November 11, we salute his lasting legacy!

A photo of Secretariat’s stall at Claiborne, 2010. Though others have occupied his stall, none have ever filled his shoes. 

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend”

Secretariat’s Descendants – From the Homestretch to the Home Front: Little Red’s “Golden” Opportunity in the Rockies

This new series will look at some of Secretariat’s most famous progeny and how the mighty stallion of Meadow Stable continues to fire the blood of some of the best racehorses on the track today. We will also look at the descendants whose most important contributions have been made, not on the homestretch, but on the home front as pleasure horses, working horses and simply beloved companions. We are very grateful to the owners who send in the stories and photos of their Secretariat descendants. In this way, “the legend lives on!”


This great-great grandson of Big Red was born on March 29, 2010 in Ocala, Florida,  one day before Secretariat’s birthday of March 30.  His dam, Beautiful Wonder, has Secretariat on both the top and bottom of her pedigree. However, his illustrious bloodline did not protect him from a difficult start in life.

Born with an umbilical hernia for which his owner could not afford veterinary treatment, Little Red was relinquished to a local rescue group. He also had a badly infected foot. In the heartbreaking turn of events, the foal had to leave his mother before he was weaned. Her pitiful whinnying echoed in his ears as he was transported away to a strange new location.  However, thanks to the good volunteers at Beauty’s Haven Farm and Equine Rescue in Morriston, FLA,  the colt received the medical treatment he desperately needed and began to recover.

 Eventually, Kateri Nelson, who worked with the American Humane Association, heard about a beautiful chestnut colt nicknamed Armani up for adoption. Born in Montreal, she felt a special connection to this descendant of Secretariat, due to the French-Canadians, jockey Ron Turcotte and trainer Lucien Laurin, who were such an integral part of his success. Finally, Little Red’s pedigree was going to bring him some good luck.

He just had one more hurdle.  Kateri lived 1,800 miles from Ocala in Golden, Colorado.  The notion of shipping the colt across country seemed too far-fetched to consider.

However, benevolent forces were at work that would lead to a “Golden” opportunity for the colt and Kateri.  Her husband, Dean,  (in a move that should have awarded him “Husband of the Year” honors!) secretly arranged to adopt Little Red.  The colt was on his way to their ranch when  Dean finally told Kateri the good news.  An ecstatic Kateri described the colt’s arrival in early November 2010:

“At least I thought he was little until the driver unloaded him. At the tender age of seven months, Armani was already 14.2 hands and was walking on stilts. In fact, you could almost hear the bugle call when he walked down the ramp; he had the confidence of a champion!”

Kateri, along with her husband and son,  greeted him with open arms.  A few days later, the Florida colt got his first taste of Colorado snow!

Today, nearly a year later,  Little Red, now renamed Tristan,  continues to thrive in his new home.   Kateri describes how the once-sickly colt has developed in size and personality:

“Over time, his personality has blossomed. He shows more  and more assertiveness, and has developed a mischievous side directly proportionate to his great intelligence. He quickly found his place in our little herd of three horses and rarely needed to be reprimanded by his elders, even today. Fortunately for us he exhibits a similar behavior with humans. In fact, I’m still amazed that despite his painful early life and the long trip to Colorado, Little Red is as confident as he is. The son of a king, he deserved a name reflecting his noble birth and his great courage. So Sir Tristan of the Round Table became the obvious choice, especially for our 9-year old son. Since he arrived, our horse with many names has picked up a few inches —  three weeks or so before his first birthday, we measured him at 15.2 hands. The veterinarian thinks that he will reach 16.2 or 16.3 hands at maturity. Then Tristan will hopefully calmly carry us on his back despite the bugle call that will resonate in his head, and the beating of hooves pounding deep in his heart.”

This author can personally attest to Little Red’s personality.  Kate Tweedy and I stopped at Kateri’s place in Golden to meet Little Red on our way to Aspen this summer to go riding at a friend’s ranch.   The colt was prancing about in his paddock, exuding confidence but not cockiness. He was not skittish as we two strangers approached and, like his great-great grandsire, seemed to relish the attention as we cooed and fussed over him.  

Then he did the most amazing thing.  I was petting his glossy neck when he bent his head down and tucked it up under my neck and just stayed there, breathly softly on my shirt.  Kate and Kateri said it looked as if Little Red  was whispering a secret to me. I told them he was.

He was telling me that he was both proud and humbled to have the blood of a mighty  champion running through his veins.  I told him that this made him very special and that he always must honor the spirit of his legendary ancestor.    

By all indications, that is exactly what Little Red is doing. Thanks to the good work of the equine rescue group, a lifelong Secretariat fan, and a good-hearted husband, the young Thoroughbred now has a future befitting his lineage. The little colt who got off to a rocky start in life now has a forever family in the Rockies of Colorado.

Little Red October 2011 (19 mos.old)

Many thanks to  Kateri Nelson for sharing her photos and story.  And thanks to all the equine rescue groups who help find forever homes for horses like Little Red!

If you own or have owned a Secretariat descendant and would like to share your story, please email me at, with pedigree verification.  

 By Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011


October 4, 1989…Remembering Big Red


It’s hard to believe that 22 years have passed since Secretariat died on October 4, 1989.    It’s hard to believe because, in many respects, his presence seems stronger than ever.  

 Kate Chenery Tweedy and I see the unquenchable passion for this horse firsthand as we travel around the country doing book talks and signings for “Secretariat’s Meadow.” Everyone wants to share their Secretariat story. For countless fans,  his Belmont win stands as one of the defining moments of their lives. Many fans cry unashamedly when they talk about him. And now a whole new generation of fans has emerged, thanks to the Disney movie about Secretariat.

He continues to make his presence known  at the racetrack. Every year, at the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont, sportscasters ask  what has become a rhetorical question – “Will there ever be another Secretariat?”

His presence at the track is much more than symbolic.  Secretariat’s progeny continue to carry his influence well into the 21st century.  As a great broodmare sire, Secretariat figures in the pedigrees of such champions as A. P. Indy, Storm Cat, Smarty Jones, Summer Bird, Rags to Riches, to name a few.  Bernardini, a great-grandson of Secretariat, is one of the most successful Thoroughbred sires today.  

For Penny Chenery, Secretariat has remained a constant presence in her life.  For nearly 40 years, she has been a tireless ambassador for her horse and the true “keeper of the flame.”   At age 89, she continues to be accessible to fans, who turn out in droves when she makes an appearance at an event.   She is their link to a legend.

 As we reflect on Secretariat’s life and legacy, Penny’s eulogy for her horse expresses what he meant to people and most of all, to her. It ran in the New York Times and was excerpted in our book “Secretariat’s Meadow  – The Land, the Family, The Legend.” 

(from Penny Chenery’s eulogy for Secretariat:)

“Secretariat’s death on Wednesday marked the end of a wonderful dream I have been privileged to live. In my eyes, he was the finest thoroughbred performer of the last 50 years and he certainly provided me with a unique experience.

I used to think that we had created him but, having tried to duplicate him for 15 years, I now realize it was just the luck of the draw. A marvelous horse was born and he happened to be born to us.

…. Secretariat seemed to realize his role then was to be a folk hero. His demeanor was that of a champion in whatever he was asked to do.

….I’m going to miss him terribly. My family and I join the many people who have been his loyal fans in great sadness at his loss. He was not only a champion race horse, but a cherished friend. “

 by Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author  “Secretariat’s Meadow”

copyright 2011