(Originally published in the October 6, 2012 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
By Evan Hammonds - @BH_EHammonds on Twitter
Not only does Penny Chenery know how to work a room, but she can also fill a room. Racing’s First Lady for four decades now was in her glory Sept. 30 as the 81st recipient of the “Honored Guest” title from the Thoroughbred Club of America.
The testimonial dinner, usually held in one of the dining rooms at Keeneland, was moved to the larger Entertainment Center to accommodate the legion of Chenery’s friends and fans. It wasn’t the first time she’s drawn a crowd in Lexington.
Her good friend—and former executive editor of The Blood-Horse—Charlie Stone reminded TCA members of that in his opening remarks when he recalled first meeting Chenery. It was at a TCA meeting in 1973 just after Secretariat’s historic run through the Triple Crown. The club was then housed in the old Springs Motel on Harrodsburg Road in Lexington and monitors had to be put up around the motel so the overflow crowd could see and hear Chenery speak.
Between addresses in Lexington, Chenery has graced the industry with her wit and wisdom, served as president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, earned an Eclipse Award of Merit, and ever promoted the sport while calling upon her fellow breeders and owners to do the same.
Stone nailed it when he said: “I don’t know if the Racing Form keeps these statistics, but I’m certain you have signed more autographs than anyone else in the Thoroughbred industry.”
Chenery drew a rousing ovation upon her introduction as only the third woman so honored, joining Isabel Dodge Sloane in 1951 and Alice Headley Chandler in 2005.
Her message remains the same.
“As for Thoroughbred racing…the industry may be in the pits, but it is our job to keep it alive. What we need to do is remind people that it’s fun to go to the races.
“It is our job as owners to promote the horse. If you are lucky enough to have a good horse, make that horse available to the world. Create a website. Send out e-mails. Secretariat had just two secretaries. If you love the industry, promote it. We all need to encourage that line of communication.”
Chenery, one of the first female members to break through the glass ceiling as a member of The Jockey Club, knows the sport can be insular and clubby. But she paints with wider and brighter strokes.
“We may be suspicious of each other, but it is a shrinking world and this is our job,” she said. “If there is something quirky or funny about your horse or his name, go with that. Help people understand our life, our fascination with racing, our characters.
“We shouldn’t be a closed society; we shouldn’t be a secret.”
Not wanting to keep a secret, Chenery then asked: “How long has it actually been since you went to the racetrack?
“That’s one thing that I would ask you to do. Go to the track; spend the afternoon,” she said. “Take a friend. What the heck, take someone you don’t like. We have to promote the live experience. Being so close to the horses…you can’t bottle that experience.”
Chenery, who has always made everything look easy, closed her remarks with a simple request.
“Please come out to the racetrack,” she said. “Come to the Thoroughbred Club for lunch. This is a very special but fragile sport, and we all need to lend it a hand.”
Promote from within. A classic concept from racing’s grande dame.
The 10 grade I races Sept. 29 at Belmont Park and Santa Anita Park were actually two more than will be run on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, Nov. 3. The six-hour barrage of top-level racing was both thrilling and exhaustive. The outcomes give us plenty to chew on between now and the World Championships, but there was one glaring issue: the widening chasm between the “haves” and “have-nots” when it comes to purses enhanced by alternative gaming. New York, home of the Resorts World Casino New York City, featured the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) and five other grade I and grade II stakes worth a total of $3.4 million. Each of the five grade I races at Santa Anita offered purses of $250,000 for a total of $1.25 million.