Saturday, January 28, 2012

Penny Chenery, Secretariat's Owner, Celebrates 90th Birthday in Denver

Penny Chenery, the first lady of thoroughbred horse racing and the owner of the great champion horses Secretariat and Riva Ridge, celebrated her 90th birthday Jan. 27 in Denver. What a celebration!

Mrs. Chenery in 2010
In addition to being the star of a 2010 Disney film Secretariat, or Big Red as his fans like to call him, won the coveted Triple Crown with a 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes in 1973. Watch his amazing victory, and see Mrs. Chenery's gleeful reaction to the race's finish here. The mighty-strided Secretariat set U.S. racing records that remain today, and although he died in 1989 he continues to be an equine icon to horse lovers around the world.

Mrs. Chenery  was one of the first women to hold a high profile in the tough sport of horse racing, a legend in her own right. She was portrayed by actress Diane Lane in the Disney family film, "Secretariat."

Mrs. Chenery lives in Boulder. Her family has longtime ties to Denver and she even rode to hounds with our own Arapahoe Hunt, back in the day.

Mrs. Chenery, trainer Lucien Laurin and Big Red
Here's another Colorado connection for Secretariat fans: Mrs. Chenery's other Kentucky Derby winner (1972) and Hall of Fame champion, the imposing stallion Riva Ridge, shares his name with a ski run in Vail.

The horse was named by Chenery's brother-in-law, John Tweedy, a soldier in the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, who fought in 1945 at the fierce battle at Riva Ridge in the North Apennine mountains of Italy. Another soldier in the 10th Mountain Division, Pete Seibert, founded Vail resort in 1962 and promptly named one of the resort's more notorious ski runs Riva Ridge.

Riva Ridge
And just so you know, it wasn't Secretariat that saved Chenery's stable, a bit of fiction perpetuated by the Disney movie "Secretariat." It was, indeed, the great Riva Ridge who saved the Chenery farm by winning the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, and setting numerous U.S. track records. "I have the greatest admiration for Secretariat, but I love Riva Ridge,” Mrs. Chenery has admitted. In private, her nickname for him was Golden Boy. A book about Riva's career currently is in the works.

Happy Birthday Mrs. Chenery! If you would like to send her a birthday greeting, go here.  More on her birthday celebration, Secretariat and Riva Ridge, here.

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