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.