This column seemed to be well-received by Secretariat fans
last year, so I thought I would reprint it as an annual Birthday present to
Penny and all Big Red 's fans who might have missed it last year. Mrs.
Chenery celebrates her 94th birthday on Wednesday, Jan. 27. So
let's return to her party one year later, with nine photos of Big Red included.
The party is about to begin. The guests, both two-legged and
four-legged, are arriving to celebrate Penny Chenery’s 92nd birthday.
The room is decked out in blue and white balloons, and hanging on the
walls are dozens of racing photos, including the covers of Sports
Illustrated, Time, and Newsweek. It is a time for nostalgia, for
remembering a great lady, who in 1973 was The Queen in a sport of kings.
One by one, the guests present Penny with a birthday card, inscribed with their birthday wishes.
Penny, first off, thanks for losing that coin flip and for being the
greatest press agent a star like me could ask for. And thanks for all
the comforts in life you provided, especially supplying me with the most
dazzling harem a handsome stud could ask for. I know I rewarded you and
helped make you famous, but it only equals what you did for me,
although I have to admit I wouldn’t have minded staying in bed and
sleeping all day on September 29, 1973. All in all, it was a magical
journey and we should take great pride in knowing that we raised the
equine genus up a notch and created the standard by which all others are
measured. And I never told you this, but I did see you flailing your
arms wildly as I came down the stretch in the Belmont Stakes. What a
moment that was. I’m sorry I left you so soon, but, unlike the
racetrack, there are things in life we have no control over. Hopefully,
one day they’ll find a cure for laminitis. I do miss those Certs breath
mints at Claiborne Farm. Now that we are reunited on this day, and I see
my name in the pedigrees of so many top-class horses, I want to take
the time to wish you a very Happy Birthday and many more to come."
-- Your number one glamour boy, Secretariat
Penny, it gives me great pleasure to return to wish you a Happy 92nd
birthday. I remember those early days when you had that funny-looking
hairdo and no one knew who you were. I have to admit I wasn’t crazy
about being cast aside and living in the shadow of you know who (I still
can’t say his name), but deep down we both know who always remained
number one in your heart and who really helped bring Meadow Stud back
into national prominence. I even forgive you for allowing the Disney
people to cut me out of that movie, as if I never existed. But I
understand why they had to do it. If they hadn’t, the movie would have
been about me. You and Lucien learned a lot from the admitted mistakes
you made with me after the Triple Crown, and I’m glad at least for that,
although I would have loved to go out a winner after the Stuyvesant
Handicap and not have to slog those two miles in the Jockey Club Gold
Cup again. But I’d rather concentrate on those glory days of 1971 and
early ‘72 when I was The Boss and America’s sweetheart. With my lop ears
and narrow frame I wasn’t the movie star that a certain big red horse
was, but I was a kind, gentle soul, and it is with all sincerity that I
wish you the happiest of birthdays."
-- Your first love, Riva Ridge
Penny, we had some rough times and some stressful times, but mostly
loving and joyous times together, and through it all you were one classy
lady, and I don’t even mind you telling the world about us after all
these years. You plucked me out of retirement and a sedentary life of
boredom and thrust me onto the national stage and gave me fame and
fortune at a time when I thought I had saddled my last horse, never to
be remembered in the history books. We had a great run together, sharing
all the ups and downs, mostly ups, and for that I will remain eternally
grateful. Happy Birthday, and I have to say, you still look damn good.”
-- Your admiring trainer, Lucien Laurin
Penny, Well, we’re still around after all these years. I certainly have
no regrets, despite the unfortunate twist my life took. But that was
many years ago as well. Thanks to you and Big Red, and, yes, Riva, I
still am able to keep busy doing autograph signings and attending major
events and meeting the fans, old and new. I thank you for two days in
particular – August 2, 1971, when you put me on Riva Ridge for the first
time in the Flash Stakes, and July 31, 1972, when you and Lucien
allowed me to get a leg up on the greatest horse of all time in an
allowance race, when no one had heard of the name Secretariat. I had
ridden many top horses before that, but my career was launched into
orbit that day at Saratoga. Have a wonderful birthday and I’m sure we’ll
see each other at the next signing.”
-- Your favorite jockey, Ron Turcotte
Penny, how great it is to see you again and all the old familiar faces.
I see Big Red over there and have a burning desire to go over and take
the brush to him and give him the brightest shine he’s ever had. What I
wouldn’t give to wrap my arms around his neck one more time and tell him
what a champ he is. And how about ‘ol Riva, still lookin’ as laid back
as ever, with those ears floppin’ all over. Boy, do I miss those days,
and I have you and Lucien to thank for allowing me to spend every day of
my life during those unforgettable years taking care of legends. I
think I’ll go over and at least feed Red and Riva a nice big piece of
birthday cake for old times’ sake. Keep up the good causes and for
making racing a better sport.”
-- Your faithful groom, Eddie Sweat
Penny, I’m sure you don’t remember us, well, maybe you do, but although
we were a big disappointment to you, not living up to our brothers’
reputation, we did try, but we just weren’t blessed with their talent.
But we do want to thank you for at least putting us in the spotlight for
our maiden races and having all of racing following us and rooting for
us. They are moments we’ll never forget. Have a wonderful birthday and
we’ll go over now and try to renew family acquaintances. Thanks again
for the 15 minutes of fame.”
-- Happy Birthday from Red and Riva’s brothers, Capital Asset and Capito
Penny, I know we had our differences and you and your horse robbed me
and my horse of our immortality, and I do have to tell you that
regardless of how they portrayed me in the movie, I am not a loudmouth
and a bully, and deep down was a great admirer of you and Secretariat. I
did get in the Hall of Fame, so there is something to say for that. I
still would love to get another crack at that big red horse with my
beautiful Sham, but that’s not going to happen, so I’ll just accept it
and think about what might have been had Sham come along in a different
year. I’m so glad you’re still around to tell everyone about those days
and of two very special horses.”
-- Your one-time antagonist, Frank “Pancho” Martin
Penny, all I can do is echo my trainer’s words and wish I hadn’t
bloodied my mouth and lost a tooth hitting it against the gate at the
start of the Derby. Who knows, right? Hey, I did finish ahead of you
guys in the Wood Memorial, abscess or no abscess. That’s’ something. It
was a good fight overall; I just came out second best. They said I had
an unusually large heart, but Red’s heart was even larger. Some luck,
-- Happy Birthday from your equine antagonist, Sham
Penny, it’s great to see you again. I’m happy to say that Big Red’s old
home, Claiborne Farm, is back on the upswing thanks to Arch, Blame,
Pulpit, and War Front. Things are going well here, and on your 92nd
birthday I would love to give you the world’s biggest cake, so that it
could hold six million candles. Well, 6.08 million to be exact. You
helped make my career when I was just a mere youngster and trying so
hard to fill my daddy’s shoes and impress Mr. Phipps and the other board
members. It was so great working with you in putting together a deal
far beyond anything anyone had ever seen before. We rewrote the book on
syndicating horses. We made history, and we will share that bond for all
-- Your one-time partner, Seth Hancock
Penny, bet you didn’t think we’d make it here, but there was no way we
were going to miss seeing you and all our old friends. We remember those
old days at The Meadow and you as a little girl growing up, and the
apple of your pappy’s eyes. Man, it’s good to see Big Red and Riva again
after helpin’ raise them as babies. We remember the day we put Red in
that first stall in the yearling barn, so we knew then he was the
special one of the bunch. Man, he was strong. He was so different from
Riva. Red would test us, but Riva was just a kind soul. It was sad to
see The Meadow go, and we never did go back again, even though we passed
it all the time. We remember bein’ picked up every mornin’ in Duval
Town, that was built after the emancipation to house freed slaves.
They’d pick us up and bring us to the farm. We sure did love workin’ for
Mr. Chenery. He always treated us so well, as you did. Oh, by the way,
Aunt Sadie and Magnolia say hi and Happy Birthday. And so did ‘ol Wilbur
(Bill) and Harry Street, who vanned Red to Hialeah as a 2-year-old, and
Howard Gentry, and Olive Britt, who still regrets not gettin’ to the
farm in time take Red out of Somethingroyal. But she remembers Mr.
Gentry telling her, ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for for 35 years.’”
Happy Birthday from the boys at home -- Charlie Ross, Howard Gregory,
Bannie Mines, Lewis Tillman, and Raymond “Peter Blue” Goodall
Penny, all I can say is thank you for allowing me to name Secretariat,
even though it took six tries to get it. It was my honor and privilege
working by your side during those years. You were indeed your father’s
daughter. A very Happy Birthday."
-- From Meadow Stud secretary Elizabeth Ham
Penny, I had so much fun playing you in the Secretariat movie. I have
to admit I hadn’t been to a racetrack since I filmed ‘A Little Romance’
at Longchamp when I was 13. It was inspirational becoming you and just
being with you at Belmont on Belmont Stakes day and seeing the
admiration people still have for you. I have to admit my favorite moment
in the movie was telling our shady trainer to pack up and take a hike.
So, thanks for letting me into your world and for making this such a fun
role. I hope I look as good as you at 92."
-- Happy Birthday from the other Penny, Diane Lane
Dear Penny, thank you for being there when I needed you and for keeping
the name of our beloved Meadow alive. You gave up the life you had
built for yourself and your family to return to your roots and help save
what we built up over so many years. I’m so proud of you for what you
accomplished and the self-confident, strong-willed person you became. I
didn’t live to see Secretariat, but I was there with you all the way. I
hope you’re aware of that. It is so reassuring to know that it was from
our blood, passed on through the generations, that a legend was born;
perhaps the greatest of all time. And, yes, I was well aware at the time
that we finally won the Kentucky Derby with Riva. It gave me a great
deal of comfort knowing that. To see you now, celebrating your 92nd
birthday, warms my heart, as does seeing my grandson tell the story of
your life so masterfully. The Meadow is gone, but it will never be
forgotten thanks to you.”
-- Your loving father
let’s light the candles and cut the cake and celebrate a life well
lived, and remember a very special time, not only in racing, but in
America. It truly was a time for heroes.
These next three photos of Secretariat were published in an earlier blog, but I decided to post them again. This first one is after being saddled in the Preakness. I had photographed him looking straight ahead, and when he heard the click of the shutter, he turned his head and looked right at me...or through me. It was a memorable one-on-one moment with a legend.
This one is of Secretariat and Riva Ridge at Belmont Park going out for separate works on the turf course in September. The slow mile was of no help to Big Red after Penny Tweedy and Lucien Laurin decided to run the colt in the Woodward Stakes and scratch Riva Ridge when the track came up sloppy. Secretariat had just broken the world record for 1 1/8 miles two weeks earlier after having been sick and now he was being asked to come back quickly and stretch out to 1 1/2 miles. Prove Out still had to run the second-fastest mile and a half in Belmont history in the mud to beat him.
This is my favorite shot of Secretariat at stud. When we approached the fence, he went over and picked up a large branch and brought it over, defying me to try pull it out of his mouth. I felt like I was playing fetch with a dog.
Secretariat's farewell at Aqueduct. Once again he put on a show, breaking off into a show horse canter. As he headed back toward the clubhouse turn, a shaft of light beamed down directly on him and seemed to illuminate him, creating a surreal final image.
Secretariat rises like the Phoenix at his new home at Claiborne Farm.
Yours truly in his weird 70's look makes up Big Red's entourage, along with Penny, Lucien, Ron Turcotte, and Eddie Sweat as the colt heads to the track to work for the Wood Memorial.
With his neck muscles rippling and his gargantuan stride, Big Red works a mile for the Wood.
Secretariat and Riva Riva Ridge on the walking ring at Belmont on a September morning.
Big Red is all majesty in motion as he heads to the Belmont track for his work over the grass course.