Secretariat’s Descendants…from the Homestretch to the Homefront

 

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. Read more at www.secretariatsmeadow.com on how “the legend lives on!”

WEEKEND SURPRISE AND THE X FACTOR

No, you won’t see her on Simon Cowell’s new talent show “The X Factor.”  But Secretariat’s daughter Weekend Surprise (1980- 2001) demonstrated plenty of talent as a broodmare. She was one of the reasons that Secretariat became an outstanding broodmare sire. He bequeathed his dynamic DNA to daughters such as her, who then passed it to their sons.

Weekend Surprise was said to carry the gene to pass on the “big heart” to her offspring. She inherited this “X-factor” from Secretariat, who was found to have a naturally huge heart that was two to three times the size of a normal heart for a racehorse. Other racing greats such as Man o’ War and Eclipse were also said to have the large heart.

In fact, Weekend Surprise is said to be a “double-copy” mare, with the X factor present on both the top and bottom of her pedigree. That means she also got the large heart gene from her dam, Lassie Dear.

Here is what Marianna Haun , who has studied the X factor for many years, said about Weekend Surprise:   “One double copy mare is the Thoroughbred Weekend Surprise, a daughter of Secretariat that is out of a double copy dam. Weekend Surprise’s dam, Lassie Dear, produced all winners and so has her daughter, which produced Horse of the Year A.P. Indy and millionaire Summer Squall. Both sires now are producing outstanding daughters, and when mated with large-hearted mares, are producing outstanding sons.”  You can read more on this at  http://www.horsesonly.com/crossroads/xfactor/heart-1.htm

 A. P. Indy, by Seattle Slew, won the 1992 Belmont Stakes and the Breeder’s Cup Classic, two of his most outstanding victories.  When he took Horse of the Year honors in 1992, Weekend Surprise was named Kentucky Broodmare of the Year. He became one of the most influential stallions of his time. More on A.P. Indy in a future post.

Weekend Surprise’s colt Summer Squall  won the 1990 Preakness. His grandson Summer Bird, “the chestnut thunderbolt,” won the 2009 Belmont and Horse of the Year honors. Summer Squall also sired Rainaway, who now lives at The Meadow, his great-grandfather’s birthplace here in Virginia.

Weekend Surprise also figures in the pedigree of Rags to Riches, the first filly to win the Belmont in 100 years in 2007.   Before becoming a broodmare, Weekend Surprise won three stakes races. One of her last foals, sired by Storm Cat (who was out of Secretariat’s daughter Terlingua) sold for $3 million at the 1999 Keeneland sales in Kentucky.

Weekend Surprise was sired by Buckpasser, 1966 Eclipse Horse of the Year. As noted, her  dam was Lassie Dear.  Interestingly, Lassie Dear’s grandsire was Sir Gaylord, one of Meadow Stable’s champions and a Derby favorite in 1962. And his dam was Somethingroyal, who of course became immortalized as Secretariat’s dam in 1970. 

Weekend Surprise died in 2001 due to complications after giving birth to her 14th foal.   She is buried at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky.

Christopher Chenery, founder of Meadow Stable, who created “an empire built on broodmares” with Somethingroyal, Hildene, Imperatrice and other great mares, always stressed the importance of the mare in the breeding equation.  In terms of the X factor, he may have been ahead of his time.   We owe him, and Secretariat’s daughters such as Weekend Surprise, our heartfelt thanks!

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

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

www.secretariatsmeadow.com

copyright 2011

The Holy Grail on the Secretariat’s Meadow Tour…the Foaling Shed

Visitors are often moved to tears when they see it.  They touch the wooden door reverently.  They walk inside the stall, looking around in quiet awe. They snap photo after photo, not wanting to leave what many consider hallowed ground.

It’s a modest little structure of whitewashed barnboard.  Its appearance could be called “unprepossessing,” to use one of Penny Chenery’s favorite adjectives.  Here on March 30, 1970, shortly after midnight, The Meadow’s magnificent old broodmare, Somethingroyal, gave birth to a colt who would become the king of the sport of kings.

Contrary to what the Disney movie showed,  Secretariat was not born with a big audience in attendance. Penny and her son were not there.  Lucien Laurin was not there.  Eddie Sweat was not there. The only people present were Bob Southworth, the night watchman and Howard Gentry, the farm manager.  Dr. Olive Britt, the beloved Meadow vet,  arrived soon thereafter. 

When the birth was complete, Mr. Gentry exclaimed:  “There’s a whopper!”

“He was born practically standing up,” said Dr. Britt.  We interviewed her for our book shortly before she passed away in 2006.  She would point out what sportswriters would rhapsodize about two years later when the colt set foot on the track…his perfect conformation and how he “filled the eye.”    

“He was beautiful,” she said. “He was well put together, very correct; his legs were perfect.  He had a beautiful head and was as red as fire!”

When Penny first saw Secretariat, she famously said, “He’s too pretty to be any good.”

Secretariat’s foaling shed is the grand finale of our Secretariat’s Meadow Tour.  It is the original structure, carefully restored and preserved by the SFVA which owns The Meadow.  It was located by the old broodmare barn near the Cove, but was moved to the new equine complex across Rt. 30 after the crumbling broodmare barn could not be restored.  It is a fitting location, as this complex was formerly the grounds for Meadow Stable’s training center. The complex bustles with ongoing horse shows and will also be the site of the Museum of the Virginia Horse.

This modest little shed is where a legend began…and for the devoted fans who make their pilgrimage to see it…it’s where the legend lives on! 

The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” are sponsored by the SFVA. Private group tours are available for groups of 30 or more at $10 per person.  Tours are also offered to the general public on certain dates.  The next public tour is on September 10, 2011. For more information about the tours, see www.secretariatsmeadow.com  Tours are narrated by Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.”  Proceeds from the tours benefit the future Museum of the Virginia Horse to be built at The Meadow.

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

The Secretariat’s Meadow Tour…The Training Barn

At The Meadow, “America’s Super Horse” first learned to gallop across its rolling fields, then on its loamy track.  There, Secretariat first felt the calming hand of a groom, the taste of a bit in his mouth and the weight of a rider on his back. This is where Secretariat spent the formative first two years of his life. At The Meadow, the foundation was laid for a legend. 

The next to last stop on our “virtual” Secretariat’s Meadow Tour is the training barn.  It is located on the south side of Rt. 30 on what was the original site of the training center. In something of a rite of passage, the grooms would walk the colts from the yearling barn  across the road to the training center to begin their education for the racetrack.

The original complex consisted of  barns and paddocks, a three-eighths mile indoor track for exercising the horses in inclement weather, a mile-long training track and an observation tower to watch the Thoroughbreds during their works.

It’s been over three decades since The Meadow was sold to settle Chris Chenery’s estate and only one training barn remains.  However this was where Secretariat and Riva Ridge stayed while they learned the fundamentals of racing.  

In August 1971, Secretariat was ridden for the first time in his life inside the indoor track, where all the young horses were started.   Charlie Ross, his groom, and Meredith Bailes, his exercise rider, had already introduced him to the bridle and saddle.  The next lesson was to get Secretariat accustomed to the weight of a rider on his back.   Ross held the colt as Bailes hopped up and simply laid lengthwise on his back.  Ross led Secretariat around in the ring a bit, then Bailes slid off.  The process was repeated for a couple of days until Bailes felt that it was time for the big moment.

Ross boosted him into the saddle and he was astride the colt.  “Secretariat didn’t buck at all,” Ross told us when we interviewed him for our book.  From schooling in the indoor ring, Secretariat eventually graduated to the outside training track. And after learning all he could at The Meadow, he left for Lucien Laurin’s stable in January 1972, leaving his Virginia birthplace for a legendary place in racing history.

Today the famous training barn is part of the new Rouse Horse Complex at The Meadow, the site of many horse shows and the annual Secretariat birthday celebration. 

Next to the  barn is the foaling shed where Secretariat was born. It is a holy grail for many fans who make a pilgrimage to The Meadow to see and touch the simple whitewashed little barn for themselves. That will be the last stop on our tour and we will share some of the comments from those who witnessed  the birth of a legend.

The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” are sponsored by the SFVA. Private group tours are available for groups of 30 or more at $10 per person.  Tours are also offered to the general public on certain dates.  The next public tour is on September 10, 2011. For more information about the tours, see www.secretariatsmeadow.com  Tours are narrated by Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.”  Proceeds from the tours benefit the future Museum of the Virginia Horse to be built at The Meadow.

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

Next Stop on the “Secretariat’s Meadow Tour”…the Yearling Barn

                                                               

On our virtual tram tour of The Meadow, you’ve seen The Cove where the broodmares and foals grazed, and the Stallion Barns.    Now we’ll take a look at the Yearling Barn, where both Secretariat and Riva Ridge stayed as colts.

The Yearling Barn originally built by Chris Chenery still stands, and like the Stallion Barns, has been carefully restored by the SFVA, which owns The Meadow.  It is believed that Mr. Chenery built the barns to closely resemble those at nearby Bullfield Farm in Hanover County, the celebrated racing farm of the Doswells.  He had spent a lot of time there as a young, horse-crazy boy, exercising the few remaining racehorses owned by his cousin Bernard Doswell.

The biggest attraction at the Yearling Barn today is the stall where Riva stayed in 1970 and Secretariat in 1971.  Their stall was the one assigned to the most promising colt.  It was close to the storage and break room so there was a lot of traffic going back and forth.  Its location allowed the Meadow grooms to keep a close eye on each special colt.   The colt also became more acclimated  to the bustle of a working barn, something that would be useful when he was later moved to Lucien Laurin’s stables.

As a yearling, Secretariat already stood out from the crowd.  He was both striking in appearance and spirited in his behavior. 

 “He was frisky and already the boss of the herd,” according to Penny. Dr. Olive Britt, the Meadow veterinarian, said that Secretariat was “sharp to be around.  Only the best grooms could handle him.”

 The grooms surely knew that.   One of them commented that to most effectively handle the sometimes mischievous red colt, “You had to cross your mind with his mind.”  

When you visit The Meadow, you will get to hear some untold stories of Secretariat as a young horse, including one that involved him making an unplanned trip beyond the Yearling Barn.

The next tour for the general public will be Saturday September 10.

Visitors look inside Secretariat’s stall at the Yearling Barn. 

 

The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” are sponsored by the SFVA. Private group tours are available for groups of 30 or more at $10 per person.  Tours are also offered to the general public on certain dates.   For more information about the tours, see www.secretariatsmeadow.com  Tours are narrated by Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.”  Proceeds from the tours benefit the future Museum of the Virginia Horse to be built at The Meadow.

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

Secretariat’s Meadow Tour…Next Stop, The Stallion Barns

                                       

As we continue our “virtual tram tour” of the historic  grounds of The Meadow, Secretariat’s birthplace, we’re moving from the Cove to the Stallion Barns.  These are the original barns built by Chris Chenery, founder of Meadow Stable.

There is the L-shaped Stallion Barn, where Chenery’s office was located,  and the West Stallion Barn. Perhaps symbolically, the  Stallion Barns overlook the tranquil Cove, where the mares and their foals grazed.  Chenery could gaze out  at his “empire built on broodmares” and the stallions could also see the fruit of their labors.

Painted white with blue trim, the barns stand as sturdy examples of 1930s agricultural architecture.  The SFVA, which owns The Meadow, has carefully restored and preserved these structures.

If those walls could talk!  Fortunately, the former grooms of Meadow Stable have talked with us a great deal and shared their experiences in taking care of some of the most famous Thoroughbreds of all time.  One of those grooms is Howard Gregory. He was “the stud man” in charge of the stallions.

He had been working at the Meadow training  track across Rt. 30 for several years when farm manager Howard Gentry offered him the stallion job.  “He told me I had a good hand on a horse and no fear, ” Howard Gregory said.

He would need to rely heavily on those qualities. Gregory  assumed the responsibility for six stallions, each of which had his own paddock.  Breeding time  was around 2:00 pm each day in the breeding shed. Often there were four or  five mares waiting for the attention of a stallion.  

We won’t go into detail about the breeding shed, except to say that little romance is involved when two expensive and valuable horses are mated.  No artifical insemination is allowed for Thoroughbreds. Breeding can be a dangerous process for horses and handlers, as Gregory discovered.

“I had three horses die in there,” he said. One was  Third Brother,  a full brother to Hill Prince, Chenery’s first  major champion and Horse of the Year in 1950. “He just dropped dead after breeding the mare,” Gregory said of Third Brother.

Another stallion fell over dead in the breeding shed, nearly crushing Howard Gregory and Howard Gentry against the wall. A rank stallion named Tillman was so ill-tempered that he would charge at any groom who dared enter his paddock.  Only the stud man, Howard Gregory, could handle him.

“I did not know what I was getting into!” he said in reflecting on his job.  However, not all of his charges were difficult. He was especially fond of First Landing, The Meadow’s second big champion.  First Landing was a favorite for the Kentucky Derby in 1959 and had a distinguished career as a four-year-old handicap horse. in 1961, he became the first homebred stallion to stand at The Meadow.

Virginians had roundly criticized Chenery for not standing  his Horse of the Year Hill Prince at The Meadow.  Rather the stallion had been sent to Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, just as Secretariat would be two decades later. Chenery explained that since many Kentucky mares would be visiting Hill Prince, he as a Virginia Gentleman must see that their convenience came first. 

By the time First Landing was ready to take up his new duties in the breeding shed, Chenery had more confidence in his farm’s reputation to stand him at The Meadow. To accommodate the bevy of mares seeking his affection, a new barn was built.  The grooms instantly dubbed it “First Landing’s Motel.”

Howard Gregory praised his favorite stallion’s disposition.  “He was very, very mannerable, ” he said.  “When I would take him around to breed, you’d never hear him squeal  or make a whimper or nothing.”

Though he did not win the Kentucky Derby in 1959, First Landing more than redeemed himself. He sired The Meadow’s first Derby winner.  Not Secretariat.  A bay colt named Riva Ridge, whose victories  in 1972 would save The Meadow from the auction block.

These are just a few of the stories about the  Stallions Barns.  If you come to one of our public tours, you may be lucky enough to find Howard Gregory and some of the other Meadow grooms at the barns, talking with visitors. 

And you can talk with these men “who had a good hand on a horse” and a hand in the success of some of racing’s greatest champions.

  First Landing with Howard Gregory

The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” are sponsored by the SFVA. Private group tours are available for groups of 30 or more at $10 per person.  Tours are also offered to the general public on certain dates.  The next public tours are on July 23 and September 10, 2011. For more information about the tours, see www.secretariatsmeadow.com  Tours are narrated by Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.”  Proceeds from the tours benefit the future Museum of the Virginia Horse to be built at The Meadow.

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tour”…Following the Hoofbeats of History

Christopher T.  Chenery, the founder of Meadow Stable, visionary breeder of Secretariat, and horseman extraordinaire,  enjoyed riding his favorite saddle horse, Granite, all over the sprawling lands of his beloved Virginia farm, The Meadow.  He was “a bold rider who went bold places.” If you  were  fortunate enough to ride with him, you’d better be able to jump the eight-foot ditches in the Cove, the fertile bottom land land down by the North Anna River where the broodmares and foals grazed.

We make it much easier for you to see The Meadow today with our new narrated tram tours of this historic property.  You’ll see not only the Cove where Secretariat romped beside his dam, Somethingroyal, but also the original foaling shed where he was born on March 30, 1970; the stalls where he and The Meadow’s first Derby winner, Riva Ridge, stayed in both the yearling barn and the training center.  You’ll also see  the stallion barns and the horse cemetery where Secretariat’s “grandmother” is buried, as well as the site of the original 1805  home of  Chris Chenery’s ancestors, the Morrises,  and their  family cemetery. 

The original barns  and structures built by Chris Chenery have been carefully restored by the SFVA, which purchased The Meadow in 2003. Visitors can walk over to the stalls and other sites and take photos on the tour.

So hop aboard our tram and get ready to learn more about “the land, the family and the legend.” We’ll be describing various points of interest in each blog post as we follow Secretariat’s hoofprints across his native soil.   We’ll start with the Cove, which was essentially Secretariat’s nursery. It is also the source for two never-before-told stories about Secretariat and Riva Ridge, which you will hear on the actual tour.

 THE COVE – It was said that Chris Chenery created “an empire built on broodmares.”  But before he could start that empire, he faced the herculean task of rebuilding the farm, his ancestral homeplace which he had bought in 1936.  A casualty of the Depression,  The Meadow was in a such a sad state of disrepair that Mrs. Chenery called her husband’s project “Operation Rathole.”

The fields where Chris Chenery hoped to raise fine Thoroughbreds had been depleted by continuous tilling, and what should have been rich bottom land by the North Anna River was a weedy, brambly, impenetrable thicket .  The dikes built by the enslaved workers of the 1805 plantation had not been repaired after the Civil War, so the river easily overran its banks.  

But Chris Chenery, applying  his indomitable will (and behemoth-sized  bulldozers)  literally reshaped the land of The Meadow into his vision of a first-class Thoroughbred farm.   Then he began to use “his good eye for a mare,” acquiring what would prove to be some of the most influential matriarchs of the time.

This included the $750 bargain, Hildene, who gave him his first  major champion, Hill Prince, Horse of the Year 1950 and then First Landing, who would sire Riva Ridge.  Another great mare was  Imperatrice, who became the dam of Somethingroyal. 

 In addition to her Triple Crown son,  Somethingroyal gave racing  Sir Gaylord.  He was Chris Chenery’s third Derby contender in 1962.  Though he didn’t win the Kentucky Derby, Sir Gaylord would sire Sir Ivor, who won the Epsom Derby and took the Meadow Stable bloodlines to an international level.

By the time she had Secretariat in 1970, Somethingroyal was 18, “an old lady” as Penny Chenery called her. A sweet-natured mare, she undoubtedly exerted  a positive influence on her high-spirited chestnut colt.

Chris Chenery believed the mare was as important in the breeding equation as the stallion. His faith in the female contribution would find concrete scientific validation when it was discovered that Secretariat’s famous large heart came from the X chromosome of the broodmare. That large heart, which Penny called his “bigger power pack,” helped propel Secretariat into the record books and  the realm of legend. The iconic champions Eclipse and Man O’ War  had the large heart as well.    This genetic alchemy  also made Secretariat a great broodmare sire, allowing his daughters to pass his greatness onto their sons, such as A.P. Indy, Storm Cat and Smarty Jones.

Thus, the  once-brambly Cove of The Meadow became a lush oasis for the broodmares and their babies and a prolific nursery for future Thoroughbred champions.  It proved to be greener pastures for Chris Chenery, who had defied the skeptics and founded his Thoroughbred farm well off the traditional bluegrass path to success.  

You can view the sweeping vistas of the Cove from the tram.  And if you peer closely through the mists of time, maybe you’ll see a bright red colt frisking alongside  a patient bay mare, the dowager queen who gave racing an immortal son.

   The Cove, circa 1960, home of  “the empire built on broodmares”

NEXT STOP ON THE SECRETARIAT’S MEADOW TOUR… THE STALLION BARNS

 The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” are sponsored by the SFVA. Private group tours are available for groups of 30 or more at $10 per person.  Tours are also offered to the general public on certain dates.  The next public tours are on July 23 and September 10, 2011. For more information about the tours, see www.secretariatsmeadow.com  Tours are narrated by Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.”  Proceeds from the tours benefit the future Museum of the Virginia Horse to be built at The Meadow.

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

Win, Place or Show – We Enjoyed the Book Awards

L to R: Maryjean Wall, Jaimy Gordon, Kate Tweedy, Leeanne Ladin

OK, true confessions.  Yes, we got our hopes up about winning the $10,000 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award when Thoroughbred Times announced that “Secretariat’s Meadow” was one of three finalists.  Even though we knew “Lord of Misrule,” by Jaimy Gordon, the 2010 National Book Award winner, was also a finalist.  The third book, “How Kentucky Became Southern” by Maryjean Wall, was no slouch either.
 
After all, our book has led a charmed life. We published it just before the Disney movie “Secretariat” came out last fall and it sold out in two months.  It sold out again after Christmas.  It has ranked in the top five horse-racing books on  Amazon and Barnes & Noble for seven months, since last September. Not only did the fans like it, so did the critics.

The king of the turf writers, Bill Nack, Big Red’s biographer and consultant on the Disney movie, said that Kate and I “made an artful contribution to the history of the American turf.” I have decreed in my will that those words be engraved on my headstone.

Frank Mitchell of the Daily Racing Form declared that he would go buy a coffee table just to put our book on it.  And in our nomination for the Ryan Award, the description of “Secretariat’s Meadow” said: “The movie was good.  This is even better.”

So even though we tried to rein them in with cold, hard logic, our hopes started to rise a bit.   No doubt, the the zephyrs of springtime in Kentucky carried them aloft.     How can your spirits not soar as you take in the redbuds blooming along the highway, the rich and rolling bluegrass pastures and glimpses of new foals frolicking by their grazing mothers as you drive into Lexington.

Then there was Keeneland, in full bloom,  a panoply of riotous color with flowers, jockey silks,  stylish hats,  the track personnel in kelly green. Kate, Wayne and I  met the other author finalists, Jaimy Gordon  and Maryjean Wall, as we signed books before the races began.  Our hosts, Thoroughbred Times and Castleton Lyons, treated us to lunch in the Phoenix Room. We had a bird’s eye view of the paddock on one side where we could see the horses being saddled.  On the other side of the clubhouse, we could stand on the balcony and watch the races, right at the finish line.

After this VIP treatment, we relaxed for awhile at the home of our gracious hostess and prepared ourselves for the evening award program at Castleton Lyons farm.  We also felt lucky because April 13 was the birthday of Riva Ridge, the Meadow Stable  horse who won the Kentucky Derby in 1972 and literally saved the farm.

From the time we rolled through its ornate wrought iron gates,  Castleton Lyons was as magnificent as we thought it would be.  Founded by the late Dr. Tony Ryan, it is the home of several well-known stallions, including Gio Ponti, a Secretariat descendant.  In fact, the award reception was held in the Stallion Barn, which could have graced the cover of Architectural Digest.

Our co-sponsors had requested that each author discuss her book for five minutes.Fortified with a delicious mint julep, I was certainly happy and honored to do so. All our speeches were videotaped and available on YouTube. 

 Here’s the link to Kate’s speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzoYS4OarzQ

Here’s the link to my speech:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmA-baXpJNs

Next was the “envelope moment.”  When Mark Simon, editor of Thoroughbred Times, said “Well she’s two for two,” we knew Jaimy Gordon had won for “Lord of Misrule.”  She’s on a roll and we’re happy for her.

We still took home  an Irish crystal trophy and a check for $1,000, along with a little more  “literary street cred” under our belt.  And we still have a keen sense of gratitude for the  ride that Big Red is taking us on. After all, Secretariat could go the distance..and then some.  We hope our book can keep going, too!

 In a couple of weeks,  we’re headed back to Kentucky, this time to Louisville and Churchill Downs. We will surely feel Secretariat’s presence there, the site of his historic victory in the 1973 Kentucky Derby, where his record still stands.

This will be my first Derby and I promise to regale you, lucky reader, with all my impressions! (Yes I have bought my hat.)  More to come from Kentucky!

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

Secretariat’s Meadow is Finalist in $10,000 Book Award

      We are so excited!

“Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend”  has been named as one of three finalists in the $10,000 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award.  The competition, which recognizes the best book related to the Thoroughbred industry, is sponsored by Thoroughbred Times and Castleton Lyons, a famed Thoroughbred farm in Lexington, Kentucky founded by the late Dr. Ryan.  It is said to be one of the richest literary awards in the world.

The winner will be announced during an invitation-only reception at Castleton Lyons in Lexington on the evening of April 13.  During the day, Kate and I will be signing books and having lunch at Keeneland Racetrack with the other nominated authors.

Here is what the award program had to say about “Secretariat’s Meadow:”

“Kate Chenery Tweedy, daughter of racing’s first lady, Penny Chenery, has proven herself a writer of no small talent. With co-author Leeanne Ladin, she has produced in Secretariat’s Meadow a sweeping, lush account of several generations of Chenerys and of their famed Virginia acreage known as “The Meadow.” In tracing family lore back some 200 years, she deftly navigates tragedies and triumphs, including the point in 1972 when The Meadow was in danger of being sold out of the family. While Secretariat’s Meadow is a powerfully good cover-to-cover read, this audience will be most interested in Tweedy’s bird’s-eye take on the great red champion himself, of living alongside and in the moment of that “image of equine perfection etched across the sky.” Well written, crafted, and illustrated, this is more than your standard coffee-table book. The movie was good. This is even better.” 

“Secretariat’s Meadow,” a 160-page pictorial history, was published in September 2010 by Dementi Milestone Publishing of Manakin-Sabot, VA. It has sold out twice and is now in its third printing. The book has ranked in the top five bestselling horse racing books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble since its release. 

For more information on the book award, see http://www.thoroughbredtimes.com/national-news/2011/03/29/book-award-finalists-11.aspx.

 We hope April 13 will be our lucky day! 

Leeanne Ladin

April 3, 2011

copyright  2011

A Great Virginia Lady and a Great Virginia Horse

                                                   

As Secretariat’s birthday approaches, we wanted to share this heartfelt tribute to him and his owner Penny Chenery, written by Laura Dowdy Smith of Middleburg, VA.  Laura’s story, especially the part about her future husband’s license plate, illustrates how  Big Red and “the first lady of racing” have touched lives in many ways.

Secretariat—More than a Horse by Laura Dowdy Smith

A great Virginia lady and a great Virginia horse have forever touched my life—I will never underestimate the power of either.

It was some 20 years after Secretariat’s legendary Triple Crown victory that I met Penny while working for the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA).  She was a Trustee Emeritus at TOBA and would attend all the social functions that supported the Thoroughbred industry– even lending her name to causes she believes in like the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF, which finds homes for retired racehorses) and anything associated with supporting women in racing.   As I helped host some of these functions, I did get to visit with Penny and I felt a special kinship with her as I too was a native-Virginian transplanted to Lexington, Kentucky for the love of Secretariat.

Where many equestrian endeavors are associated with women—riding in particular—Thoroughbred racing and breeding is still an industry dominated by men.  Penny has opened a lot of doors for women like me and I will always be grateful to her for that.  She also represents the heart of racing—believing in the motto to “ always do what is right—by the horse” and otherwise.  She is the conscience of the industry.  Giving women opportunities and taking care of retired racehorses were very progressive ideas that the industry has gradually come to embrace—largely as a reaction to public scrutiny.  The world has come to Penny’s way of thinking.

What has always amazed me about Penny and the influence she has —is how she has conducted herself.  She is a true Virginia Lady who didn’t arrive on the scene kicking down doors and screaming for equality.  She stood firmly and with grace and dignity that put her on equal footing with any man.  Diane Lane deserved an Oscar for her apt portrayal of this very sharp and regal lady. 

Her polite and kind manner is not an act.  I watched her meet and greet countless fans of Secretariat—20 years later—and she indulged every memory or anecdote they wanted to share—even my own.  In 1973, I sat on my father’s shoulders at the finish line at Pimlico and watched Secretariat blow past us in the Preakness—a racing fan was born. 

 In April of 1991, while in my last semester at the University of Virginia, I was on my second date with a handsome law student.  We had dinner on the “Corner” and were getting ready to cross the street return to his car—when he pointed to his license plate “159N2” and asked me if I knew what it meant.  I paused, “It sounds like a time,” I said.  “I think its Secretariat’s time in the Derby.”  With my response his face became ashy-white—I wondered how what I said could have affected him so.  Much later I came to find out that before law school he had told his college buddies that he would marry the girl who could tell what his license plate meant.  We were married in 1993 and moved to Lexington, Kentucky to follow our dreams and Thoroughbred racing. 

When I told Penny this story, she sent my husband a signed poster of Secretariat for our anniversary that said, “To Bruce, who also remembers 159N2.”  It is framed and hangs in his Virginia office today (We moved back to Virginia in 2002).  That poster is a reminder to both of us that dreams do come true—great horses do exist—sometimes we’re caught living in between them—waiting for the next great horse.  Hopefully, that horse will also be born in Virginia.  I applaud the efforts of the VTA to pursue funding from the state to keep the dream alive. 

Thoroughbred enthusiasts across the Commonwealth have a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Secretariat’s birthday, Sunday,  March 27th at his actual birthplace at the Meadow, in Doswell, Virginia.  Come see the foaling shed where he was actually born and visit with Penny Chenery.

Covert Action, Secretariat’s Grandson, Finds “Greener Pastures”

 

Secretariat’s descendants are helping to keep his legacy alive! As we get closer to Big Red’s birthday on March 30, we’re writing about some of his progeny here in Virginia.  Our last post was about Rainaway, his great grandson who lives at The Meadow in Doswell. 

 This is Covert Action, a Secretariat grandson, who quite generously, has helped us promote our book “Secretariat’s Meadow.” He lives in Goochland County at the James River Correctional Center.  No, he is not serving time. He is serving as  the resident “spokeshorse” for Greener Pastures, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) farm located there. 

This picture was taken during a barn tour last year of Greener Pastures, where I showed Covert Action the book about his grandfather. I’m not sure he grasped the significance of the occasion as he seemed more interested in looking for carrots. 

At Greener Pastures,  inmates and retired racehorses get a second chance at a new life.  The selected inmates care for the horses in a supervised program and can learn a new career suitable for the horse industry. In fact, Covert Action’s groom has now become a professional farrier.

 The horses learn how to transition from the track, or in some cases from unhealthy environments. Many are later adopted out to permanent, caring homes.   Read more about this inspiring program at www.jamesriverhorses.org.

Covert Action certainly had the pedigree to be a racehorse.  Born in 1995, his lineage included  Mr. Prospector, a very successful stallion whose get have won many of the classic races such as the Kentucky Derby. Even more auspicious, the colt’s grandsire on his dam’s side was our mighty Secretariat.  And Secretariat’s daughters have produced outstanding champions such as A.P.Indy, Storm Cat and Smarty Jones.

But Covert Action did not find much action on the racetrack.  He won only three of his 26 races and earned only $22,000 during his career.  Instead he found another calling, thanks to the  TRF and its dedicated volunteers. He also found a forever home. 

Kate Tweedy and I teamed up with him and TRF again at another book event at a Southern States store.  I believe he would have preferred to chew on our giant book poster but he was far too well-mannered for that! 

Covert Action and  his “cousin” Rainaway,  will be  on hand for “meet and greet” at the Secretariat birthday celebration at The Meadow on March 27.  

Surely Big Red would be glad that two of his descendants have found greener pastures in his home state of Virginia!

By Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011