It was the 40th Anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown victory, and the famous racehorse’s 43rd birthday on March 30th. A record crowd of over 1,000 people was at the special celebration to commemorate “Big Red.”
Commonwealth Fairs and Events of Virginia and Secretariat.com hosted the two-day celebration at The Meadows in Caroline County, Virginia. The Meadows was once “The Meadow,” home to Secretariat, the Chenery family, Riva Ridge, and other racing legends. There were vendors, autograph signings, extensive display of Secretariat merchandise and memorabilia; tours of The Meadow to include Secretariat’s foaling shed, mini horses in a mini corral for kids, vendors, merchandise, and famed singer Steve Bassett performing “When Big Red Ran.” The song was co-written by Leeanne Meadows Ladin; also a co-author with Kate Chenery on the new book Secretariats Meadow.
There was a daylong crackle of excitement in the air. Fans stood in line to obtain the signatures of Penny Chenery, her daughter Kate, Ron Turcotte (who rode Big Red in all three races to win the Triple Crown), exercise rider Charlie Davis, and author Leeanne Meadows Ladin. Also on hand were the people who worked daily with the racing legend, including grooms and exercise riders Moses Tillman, Wayne Mount, Alvin Mines, and Wesley Tillman. Officers from the Richmond Mounted Squad led their horses under a perfect blue sky while a tram led visitors on a tour of the property. The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation discussed their mission, “To save Thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete on the racetrack from possible neglect, abuse, and slaughter,” with a guest. The Virginia Equine Welfare Society discussed their horse rescue, foster, and adoption programs with an interested family. Guests met two of Secretariat’s offspring, saved from sure death, by these nonprofit organizations.
Many attendees had offspring of Secretariat in their own pasture. One woman proudly showed her horse’s picture to everyone around her. It was Secretariat’s great-grandson. “He’s my baby,” she said, a hand instinctively to her heart. “My baby. I wouldn’t trade him for anything!” A little girl, born long after Secretariat’s passing, clutched a photograph of Secretariat purchased from a vendor. “She’s holding onto it like it was gold,” remarked a smiling observer. Others perused the Breyer Horses, clothing, artwork, and signed photos; people munched on perfectly grilled hot dogs and burgers and sipped ice-cold drinks at picnic tables. Photographs were snapped; memorabilia was signed. “Look what I found in an old gas station!” One woman showed an original program from Secretariat’s 1973 record-breaking Belmont run. When someone suggested she would reap rewards by selling it on eBay, she held the program close to her chest. “No way!” she was appalled. “Give this up? Never!” Another guest sported a tattoo of Secretariat. One elderly man recalled he was working at Churchill Downs in 1973 when Big Red broke the record at 1:59 2/5; “I was in the parking lot,” he said ruefully. “I missed it all except the roar of the crowd.”
“I guess we’re ‘Secretariat Nerds,’” grinned one visitor. “But I don’t care. There will never be another one like him.” Then they hurried off to watch a video of Big Red race, via a wide screen television, all over again.
Review of the event
More on Secretariat September event HERE
Read more about Secretariat HERE and HERE
To help a retired racehorse, see this amazing program HERE
The best place to stay in Virginia HERE
Photo of J. Yates courtesy R. Stephens