Secretariat's owner Chenery passes; Amy's Challenge victorious at Canterbury

Secretariat's owner Chenery passes; Amy's Challenge victorious at Canterbury

September 19, 2017 3:09 AM
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On Saturday, there were two wildly divergent stories about female newsmakers in horse racing.

One revolved around the death of Penny Chenery, the woman who owned and managed the career of the immortal Secretariat. The other story pertained to the stakes victory scored at Canterbury Park by the promising two-year-old filly, Amy’s Challenge.

Amy’s victory in Saturday’s Shakopee Juvenile Stakes actually was the second time she defeated male rivals, having scored her maiden win over males on Aug. 6. While that victory earned a 91 Beyer Speed Figure – the top Figure to that point by any two-year-old in 2017, this past Saturday Amy earned a 92 Beyer, narrowly defeating multiple stakes winner Mr. Jagermeister.

In commenting about the Shakopee Figures, my long-time friend Andy Beyer said he “double checked them and they are completely legit.” This, despite having been scored at Canterbury, a well-run, pleasant racing facility that operates well below the class levels we find at Belmont Park, Gulfstream, Churchill Downs and Santa Anita.

Still, as good as their performances were, it remains to be seen if Amy’s Challenge and/or Mr. Jagermeister (who earned a 90 Beyer), will go on to Del Mar on Nov. 4 to win the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, or the $1 million BCup Juvenile. Yet, no one should doubt these two unheralded youngsters from the midwest will be worth watching well into 2018.

Realistically, the story of Amy’s high quality performance was dwarfed by the passing of Penny Chenery, who lived a full life to reach 95 and died at her Colorado home of complications from a stroke. That said, after thinking about her and what she meant to horse racing, it is sad to realize so few of today’s horse players know anything about her.

Here is a brief recap:

Born in 1922, in New Rochelle, N.Y., Chenery was in love with horses early in life. But, during the Second World War, she volunteered to work with the firm that designed landing craft for the Normandy invasion. After the war she became a nurse’s aide, traveling to Germany and France to assist rehabbing GI’s.

Some 20 years later, when her father Christopher Chenery was suffering a terminal illness, Penny began to manage the family’s Virginia-based racing stable – Meadow Stable. While the stable seemed headed for bankruptcy, Penny and her father’s business secretary Elizabeth Ham managed to turn the financial corner.

The key proved to be the young race horse Riva Ridge, the top two-year-old of 1971, who also would win the 1972 Kentucky Derby. Then along came Secretariat!

After losing his career debut at Aqueduct in July, Secretariat won seven of his next eight, including dominating scores in the Hopeful at Saratoga, the Futurity at Belmont, the Laurel Futurity and the Garden State Stakes – America’s richest race that year.

Although Riva Ridge was so good as a 3-year-old in ’72 and Secretariat was disqualified to second for interference in the Champagne stakes, the powerfully built son of Bold Ruler was so impressive that Secretariat was voted Horse of the Year – an extremely rare honor for a two-year-old!

Then in 1973, those of us who were lucky enough to be there, or see his performances on TV, bore witness to the best horse of our lifetimes.

Trained and ridden expertly by Hall of Famers Lucien Laurin and Ron Turcotte, Secretariat became the first horse in 25 years to sweep the Triple Crown. And, he did that while setting a 1-1/4 mile track record in the Kentucky Derby and a world record for the 1-1/2 mile Belmont Stakes. During that fantastic season, Secretariat won nine stakes at six different tracks, including his final two in high profile races on the turf at Belmont and Woodbine.

Yes, Secretariat was second three times and third once during his immortal 21-race career. But, when I personally watched him perform at his best in 11 different races no horse of my lifetime would have given him a stiff challenge.

Chenery was a part of all of that because she put her heart and soul into horse racing and the care of her inherited stable. And, when that part of her life was heading to the finish line, she dedicated herself to becoming an ambassador for American Thoroughbred racing, putting herself into numerous situations where she earned the unofficial title of The First Lady of American Racing.

I met Penny a few times and was truly moved by her calm, easy going manner as she dealt with racing fans, stable hands, ultra-rich owners and racetrack executives. I am glad to have known her just a little bit and racing should be forever grateful for what she did.

Added Notes

World Approval earned a solid 108 Beyer Figure winning the $800K Woodbine Mile on the grass. Also, please note, no winner of the five Saturday stakes for two-year-olds at Churchill Downs and Laurel Park, came within 16 points of Amy Challenge’s 92 Beyer posted at Canterbury Park.