The Big Red Flame Keeps Burning Up the Track

(We’re a bit behind schedule because of the holidays but wanted to get in one more post before the New Year, so thanks for your patience.)

In our last post we promised to write about all the Secretariat descendants who ran in the 2011 Breeder’s Cup races.  That may have been a little ambitious, as one fan pointed out there were 83! We haven’t checked those numbers but will take his word for it.  To make this manageable, we will focus on the races where the winners and major contenders have Secretariat in their pedigree (or in some cases, Sir Ivor, son of Sir Gaylord, whose dam was Somethingroyal.)

 Ladies Classic – Royal Delta out of Delta Princess by A. P. Indy won this race. She beat It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty, also A. P. Indy girls.

Juvenile Sprint – Secret Circle by Eddington won this.  He’s not a direct descendant but his sire has Sir Ivor by Sir Gaylord  on his dam’s side. (Sir Ivor won the Epsom Derby, redeeming Sir Gaylord’s failure to run in the Kentucky Derby in 1962 due to a fractured sesamoid.)

Juvenile Fillies Turf – Stephanie’s Kitten by Kitten’s Joy  won this race. She has Sir Ivor/Sir Gaylord on the top and Storm Cat on the bottom of her pedigree.

Filly and Mare Sprint – Musical Romance beat Turbulent Descent, the heavy  favorite, who has both Indy and Storm Cat bloodlines. Turbulent Descent is cited as one to watch for 2012.

Juvenile Fillies – My Miss Aurelia took this one.  She is a great-granddaughter of Storm Cat.

Filly and Mare Turf – Perfect Shirl , a great-granddaughter of Big Red himself, took this one. 

Juvenile Turf – Wrote won this and he has the Sir Ivor/Sir Gaylord link on the bottom.

Turf Sprint – Regally Ready won it (no relation) but Country Day placed second.  He’s a great-grandson of Gone West out of the mare Secrettame.

Dirt Mile – Caleb’s Posse (no relation) won it but Shackleford, who won the 2011 Preakness, placed second.  Also in this race were Tapizar  byPulpit (A. P. Indy) and Wilburn  by Bernardini (A.P. Indy).

Breeder’s Cup Juvenile – Hansen won this.  He’s by Tapit by Pulpit and also has Storm Cat on the bottom.

Breeder’s Cup Mile – Court Vision won.  His dam is Weekend Storm out of Weekend Surprise, a Secretariat daughter. Other “cousins” who ran include: Gio Ponti , Sidney’s Candy, Get Stormy  and Courageous Cat  –  all of the Storm Cat bloodline.

Breeder’s Cup Classic –  Drosselmeyer (no relation) who won the 2011 Belmont, won this race.  Also in this talented field were: Flat Out by Flatter (A.P.Indy);  To Honor and Serve and Stay Thirsty, both by Bernardini; Ice Box by Pulpit; and Rattlesnake Bridge and Headache, both by Tapit.  Clearly the A.P.Indy line dominated this field. 

Good news for 2012:  Stay Thirsty will continue to race, as will Florida Derby winner Dialed In, a Mineshaft colt (A. P. Indy.)  

We’ll need a spread sheet but we’ll be keeping a close eye on these Big Red  babies for 2012!  In fact, we’ll start on Sunday, New Year’s Day with the  new Gulfstream Park Derby. Bernardini has Casual Trick running and Pulpit has Sacristy.  Silver Menace (Storm Cat) will also bear watching.

We close out this year by wishing all Thoroughbreds Happy Birthday on January 1, their official date of birth.  Happy New Year to all our readers and fans of Secretariat!

Leeanne Ladin

www.secretariatsmeadow.com

copyright 2011

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Big Red’s Retirement…November 11, 1973

He pranced onto the track, copper coat gleaming in the sun that cold November day. At the sight of him,  33,000 fans burst into thunderous applause and cheers.  He was keyed up, ready to race and no doubt wondering where the other horses were.

But on November 6, 1973, there were no other horses, no starting gate, no finish line.  It was “Farewell to Secretariat Day” at Aqueduct racetrack in New York.  It was Big Red’s “last hurrah” before he and stablemate Riva Ridge would fly to Claiborne Farm near Lexington, Kentucky on November 11 to begin their new careers at stud.

Secretariat had to be content with Ron Turcotte jogging him up to the quarter pole and back in front of his adoring public thronging the stands. He wasn’t content. In fact, Lucien Laurin was quoted as saying that Secretariat was so mad he didn’t get to race, he ate the flowers in Penny’s bouquet when posing in the winner’s circle for the final time.

After his hero’s farewell at Aqueduct, Secretariat received a hero’s welcome  in Lexington, Kentucky. Over 300 fans gathered at the Blue Grass Airport to cheer the two Meadow Stable champions as their private plane touched down.  One person remarked that more people turned out to see Secretariat than they did to see their governor.

Fans waved signs that said, “Welcome Home, Secretariat!”  Penny recalled thinking, “He was not born in Kentucky.  Virginia was his home.” She, Lucien Laurin, Elizabeth Ham and Eddie Sweat, had accompanied their beloved horses to Claiborne,  capping off a journey that would have a lasting impact on their lives as well as the world of Thoroughbred racing.

The Claiborne team quickly loaded Secretariat and Riva into the horse van and, under police escort, headed for the farm.  It was not only a physical transition, but an emotional one as well,  for the horses and humans.  Secretariat did not seem to appreciate being handed over to Claiborne stud manager, Lawrence Robinson,  as his long-time groom Eddie Sweat stood on the sidelines.  Snorting and pulling away, he showed his displeasure by kicking his new handler on the way to the stallion barn.

The former stall of his great sire, Bold Ruler, was freshly bedded with straw and awaiting Secretariat. In the last act as his groom, Eddie helped take off Secretariat’s leg wraps.  Riva was settled into the adjoining stall.   Penny and Lucien came in to say their final goodbyes.  Penny remarked that leaving her two horses was like giving up a child for adoption. Eddie was in his own world of private grief at leaving his beloved “Red.”

Penny knew that Secretariat, “America’s Super Horse,” had  already transcended being her horse and had become the people’s horse. He would become the star attraction at the renowned farm,  bringing in 10,000 people a year. 

That may have surprised the short-sighted farm worker at Claiborne who reportedly said of Secretariat on that long-ago day of transition, “He’s just another horse,” until he proves himself at stud.

He did that too.  Here we are, 38 years later, and Secretariat’s “little children” as Eddie Sweat called them, are still carrying his flame into the winner’s circle. Our next post will look at how many of his descendants ran in the Breeders’ Cup races this year.

On the track, in the breeding shed and in the hearts of his legions of fans, Secretariat has indeed “gone the distance.”  On this date, November 11, we salute his lasting legacy!

A photo of Secretariat’s stall at Claiborne, 2010. Though others have occupied his stall, none have ever filled his shoes. 

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend”

www.secretariatsmeadow.com

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Secretariat’s Descendants – From the Homestretch to the Home Front: Little Red’s “Golden” Opportunity in the Rockies

This new series will look at some of Secretariat’s most famous progeny and how the mighty stallion of Meadow Stable continues to fire the blood of some of the best racehorses on the track today. We will also look at the descendants whose most important contributions have been made, not on the homestretch, but on the home front as pleasure horses, working horses and simply beloved companions. We are very grateful to the owners who send in the stories and photos of their Secretariat descendants. In this way, “the legend lives on!”

LITTLE RED’S “GOLDEN” OPPORTUNITY  IN THE ROCKIES

This great-great grandson of Big Red was born on March 29, 2010 in Ocala, Florida,  one day before Secretariat’s birthday of March 30.  His dam, Beautiful Wonder, has Secretariat on both the top and bottom of her pedigree. However, his illustrious bloodline did not protect him from a difficult start in life.

Born with an umbilical hernia for which his owner could not afford veterinary treatment, Little Red was relinquished to a local rescue group. He also had a badly infected foot. In the heartbreaking turn of events, the foal had to leave his mother before he was weaned. Her pitiful whinnying echoed in his ears as he was transported away to a strange new location.  However, thanks to the good volunteers at Beauty’s Haven Farm and Equine Rescue in Morriston, FLA,  the colt received the medical treatment he desperately needed and began to recover.

 Eventually, Kateri Nelson, who worked with the American Humane Association, heard about a beautiful chestnut colt nicknamed Armani up for adoption. Born in Montreal, she felt a special connection to this descendant of Secretariat, due to the French-Canadians, jockey Ron Turcotte and trainer Lucien Laurin, who were such an integral part of his success. Finally, Little Red’s pedigree was going to bring him some good luck.

He just had one more hurdle.  Kateri lived 1,800 miles from Ocala in Golden, Colorado.  The notion of shipping the colt across country seemed too far-fetched to consider.

However, benevolent forces were at work that would lead to a “Golden” opportunity for the colt and Kateri.  Her husband, Dean,  (in a move that should have awarded him “Husband of the Year” honors!) secretly arranged to adopt Little Red.  The colt was on his way to their ranch when  Dean finally told Kateri the good news.  An ecstatic Kateri described the colt’s arrival in early November 2010:

“At least I thought he was little until the driver unloaded him. At the tender age of seven months, Armani was already 14.2 hands and was walking on stilts. In fact, you could almost hear the bugle call when he walked down the ramp; he had the confidence of a champion!”

Kateri, along with her husband and son,  greeted him with open arms.  A few days later, the Florida colt got his first taste of Colorado snow!

Today, nearly a year later,  Little Red, now renamed Tristan,  continues to thrive in his new home.   Kateri describes how the once-sickly colt has developed in size and personality:

“Over time, his personality has blossomed. He shows more  and more assertiveness, and has developed a mischievous side directly proportionate to his great intelligence. He quickly found his place in our little herd of three horses and rarely needed to be reprimanded by his elders, even today. Fortunately for us he exhibits a similar behavior with humans. In fact, I’m still amazed that despite his painful early life and the long trip to Colorado, Little Red is as confident as he is. The son of a king, he deserved a name reflecting his noble birth and his great courage. So Sir Tristan of the Round Table became the obvious choice, especially for our 9-year old son. Since he arrived, our horse with many names has picked up a few inches —  three weeks or so before his first birthday, we measured him at 15.2 hands. The veterinarian thinks that he will reach 16.2 or 16.3 hands at maturity. Then Tristan will hopefully calmly carry us on his back despite the bugle call that will resonate in his head, and the beating of hooves pounding deep in his heart.”

This author can personally attest to Little Red’s personality.  Kate Tweedy and I stopped at Kateri’s place in Golden to meet Little Red on our way to Aspen this summer to go riding at a friend’s ranch.   The colt was prancing about in his paddock, exuding confidence but not cockiness. He was not skittish as we two strangers approached and, like his great-great grandsire, seemed to relish the attention as we cooed and fussed over him.  

Then he did the most amazing thing.  I was petting his glossy neck when he bent his head down and tucked it up under my neck and just stayed there, breathly softly on my shirt.  Kate and Kateri said it looked as if Little Red  was whispering a secret to me. I told them he was.

He was telling me that he was both proud and humbled to have the blood of a mighty  champion running through his veins.  I told him that this made him very special and that he always must honor the spirit of his legendary ancestor.    

By all indications, that is exactly what Little Red is doing. Thanks to the good work of the equine rescue group, a lifelong Secretariat fan, and a good-hearted husband, the young Thoroughbred now has a future befitting his lineage. The little colt who got off to a rocky start in life now has a forever family in the Rockies of Colorado.

Little Red October 2011 (19 mos.old)

Many thanks to  Kateri Nelson for sharing her photos and story.  And thanks to all the equine rescue groups who help find forever homes for horses like Little Red!

If you own or have owned a Secretariat descendant and would like to share your story, please email me at laladin@verizon.net, with pedigree verification.  

 By Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

www.secretariatsmeadow.com

 

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October 4, 1989…Remembering Big Red

 

It’s hard to believe that 22 years have passed since Secretariat died on October 4, 1989.    It’s hard to believe because, in many respects, his presence seems stronger than ever.  

 Kate Chenery Tweedy and I see the unquenchable passion for this horse firsthand as we travel around the country doing book talks and signings for “Secretariat’s Meadow.” Everyone wants to share their Secretariat story. For countless fans,  his Belmont win stands as one of the defining moments of their lives. Many fans cry unashamedly when they talk about him. And now a whole new generation of fans has emerged, thanks to the Disney movie about Secretariat.

He continues to make his presence known  at the racetrack. Every year, at the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont, sportscasters ask  what has become a rhetorical question – “Will there ever be another Secretariat?”

His presence at the track is much more than symbolic.  Secretariat’s progeny continue to carry his influence well into the 21st century.  As a great broodmare sire, Secretariat figures in the pedigrees of such champions as A. P. Indy, Storm Cat, Smarty Jones, Summer Bird, Rags to Riches, to name a few.  Bernardini, a great-grandson of Secretariat, is one of the most successful Thoroughbred sires today.  

For Penny Chenery, Secretariat has remained a constant presence in her life.  For nearly 40 years, she has been a tireless ambassador for her horse and the true “keeper of the flame.”   At age 89, she continues to be accessible to fans, who turn out in droves when she makes an appearance at an event.   She is their link to a legend.

 As we reflect on Secretariat’s life and legacy, Penny’s eulogy for her horse expresses what he meant to people and most of all, to her. It ran in the New York Times and was excerpted in our book “Secretariat’s Meadow  – The Land, the Family, The Legend.” 

(from Penny Chenery’s eulogy for Secretariat:)

“Secretariat’s death on Wednesday marked the end of a wonderful dream I have been privileged to live. In my eyes, he was the finest thoroughbred performer of the last 50 years and he certainly provided me with a unique experience.

I used to think that we had created him but, having tried to duplicate him for 15 years, I now realize it was just the luck of the draw. A marvelous horse was born and he happened to be born to us.

…. Secretariat seemed to realize his role then was to be a folk hero. His demeanor was that of a champion in whatever he was asked to do.

….I’m going to miss him terribly. My family and I join the many people who have been his loyal fans in great sadness at his loss. He was not only a champion race horse, but a cherished friend. “

 by Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author  “Secretariat’s Meadow”

www.secretariatsmeadow.com

copyright 2011

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Secretariat’s Descendants…from the Homestretch to the Homefront

 

This new series will look at some of Secretariat’s most famous progeny and how the mighty stallion of Meadow Stable continues to fire the blood of some of the best racehorses on the track today. We will also look at the descendants whose most important contributions have been made, not on the homestretch, but on the home front as pleasure horses, working horses and simply beloved companions. Read more at www.secretariatsmeadow.com on how “the legend lives on!”

WEEKEND SURPRISE AND THE X FACTOR

No, you won’t see her on Simon Cowell’s new talent show “The X Factor.”  But Secretariat’s daughter Weekend Surprise (1980- 2001) demonstrated plenty of talent as a broodmare. She was one of the reasons that Secretariat became an outstanding broodmare sire. He bequeathed his dynamic DNA to daughters such as her, who then passed it to their sons.

Weekend Surprise was said to carry the gene to pass on the “big heart” to her offspring. She inherited this “X-factor” from Secretariat, who was found to have a naturally huge heart that was two to three times the size of a normal heart for a racehorse. Other racing greats such as Man o’ War and Eclipse were also said to have the large heart.

In fact, Weekend Surprise is said to be a “double-copy” mare, with the X factor present on both the top and bottom of her pedigree. That means she also got the large heart gene from her dam, Lassie Dear.

Here is what Marianna Haun , who has studied the X factor for many years, said about Weekend Surprise:   “One double copy mare is the Thoroughbred Weekend Surprise, a daughter of Secretariat that is out of a double copy dam. Weekend Surprise’s dam, Lassie Dear, produced all winners and so has her daughter, which produced Horse of the Year A.P. Indy and millionaire Summer Squall. Both sires now are producing outstanding daughters, and when mated with large-hearted mares, are producing outstanding sons.”  You can read more on this at  http://www.horsesonly.com/crossroads/xfactor/heart-1.htm

 A. P. Indy, by Seattle Slew, won the 1992 Belmont Stakes and the Breeder’s Cup Classic, two of his most outstanding victories.  When he took Horse of the Year honors in 1992, Weekend Surprise was named Kentucky Broodmare of the Year. He became one of the most influential stallions of his time. More on A.P. Indy in a future post.

Weekend Surprise’s colt Summer Squall  won the 1990 Preakness. His grandson Summer Bird, “the chestnut thunderbolt,” won the 2009 Belmont and Horse of the Year honors. Summer Squall also sired Rainaway, who now lives at The Meadow, his great-grandfather’s birthplace here in Virginia.

Weekend Surprise also figures in the pedigree of Rags to Riches, the first filly to win the Belmont in 100 years in 2007.   Before becoming a broodmare, Weekend Surprise won three stakes races. One of her last foals, sired by Storm Cat (who was out of Secretariat’s daughter Terlingua) sold for $3 million at the 1999 Keeneland sales in Kentucky.

Weekend Surprise was sired by Buckpasser, 1966 Eclipse Horse of the Year. As noted, her  dam was Lassie Dear.  Interestingly, Lassie Dear’s grandsire was Sir Gaylord, one of Meadow Stable’s champions and a Derby favorite in 1962. And his dam was Somethingroyal, who of course became immortalized as Secretariat’s dam in 1970. 

Weekend Surprise died in 2001 due to complications after giving birth to her 14th foal.   She is buried at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky.

Christopher Chenery, founder of Meadow Stable, who created “an empire built on broodmares” with Somethingroyal, Hildene, Imperatrice and other great mares, always stressed the importance of the mare in the breeding equation.  In terms of the X factor, he may have been ahead of his time.   We owe him, and Secretariat’s daughters such as Weekend Surprise, our heartfelt thanks!

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

co-author of  “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend”

www.secretariatsmeadow.com

copyright 2011

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The Holy Grail on the Secretariat’s Meadow Tour…the Foaling Shed

Visitors are often moved to tears when they see it.  They touch the wooden door reverently.  They walk inside the stall, looking around in quiet awe. They snap photo after photo, not wanting to leave what many consider hallowed ground.

It’s a modest little structure of whitewashed barnboard.  Its appearance could be called “unprepossessing,” to use one of Penny Chenery’s favorite adjectives.  Here on March 30, 1970, shortly after midnight, The Meadow’s magnificent old broodmare, Somethingroyal, gave birth to a colt who would become the king of the sport of kings.

Contrary to what the Disney movie showed,  Secretariat was not born with a big audience in attendance. Penny and her son were not there.  Lucien Laurin was not there.  Eddie Sweat was not there. The only people present were Bob Southworth, the night watchman and Howard Gentry, the farm manager.  Dr. Olive Britt, the beloved Meadow vet,  arrived soon thereafter. 

When the birth was complete, Mr. Gentry exclaimed:  “There’s a whopper!”

“He was born practically standing up,” said Dr. Britt.  We interviewed her for our book shortly before she passed away in 2006.  She would point out what sportswriters would rhapsodize about two years later when the colt set foot on the track…his perfect conformation and how he “filled the eye.”    

“He was beautiful,” she said. “He was well put together, very correct; his legs were perfect.  He had a beautiful head and was as red as fire!”

When Penny first saw Secretariat, she famously said, “He’s too pretty to be any good.”

Secretariat’s foaling shed is the grand finale of our Secretariat’s Meadow Tour.  It is the original structure, carefully restored and preserved by the SFVA which owns The Meadow.  It was located by the old broodmare barn near the Cove, but was moved to the new equine complex across Rt. 30 after the crumbling broodmare barn could not be restored.  It is a fitting location, as this complex was formerly the grounds for Meadow Stable’s training center. The complex bustles with ongoing horse shows and will also be the site of the Museum of the Virginia Horse.

This modest little shed is where a legend began…and for the devoted fans who make their pilgrimage to see it…it’s where the legend lives on! 

The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” are sponsored by the SFVA. Private group tours are available for groups of 30 or more at $10 per person.  Tours are also offered to the general public on certain dates.  The next public tour is on September 10, 2011. For more information about the tours, see www.secretariatsmeadow.com  Tours are narrated by Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.”  Proceeds from the tours benefit the future Museum of the Virginia Horse to be built at The Meadow.

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

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The Secretariat’s Meadow Tour…The Training Barn

At The Meadow, “America’s Super Horse” first learned to gallop across its rolling fields, then on its loamy track.  There, Secretariat first felt the calming hand of a groom, the taste of a bit in his mouth and the weight of a rider on his back. This is where Secretariat spent the formative first two years of his life. At The Meadow, the foundation was laid for a legend. 

The next to last stop on our “virtual” Secretariat’s Meadow Tour is the training barn.  It is located on the south side of Rt. 30 on what was the original site of the training center. In something of a rite of passage, the grooms would walk the colts from the yearling barn  across the road to the training center to begin their education for the racetrack.

The original complex consisted of  barns and paddocks, a three-eighths mile indoor track for exercising the horses in inclement weather, a mile-long training track and an observation tower to watch the Thoroughbreds during their works.

It’s been over three decades since The Meadow was sold to settle Chris Chenery’s estate and only one training barn remains.  However this was where Secretariat and Riva Ridge stayed while they learned the fundamentals of racing.  

In August 1971, Secretariat was ridden for the first time in his life inside the indoor track, where all the young horses were started.   Charlie Ross, his groom, and Meredith Bailes, his exercise rider, had already introduced him to the bridle and saddle.  The next lesson was to get Secretariat accustomed to the weight of a rider on his back.   Ross held the colt as Bailes hopped up and simply laid lengthwise on his back.  Ross led Secretariat around in the ring a bit, then Bailes slid off.  The process was repeated for a couple of days until Bailes felt that it was time for the big moment.

Ross boosted him into the saddle and he was astride the colt.  “Secretariat didn’t buck at all,” Ross told us when we interviewed him for our book.  From schooling in the indoor ring, Secretariat eventually graduated to the outside training track. And after learning all he could at The Meadow, he left for Lucien Laurin’s stable in January 1972, leaving his Virginia birthplace for a legendary place in racing history.

Today the famous training barn is part of the new Rouse Horse Complex at The Meadow, the site of many horse shows and the annual Secretariat birthday celebration. 

Next to the  barn is the foaling shed where Secretariat was born. It is a holy grail for many fans who make a pilgrimage to The Meadow to see and touch the simple whitewashed little barn for themselves. That will be the last stop on our tour and we will share some of the comments from those who witnessed  the birth of a legend.

The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” are sponsored by the SFVA. Private group tours are available for groups of 30 or more at $10 per person.  Tours are also offered to the general public on certain dates.  The next public tour is on September 10, 2011. For more information about the tours, see www.secretariatsmeadow.com  Tours are narrated by Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.”  Proceeds from the tours benefit the future Museum of the Virginia Horse to be built at The Meadow.

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

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Next Stop on the “Secretariat’s Meadow Tour”…the Yearling Barn

                                                               

On our virtual tram tour of The Meadow, you’ve seen The Cove where the broodmares and foals grazed, and the Stallion Barns.    Now we’ll take a look at the Yearling Barn, where both Secretariat and Riva Ridge stayed as colts.

The Yearling Barn originally built by Chris Chenery still stands, and like the Stallion Barns, has been carefully restored by the SFVA, which owns The Meadow.  It is believed that Mr. Chenery built the barns to closely resemble those at nearby Bullfield Farm in Hanover County, the celebrated racing farm of the Doswells.  He had spent a lot of time there as a young, horse-crazy boy, exercising the few remaining racehorses owned by his cousin Bernard Doswell.

The biggest attraction at the Yearling Barn today is the stall where Riva stayed in 1970 and Secretariat in 1971.  Their stall was the one assigned to the most promising colt.  It was close to the storage and break room so there was a lot of traffic going back and forth.  Its location allowed the Meadow grooms to keep a close eye on each special colt.   The colt also became more acclimated  to the bustle of a working barn, something that would be useful when he was later moved to Lucien Laurin’s stables.

As a yearling, Secretariat already stood out from the crowd.  He was both striking in appearance and spirited in his behavior. 

 “He was frisky and already the boss of the herd,” according to Penny. Dr. Olive Britt, the Meadow veterinarian, said that Secretariat was “sharp to be around.  Only the best grooms could handle him.”

 The grooms surely knew that.   One of them commented that to most effectively handle the sometimes mischievous red colt, “You had to cross your mind with his mind.”  

When you visit The Meadow, you will get to hear some untold stories of Secretariat as a young horse, including one that involved him making an unplanned trip beyond the Yearling Barn.

The next tour for the general public will be Saturday September 10.

Visitors look inside Secretariat’s stall at the Yearling Barn. 

 

The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” are sponsored by the SFVA. Private group tours are available for groups of 30 or more at $10 per person.  Tours are also offered to the general public on certain dates.   For more information about the tours, see www.secretariatsmeadow.com  Tours are narrated by Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.”  Proceeds from the tours benefit the future Museum of the Virginia Horse to be built at The Meadow.

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

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Secretariat’s Meadow Tour…Next Stop, The Stallion Barns

                                       

As we continue our “virtual tram tour” of the historic  grounds of The Meadow, Secretariat’s birthplace, we’re moving from the Cove to the Stallion Barns.  These are the original barns built by Chris Chenery, founder of Meadow Stable.

There is the L-shaped Stallion Barn, where Chenery’s office was located,  and the West Stallion Barn. Perhaps symbolically, the  Stallion Barns overlook the tranquil Cove, where the mares and their foals grazed.  Chenery could gaze out  at his “empire built on broodmares” and the stallions could also see the fruit of their labors.

Painted white with blue trim, the barns stand as sturdy examples of 1930s agricultural architecture.  The SFVA, which owns The Meadow, has carefully restored and preserved these structures.

If those walls could talk!  Fortunately, the former grooms of Meadow Stable have talked with us a great deal and shared their experiences in taking care of some of the most famous Thoroughbreds of all time.  One of those grooms is Howard Gregory. He was “the stud man” in charge of the stallions.

He had been working at the Meadow training  track across Rt. 30 for several years when farm manager Howard Gentry offered him the stallion job.  “He told me I had a good hand on a horse and no fear, ” Howard Gregory said.

He would need to rely heavily on those qualities. Gregory  assumed the responsibility for six stallions, each of which had his own paddock.  Breeding time  was around 2:00 pm each day in the breeding shed. Often there were four or  five mares waiting for the attention of a stallion.  

We won’t go into detail about the breeding shed, except to say that little romance is involved when two expensive and valuable horses are mated.  No artifical insemination is allowed for Thoroughbreds. Breeding can be a dangerous process for horses and handlers, as Gregory discovered.

“I had three horses die in there,” he said. One was  Third Brother,  a full brother to Hill Prince, Chenery’s first  major champion and Horse of the Year in 1950. “He just dropped dead after breeding the mare,” Gregory said of Third Brother.

Another stallion fell over dead in the breeding shed, nearly crushing Howard Gregory and Howard Gentry against the wall. A rank stallion named Tillman was so ill-tempered that he would charge at any groom who dared enter his paddock.  Only the stud man, Howard Gregory, could handle him.

“I did not know what I was getting into!” he said in reflecting on his job.  However, not all of his charges were difficult. He was especially fond of First Landing, The Meadow’s second big champion.  First Landing was a favorite for the Kentucky Derby in 1959 and had a distinguished career as a four-year-old handicap horse. in 1961, he became the first homebred stallion to stand at The Meadow.

Virginians had roundly criticized Chenery for not standing  his Horse of the Year Hill Prince at The Meadow.  Rather the stallion had been sent to Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, just as Secretariat would be two decades later. Chenery explained that since many Kentucky mares would be visiting Hill Prince, he as a Virginia Gentleman must see that their convenience came first. 

By the time First Landing was ready to take up his new duties in the breeding shed, Chenery had more confidence in his farm’s reputation to stand him at The Meadow. To accommodate the bevy of mares seeking his affection, a new barn was built.  The grooms instantly dubbed it “First Landing’s Motel.”

Howard Gregory praised his favorite stallion’s disposition.  “He was very, very mannerable, ” he said.  “When I would take him around to breed, you’d never hear him squeal  or make a whimper or nothing.”

Though he did not win the Kentucky Derby in 1959, First Landing more than redeemed himself. He sired The Meadow’s first Derby winner.  Not Secretariat.  A bay colt named Riva Ridge, whose victories  in 1972 would save The Meadow from the auction block.

These are just a few of the stories about the  Stallions Barns.  If you come to one of our public tours, you may be lucky enough to find Howard Gregory and some of the other Meadow grooms at the barns, talking with visitors. 

And you can talk with these men “who had a good hand on a horse” and a hand in the success of some of racing’s greatest champions.

  First Landing with Howard Gregory

The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” are sponsored by the SFVA. Private group tours are available for groups of 30 or more at $10 per person.  Tours are also offered to the general public on certain dates.  The next public tours are on July 23 and September 10, 2011. For more information about the tours, see www.secretariatsmeadow.com  Tours are narrated by Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.”  Proceeds from the tours benefit the future Museum of the Virginia Horse to be built at The Meadow.

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

copyright 2011

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The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tour”…Following the Hoofbeats of History

Christopher T.  Chenery, the founder of Meadow Stable, visionary breeder of Secretariat, and horseman extraordinaire,  enjoyed riding his favorite saddle horse, Granite, all over the sprawling lands of his beloved Virginia farm, The Meadow.  He was “a bold rider who went bold places.” If you  were  fortunate enough to ride with him, you’d better be able to jump the eight-foot ditches in the Cove, the fertile bottom land land down by the North Anna River where the broodmares and foals grazed.

We make it much easier for you to see The Meadow today with our new narrated tram tours of this historic property.  You’ll see not only the Cove where Secretariat romped beside his dam, Somethingroyal, but also the original foaling shed where he was born on March 30, 1970; the stalls where he and The Meadow’s first Derby winner, Riva Ridge, stayed in both the yearling barn and the training center.  You’ll also see  the stallion barns and the horse cemetery where Secretariat’s “grandmother” is buried, as well as the site of the original 1805  home of  Chris Chenery’s ancestors, the Morrises,  and their  family cemetery. 

The original barns  and structures built by Chris Chenery have been carefully restored by the SFVA, which purchased The Meadow in 2003. Visitors can walk over to the stalls and other sites and take photos on the tour.

So hop aboard our tram and get ready to learn more about “the land, the family and the legend.” We’ll be describing various points of interest in each blog post as we follow Secretariat’s hoofprints across his native soil.   We’ll start with the Cove, which was essentially Secretariat’s nursery. It is also the source for two never-before-told stories about Secretariat and Riva Ridge, which you will hear on the actual tour.

 THE COVE – It was said that Chris Chenery created “an empire built on broodmares.”  But before he could start that empire, he faced the herculean task of rebuilding the farm, his ancestral homeplace which he had bought in 1936.  A casualty of the Depression,  The Meadow was in a such a sad state of disrepair that Mrs. Chenery called her husband’s project “Operation Rathole.”

The fields where Chris Chenery hoped to raise fine Thoroughbreds had been depleted by continuous tilling, and what should have been rich bottom land by the North Anna River was a weedy, brambly, impenetrable thicket .  The dikes built by the enslaved workers of the 1805 plantation had not been repaired after the Civil War, so the river easily overran its banks.  

But Chris Chenery, applying  his indomitable will (and behemoth-sized  bulldozers)  literally reshaped the land of The Meadow into his vision of a first-class Thoroughbred farm.   Then he began to use “his good eye for a mare,” acquiring what would prove to be some of the most influential matriarchs of the time.

This included the $750 bargain, Hildene, who gave him his first  major champion, Hill Prince, Horse of the Year 1950 and then First Landing, who would sire Riva Ridge.  Another great mare was  Imperatrice, who became the dam of Somethingroyal. 

 In addition to her Triple Crown son,  Somethingroyal gave racing  Sir Gaylord.  He was Chris Chenery’s third Derby contender in 1962.  Though he didn’t win the Kentucky Derby, Sir Gaylord would sire Sir Ivor, who won the Epsom Derby and took the Meadow Stable bloodlines to an international level.

By the time she had Secretariat in 1970, Somethingroyal was 18, “an old lady” as Penny Chenery called her. A sweet-natured mare, she undoubtedly exerted  a positive influence on her high-spirited chestnut colt.

Chris Chenery believed the mare was as important in the breeding equation as the stallion. His faith in the female contribution would find concrete scientific validation when it was discovered that Secretariat’s famous large heart came from the X chromosome of the broodmare. That large heart, which Penny called his “bigger power pack,” helped propel Secretariat into the record books and  the realm of legend. The iconic champions Eclipse and Man O’ War  had the large heart as well.    This genetic alchemy  also made Secretariat a great broodmare sire, allowing his daughters to pass his greatness onto their sons, such as A.P. Indy, Storm Cat and Smarty Jones.

Thus, the  once-brambly Cove of The Meadow became a lush oasis for the broodmares and their babies and a prolific nursery for future Thoroughbred champions.  It proved to be greener pastures for Chris Chenery, who had defied the skeptics and founded his Thoroughbred farm well off the traditional bluegrass path to success.  

You can view the sweeping vistas of the Cove from the tram.  And if you peer closely through the mists of time, maybe you’ll see a bright red colt frisking alongside  a patient bay mare, the dowager queen who gave racing an immortal son.

   The Cove, circa 1960, home of  “the empire built on broodmares”

NEXT STOP ON THE SECRETARIAT’S MEADOW TOUR… THE STALLION BARNS

 The “Secretariat’s Meadow Tours” are sponsored by the SFVA. Private group tours are available for groups of 30 or more at $10 per person.  Tours are also offered to the general public on certain dates.  The next public tours are on July 23 and September 10, 2011. For more information about the tours, see www.secretariatsmeadow.com  Tours are narrated by Leeanne Meadows Ladin, co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.”  Proceeds from the tours benefit the future Museum of the Virginia Horse to be built at The Meadow.

Leeanne Meadows Ladin

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