Secretariat owner and “First Lady of Racing” Penny Chenery sat; one hand curled under her chin, watching actress Diane Lane play Penny Chenery in the Disney movie, “Secretariat.” Along with an audience of over 500 fans, she laughed, cheered, and wiped a tear. It was the first night of the Secretariat Birthday Celebration at The Meadow in Virginia. It was a wonderful time for all.
“This is a historical, first - ever event,” explained Leeanne Meadows Ladin of Commonwealth Fairs and Events of Virginia and co-author of Secretariats Meadow. “We get to watch the movie ‘Secretariat’ with his owner, Penny, her daughter Kate, Ron Turcotte, who rode ‘Big Red’ in all three races to win the Triple Crown, and exercise rider Charlie Davis.” After the movie, the special guests took questions from the audience and discussed the “big red colt” that became a household word and legend among race fans, horse lovers, and the public in general.
Prior to the movie showing, there was a birthday party reception featuring a beautiful cake of three layers, each representing a race of the Triple Crown. Of the 11 Triple Crown winners since 1919, only Secretariat broke all three track records. Secretariat’s Kentucky Derby was 1:59 2/5; his Preakness 1:53, and his Belmont was 2:24. “Secretariat was in his prime when he quit racing,” Penny Chenery explained proudly. “He had really just begun to race.” Fans greeted Chenery, Turcotte, and Davis as if greeting Hollywood royalty. “You’re my hero,” some gushed, and a few wiped tears upon finally meeting their idols. Penny Chenery took it all in stride, handing out warm hugs and smiling broadly, her blue eyes twinkling. She loves to meet people who love Secretariat as much as her “team” loves him.
There were tables of delectable food, a bar, and, of course, cake. The event was held in the Mansion, located on the grounds of The Meadows, where a young Secretariat learned ground manners and his start of racing lessons. The stall where he was kept was so many yards away; his foaling stable just down the hill. Attendees wandered through the Mansion, snapping photos of mementos highlighting the horse’s career, chatted with their heroes, and meeting other fans. People came from as far away as England; vehicle license plates in the parking lot were stamped Tennessee, Wyoming, Ohio, New Jersey, and states in between.
Everyone was directed to the movie room, where popcorn, cold soft drinks, and chips were made available. People cheered, whistled, and clapped throughout the viewing of Disney’s movie, to include Penny and Kate Chenery, Turcotte, and Davis. Despite having seen the movie numerous times, everyone cheered Secretariat’s Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont runs as if watching them for the first time. “There was such an energy here,” one attendee smiled. “To be at the place where ‘Red’ began, to be sitting with the people who helped make him what he was, and to be with so many other fans! It’s a dream come true!”
The Chenerys, Turcotte, and Davis took the stage to answer questions about the movie and the horse himself, as well as discuss Riva Ridge and the farm. Leeanne Meadows Ladin and co-author Kate Chenery discussed Secretariats Meadow. Then Turcotte and Davis stayed on to sign autographs, talk, and banter with fans. All movie attendees received a hand-signed poster from artist Katie Upton.
The event was co-hosted by Commonwealth Fairs and Events of Virginia and Secretariat.com. It was part of a two-day event at The Meadows in Caroline County, Virginia. The Meadow was once “The Meadows,” home to the Chenery family, Riva Ridge and other racing legends, and (of course) Secretariat. “This is history,” said one attendee walking through the parking lot after the event. “And it was just…just amazing!”
To learn more about a very special Secretariat event in September: click HERE
Photo of J. Yates courtesy R. Stephens