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Penny Chenery, owner of Triple Crown champ Secretariat, dies

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Penny Chenery, who bred and raced 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat as well as realizing her ailing father’s dream to win the Kentucky Derby in 1972 with Riva Ridge, has died. She was 95.

Chenery died Saturday in her Boulder, Colorado, home following complications from a stroke, according to her children. They announced her death Sunday through Leonard Lusky, her longtime friend and business partner.

In 1973, Secretariat captured the imagination of racing fans worldwide when he became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. He won the last leg by a whopping 31 lengths in one of the greatest performances in sports history.

The previous year, Riva Ridge won the Derby and Belmont Stakes.

Both colts were inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

“We are deeply proud of our mother, her accomplishments, and her courage,” daughter Kate Tweedy said. “As we mourn her loss, the example of her strength, her intelligence and her enduring spirit continue to inspire us.”

Chenery developed a love of horses as a child and learned to ride at age 5. She attributed her affinity for horses to her father, Christopher Chenery, who founded Meadow Stable, a thoroughbred racing and breeding operation, in Caroline County, Virginia.

After graduating from Smith College in 1943, Chenery worked as an assistant for a company that designed landing craft for the Normandy invasion. Before the invasion, she quit her job and at her father’s urging, she volunteered for the Red Cross. In 1945, Chenery traveled to France as a Doughnut Girl to help war-weary soldiers transition to ships headed home at the end of World War II.

Chenery returned from Europe in 1946, and at her father’s urging, she attended Columbia University’s business school, where she was one of 20 women in her class. Six months from graduation, she got engaged to Columbia Law graduate John “Jack” Tweedy. Her father encouraged her to quit and focus on her wedding. The couple married in 1949.

For nearly 20 years, Chenery was content to be a housewife and mother to the couple’s four children in the Denver area. She and her husband helped found and raise the initial money for Vail ski resort in the early 1960s.

Her life changed in 1968 when her father’s health and mind began failing and her mother died. His Meadow Stable, which had been profitable, began losing money. Her two siblings had planned to sell it when their father could no longer run the operation.

Chenery took over management of the racing stable, with the help of siblings Margaret Carmichael and Hollis Chenery, and her father’s business secretary. The operation was losing money and few took her seriously. Chenery commuted monthly from Colorado to Virginia, but after two more years in the red, selling the stable seemed almost inevitable.

By 1971, her colt Riva Ridge swept the juvenile stakes and won 2-year-old of the Year honors. In 1972, Riva Ridge won the Kentucky Derby, fulfilling her father’s dream in the last year of his life. That same year, Secretariat burst onto the scene, so dominating the 2-year-old races that he won Horse of the Year honors.

In 1973, Secretariat became a pop culture icon with his Triple Crown victory, landing on the cover of Time magazine. For the next four decades, Chenery served as a careful steward of the colt’s legacy.

She charmed as an engaging and quick-witted owner who represented her equine champions with poise, dignity and a keen business sense.

“The horse can’t talk, but I can,” she said.

Chenery was portrayed by actress Diane Lane in the 2010 movie “Secretariat.” Chenery had a cameo role as a spectator at the Belmont Stakes.

“We have always been overwhelmed and amazed by the love and support Mom received from her many fans,” son John Tweedy said.

Born Helen Bates Chenery on Jan. 27, 1922, in New Rochelle, New York, she was the youngest of three children of Christopher and Helen Chenery, for whom she was named.

Following Secretariat’s retirement, Chenery became an ambassador for thoroughbred racing and remained so after the colt’s death in 1989.

She served as the first female president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. She became one of the first women admitted to The Jockey Club and helped found the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

Chenery created the Secretariat Vox Populi award annually honoring racing’s most popular horse, as well as the Secretariat Foundation, which assists and supports various charities within the racing community.

She received the 2006 Eclipse Award of Merit for lifetime contributions to the thoroughbred industry, and in recent years, she advocated for laminitis research and care advancement as well as efforts to ban the use of performance-enhancing drugs in racing.

Chenery’s marriages to Tweedy and Lennart Ringquist ended in divorce. She is survived by her children from her marriage to Tweedy: Sarah Manning, Kate, Chris and John. Her other survivors are seven grandchildren and stepson Jon Ringquist.

Lusky said a public memorial was pending.

Bob Baffert sweeps Futurity and Starlet at Los Alamitos

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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) Bob Baffert became the first trainer to win the $300,000 CashCall Futurity and $294,000 Starlet in the same year at Los Alamitos on Saturday.

McKinzie won the Futurity for 2-year-olds via disqualification after Solomini, Baffert’s other entry in the race, was cited by the stewards for interference in deep stretch and dropped from first to third.

In the next race, 2-5 favorite Dream Tree won the Starlet by 3 1/4 lengths to improve to 3-0 for the Hall of Fame trainer.

Baffert has won the Futurity a record 10 times, including the last four at Los Alamitos, where it was moved from now-closed Hollywood Park, where he won it six times.

McKinzie, named for Baffert’s late friend and Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie, was carried wide into the first turn and kept clear by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. McKinzie rallied approaching the stretch in tandem with Instilled Regard while Solomini started to gain outside of that pair.

The three horses came together and with a sixteenth of a mile to go, Solomini came in and bumped Instilled Regard before going on to finish three-quarters of a length in front of McKinzie, who was a head in front of Instilled Regard.

Baffert was surprised when the three stewards voted 2-1 to disqualify Solomini.

“It’s really too bad they took him down,” he said. “He was the better horse today.”

McKinzie returned $3 and $2.40. Instilled Regard paid $6.80. There was no show wagering because of the small field.

The final time for the Futurity was 1:42.57. McKinzie earned $180,000, increasing his career earnings to $210,000.

In the Starlet for 2-year-old fillies, Dream Tree and jockey Drayden Van Dyke covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.87 and paid $2.80 to win. It was Baffert’s fourth career win in the race.

Yesterday’s News was second and Piedi Bianchi was third.

Trainers rushed to save terrified horses as flames closed in

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BONSALL, Calif. — A routine day at an elite training center for racehorses transformed into terror and chaos in minutes, with hundreds of thoroughbreds stampeding out of their stalls in a desperate attempt to flee a Southern California wildfire that set their barns ablaze.

Turned loose by their trainers in a last-ditch effort to save their lives, the huge, muscular animals, their eyes wide with fear, charged through thick smoke and past dancing flames.

While hundreds made it to the safety of a nearby racetrack, others galloped in circles, unsure which way to run. Still others, too frightened to leave their paddocks, stayed there and died.

Workers at San Luis Rey Downs said an estimated 30 to 40 horses perished Thursday in the wildfire still raging out of control north of San Diego on Friday. At least two stable workers were injured, and their conditions were not immediately known.

Trainers described a terrifying scene that erupted at the facility Thursday afternoon, recalling how only minutes after smelling smoke, they saw flames roaring down a nearby hillside.

“I was heading to my barn to drop my equipment off and I smell smoke,” trainer Kim Marrs said Friday as she stood outside the still-smoldering facility. “Within two minutes, I look up the hill and you could just see it come up over the ridge.”

She and others tried to turn back the flames with hoses and fire extinguishers before firefighters arrived. But when embers from burning palm trees began igniting the roofs of barns, they realized they had no other alternative than to turn loose the approximately 450 horses stabled there.

“The next thing, there’s a stampede of 100 horses coming through here,” said Marrs, who was trying to lead one of the horses she trains, a 5-year-old named Spirit World, through a tunnel. “We almost got trampled to death.”

At one of the center’s many barns, video showed a group of trainers frantically tearing down a wooden fence and shouting at their horses to run.

One large black horse, its forelocks wrapped in white leggings, bolted toward safety but then spooked by the burning palm trees, turned and fled back toward its stable. Scores of others charged through thick smoke to safety.

Trainer Cliff Sise suffered burns on his chest and arm trying to get a 2-year-old filly named Scat Home Lady out of her stable. She wouldn’t budge, and he said she burned to death there.

“She was one of my favorites,” Sise said as he sat outside the facility.

Trainer Jerry Contreras said one of his best friends, a fellow trainer, was hospitalized.

“He was trying to get his horses out and was burned,” Contreras said.

At San Luis Rey Downs, the phone rang unanswered and the owners quickly barred outsiders from the sprawling facility.

It is Southern California’s premier training center for thoroughbreds, with a competition-sized racetrack, a smaller one for training, numerous trails for horses to relax on and even a swimming pool for them to work out in.

The center can house as many as 500 horses and states proudly on a sign out front that it is the “Home of Azeri,” racing’s U.S. Horse of the Year in 2002.

Other thoroughbreds that have trained there include Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand.

The facility sits among rolling hills, picturesque vineyards and farms down a winding, two-lane road just a few miles off busy Interstate 15, the main thoroughfare connecting Southern California to Las Vegas.

The horses that fled were quickly rounded up, and many were taken to the nearby Del Mar racetrack, where a veterinary center was set up for the injured.

The tragedy resulted in an outpouring of support from the racing community, with Southern California’s Los Alamitos Race Course canceling its daytime thoroughbred program Friday out of respect.

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and the Stronach Group, owners of San Luis Rey Downs, have set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for hospital and rehab costs.

Santa Anita racetrack officials in the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia collected clothes and other items for stable workers who lost their possessions.

“I lost everything. Forty years. I lost all my tack, all my machines, my webbings. It was all burned. My whole livelihood. I feel like quitting,” the 66-year-old Sise said.