NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- This year marks the 40th anniversary of thoroughbred racehorse Secretariat's amazing run to the Triple Crown under the ownership of New Rochelle native Penny Chenery.
Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby in May 1973 followed by stunning victories in the Preakness Stakes (Baltimore) and Belmont Stakes (New York) to become the first horse to win the racing Triple Crown in 25 years. Seattle Slew and Affirmed achieved the feat in 1977 and 1978 and no other horse has won the Triple Crown since.
"I did all the things I did out of instinct," Chenery said in an interview with The Atlantic last year. "I was not trying to be a role model. I was not trying to do anything special. It just turned out that I had the opportunity to make some important decisions and my father had always brought me up to believe that you can achieve anything you wanted if you worked hard enough for it."
Chenery, now 91, was born in New Rochelle and raised in Pelham Manor. Her father Christopher Chenery founded and ran Southern Natural Gas Company, among other utilities. He also founded Meadow Stable, a thoroughbred racing operation and horse breeding business at The Meadow in Caroline County. Her father was admitted to New Rochelle Hospital in late February 1968 and remained there until his death in January 1973.
Penny Chenery's siblings originally planned to sell the operation when he became disabled. However, Chenery wanted to try to fulfill her father's dream to win the Kentucky Derby. The housewife and mother of four children was elected president of the board of Meadow Stud, which ran the racing stable.
In May 1971, Penny Chenery hired trainer Lucien Laurin and in 1972 they guided the Meadow Farm's colt Riva Ridge to victory in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes and the 2-year-old Secretariat to 1972 American Horse of the Year honors. The following year, Secretariat captured the imagination of racing fans worldwide when he became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. Both horses were inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
After many years as a Westchester resident, Chenery now lives near her children in Boulder, Colo. and remains involved in racing. The first leg of the Triple Crown -- the Kentucky Derby -- will be run on May 4. Chenery was portrayed by actress Diane Lane in the 2010 motion picture Secretariat appearing in a cameo role in the film as a spectator at the Belmont Stakes.