Beloved racing icon Penny Chenery, who campaigned 1973 Triple Crown legend Secretariat and 1972 Kentucky Derby champion Riva Ridge, passed away at home in Colorado Saturday. Aged 95, she sustained complications from a stroke.
Although those Meadow Stable stars had retired from the track more than 40 years ago, Chenery did not leave the racing world. Instead, she continued to work for the good of the sport ever since.
Described as the “First Lady of Thoroughbred Racing,” Chenery was one of the first women to be admitted to The Jockey Club, served as the first female president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA), co-founded the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF), created the annual Secretariat Vox Populi Award to recognize the most popular racehorse, and established the Secretariat Foundation to promote racing charities.
“We are deeply proud of our mother, her accomplishments, and her courage,” her daughter, Kate Tweedy, said in a statement released on behalf of the family. “As we mourn her loss, the example of her strength, her intelligence, and her enduring spirit continue to inspire us.”
Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery was among the industry leaders and racing personalities to pay tribute:
“Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby family join all in Thoroughbred racing in mourning the passing of Penny Chenery. Fans embraced her as the owner of Secretariat, her legendary Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winner and American sports icon, along with her ongoing role as the protector of his legacy and lifelong supporter of causes that promote the health and welfare of retired Thoroughbreds.
“We at Churchill Downs also fondly recall her 1972 Kentucky Derby victory with Riva Ridge and other occasions when horses carried her famed blue-and-white blocked silks in races beneath our Twin Spires.
“Mrs. Chenery’s wonderful life had a deep and lasting impact on all in Thoroughbred racing and to countless individuals beyond our industry. If anyone ever deserved the title ‘First Lady of American Racing,’ it was Penny Chenery, and our thoughts are with her family, friends and all who loved her.”
Movie fans may remember Diane Lane’s portrayal of Chenery in Disney Studios’ Secretariat (2010), a tale inspired by the Hall of Famer’s career. Riva Ridge was the first to earn Derby glory for her Meadow Stable in 1972, and although beaten in the Preakness, he came back to win the Belmont. Secretariat famously completed the Triple Crown sweep the following year, becoming the first to accomplish the feat since Citation in 1948.
The Secretariat Foundation is offering Penny Chenery Memorial fundraisers on behalf of equine charities, with details available at Secretariat.com, and a public memorial service will be held at a later date.
“We have always been overwhelmed and amazed by the love and support Mom received from her many fans,” her son, John Tweedy, said. “We look forward to a time soon when we can celebrate her life in a way that honors that legacy.”
Top photo of Penny Chenery leading in Secretariat by Coglianese Photography