Film and TV

"Secretariat Was a Ham": Remembering Penny Chenery, Famed Horse's Owner

Penny Chenery during a 2013 interview marking the fortieth anniversary of Secretariat winning the Triple Crown.
Penny Chenery during a 2013 interview marking the fortieth anniversary of Secretariat winning the Triple Crown. YouTube
Penny Chenery, who owned Secretariat, a horse that won the Triple Crown in 1973, died Saturday in Boulder at age 95. She's being remembered as an ambassador for the sport, which she helped promote long after her most famous thoroughbred retired from the track, notably by way of 2010's Secretariat, a Disney film in which she was portrayed by Diane Lane and made a cameo appearance.

Chenery, who raised her four children in Colorado and returned to Boulder to be near them in 2003, traced her love of horses to the influence of her father, Christopher Chenery, who ran a horse-breeding enterprise in Virginia. But she stayed out of the business for many years, choosing instead to help her husband, Jack Tweedy, during the period when he founded the Vail ski area.

But in the late 1960s, as her dad's health began to fail, Chenery took control of his racing stable, and by the early 1970s, she'd started to make her mark, first with Riva Ridge, which won the Kentucky Derby in 1972, and then by way of Secretariat, which has gone down in history as one of the great thoroughbreds of the twentieth century. 

This trajectory had Hollywood written all over it, but it would be decades before a film about the horse reached the screen. It wasn't exactly a critical triumph: Our review of the flick is headlined "Secretariat's shmaltzy script cannot save it from the glue factory." But Chenery happily took part in the movie's publicity campaign, and she also conducted multiple interviews in 2013 to mark the fortieth anniversary of Secretariat's achievement. Here's a conversation from that period, focused on the horse's victory in the Belmont Stakes.

In another interview from that year, Chenery said, "Secretariat was a ham. He loved the attention." And because she wasn't exactly a shrinking violet, either, they made an ideal match.

Today the name Secretariat is still firmly fixed in the public consciousness, in part because of efforts like a Twitter account in his name.

This is how the page is remembering Chenery:

Chenery reportedly died from complications related to a stroke. She is survived by her four children, as well as seven grandchildren and a stepson. Plans for a public memorial are pending for one of Boulder's most venerable, and most spirited, personalities.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts