Prominent Thoroughbred Owner Penny Chenery

by Alastair Bull

Few women have made more of an impact on the North American Thoroughbred world than Penny Chenery, the owner of Secretariat, who died Sept. 16, aged 95.

The youngest daughter of utilities investor Christopher Chenery, who founded Meadow Farm in the 1930s. He had great success with horses like Hill Prince and Cicada, but hadn’t fulfilled his lifelong dream to win the Kentucky Derby when he fell seriously ill in 1968 and his daughter took over management of his Thoroughbred interests.

Under Chenery’s management, her father’s dream was fulfilled when Riva Ridge won the 1972 Derby, helping save the farm. That same year, Secretariat fantastic 2-year-old career saw him named Horse of the Year.

With the death of her father in January 1973, Chenery syndicated Secretariat for $6.08 million, which paid for her father’s estate taxes. The horse then went on to win the Triple Crown, sealing it with a record-setting, 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes. Throughout the Triple Crown, Chenery became the human face of Secretariat’s triumphs, winning many people over with her enthusiasm and poise.

Chenery remained heavily involved in the industry after Secretariat’s Triple Crown. She was the first female president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, was a member of the executive committee of the American Horse Council, was one of the first three women to be admitted to the Jockey Club, was president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, and helped found the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

Chenery also created the annual Secretariat Vox Populi Award for most popular horse, and created the Secretariat Foundation, which supports Thoroughbred-related charities.

In 2006, she was a popular and deserving winner of an Eclipse Award of Merit for lifetime contributions to the industry.