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What name follows almost every superlative in horse racing? Secretariat

Updated on September 21, 2017

Secretariat's Meadow . . .


The Superlatives . . .

Who was the ninth of only twelve Triple Crown winners?

Who won the Triple Crown after a gap between winners of 25 years (the largest gap up to that time)?

Who set the track records in all three races that make up the Triple Crown that have never been beaten?

Who set the American record for  1 12 miles on the dirt?

Whose syndication for sire price set a record at $6.08 million?

Who was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame the first year after his retirement?

At birth, whose veterinarian said, "He's legs are perfect"?

At birth, whose owner said, "He's too pretty to be good"?

Whose autopsy revealed the largest undiseased heart of any racehorse?

Who unexpectedly won Horse of the Year honors at the young age of two, then again as a three-year-old?

Who was the only non-human on ESPN’s 100 Greatest Athletes of the Twentieth Century?

What was the nickname of the all-time top two American racehorses?

(OK. It wasn't "Secretariat". But it was the name he was given at birth: "Big Red" - also the nickname of the great Man o' War, who did not win the Kentucky Derby only because his owner thought he was too young. His final win of 1919 was a match race against Sir Barton, who had won what would later be known as the first American Triple Crown.)

The Greatest Horse Race Ever

In the long-run . . .

Secretariat's record-breaking fees paid off. Although he sired several successful racehorses, he ultimately was most influential through his daughters' offspring, becoming the leading broodmare sire in North America in 1992. Cases in point: Risen Star won the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes in 1988. Lady's Secret won more than $3 million and was Horse of the Year in 1986. And the tradition of greatness coming through the line of the broodmare has continued. Secretariat produced 135 daughters who won more than six and a half million dollars by 1992, more than any other stallion. By 2000, his stud fee had risen to half a million dollars.

As Leanne Meadows Ladin wrote in "Secretariat's Meadow" (cowritten by Kate Chenery Tweedy) Secretariat's greatness came through his mother. "Champions like Eclipse, Man o' War, and Secretariat each had this big heart, which they inherited from their dam's X chromosone." The X-Factor breeding theory was pioneered by author/reporter/photographer Marianna Haun.

Maianna Haun helped the Associated Press break the news that Secretariat had died in October of 1989. She was sitting in the Claiborne Farm office waiting to photograph the famous horse, when she learned Secretariat had died moments earlier. Marianna's reporter instincts immediately kicked in. She called Lexington’s AP office saying she wanted her old office in Carson City, Nevada, credited with the tip. Most readers never stopped to wonder why a Colorado AP office was breaking this important horse racing story.

Marianna later learned Secretariat had an unusually large heart – estimated at 22 pounds, while the average Thoroughbred heart is 8.5 pounds. This tremendous cardiovascular system, pumping oxygen into his lungs at an abnormally high rate, was clearly a source of his stamina and power.

Secretariat's daughters produced sires such as Storm Cat, A.P. Indy, Gone West, Dehere, and Chief's Crown. Even In this year's Kentucky Derby, Secretariat's bloodline is prominent. Of the 20 contenders in the field, 16 of them can boast Secretariat in their bloodlines. (verified through

Secretariat's Kentucky Derby

By the numbers . . .

Since 1919, only 289 horses have won a single leg of the Triple Crown, 52 horses have won two of the races (23 the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, 18 the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, and 11 the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes).

Secretariat holds the undisputed track record at Churchill Downs (1 1/4 mile) and at Belmont Park (1 1/2 mile). His controversial time at Pimlico Race Course (1 3/16 mile) for the Preakness States was eventually recognized as a track record in 2012.


An electronic timer at the Preakness recorded a winning time of one minute, 55 seconds. But two independent clockers from the Daily Racing Form individually timed the race at 1:53 2/5. Officials admitted that there were "extenuating circumstances" with the electronic timer's recording and changed Secretariat's official time to 1:54 2/5. If Secretariat had run the race in 1:53 2/5, as the Daily Racing Form timed it, it would have meant a record at the time, but it has been matched (not beaten) since. Video technology forty years after the race confirmed the independent clockers' time, establishing an unbeaten record to go along with the other two for Secretariat.

That record-setting Preakness

Twice a Prince really came in second, but the movie had its own finish . . .

There was actually another horse . . .

In 1969, The Meadows wasn't becoming known for its green pastures. It was becoming known for its red ink.

The newest colt was not encouraging. Even with traces of a bloodline going back to the great Man 'o War, it was sickly and feverish a good bit of the time. Within a year, though, he grew to be a quiet but good-looking horse. He was named Riva Ridge after a hard-won battle by the U.S. 10th Mountain Division in WWII, the unit son-in-law Jack Tweety trained with before the war.

In 1972 Riva secured a hard-won battle for Chris Chenery by fulfilling the ailing Meadows' owner's lifelong dream of winning the Kentucky Derby. Hospitalized and mute by this time, Mr. Chenery's nurse made sure he understood that his horse had won. Her confirmation that he knew was a single tear trailing down his cheek.

But there would be no Triple Crown for Riva Ridge. Though he won the Belmont, the rain-soaked, muddy Preakness proved to be his undoing. Still, his winnings saved the family farm and its stock - including the big red stallion who would become known as Secretariat.

NOTE: Riva Ridge is not mentioned in the Disney film, "Secretariat," because they said there was only room in a movie for one champion.

Secretariat's Mom . . .


It came to pass . . .

Chris Chenery believed in building a racing dynasty through broodmares, the females, the mothers. Ironically, that belief proved true for his family as well.

In declining health and grieving the sudden death of his wife, he turned to his third child, Helen Bates "Penny" Chenery Tweedy, the only one of his children willing to take up the challenge of saving his life's work: The Meadows. His daughter held up against the doubts of her siblings. She mothered her own children untraditionally while fighting an uphill battle against the status quo of her day. The year after her greatest accomplishment was achieved in horseracing, the one thing the world expected her to do failed. Her marriage ended.

In the years that followed, after another attempt at marriage, Penny Chenery became the first female president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. She was one of the first three women admitted to The Jockey Club. In 2006 she was honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit for a lifetime of outstanding achievement in Thoroughbred racing sealing her place in history as "Secretariat's Mom." The ultimate broodmare.

Visit The Meadows in Doswell, Virginia

For information on the park, go to

And/or read the book, "Secretariat's Meadow" by Kate Chenery Tweedy and Leeanne Meadows Ladin at

At The Meadows


Past Posted:

Helen "Penny" Chenery died September 16, 2017, in her Colorado home following complications from a stroke at the age of 95.


Secretariat's Meadow - The Land - The Family - The Legend by Kate Chenery Tweedy, Leeanne Meadows Ladin

Racing Daily Forum, Mark Simon, Jerry Izenberg for the Star-Ledger

Kentucky Derby 2017 Contenders: Lineup and Pedigree for All Entries in the Field, Nate Loop, The Bleacher Report

That Stride . . . 25 feet



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    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 2 weeks ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      It is always rewarding when a reader gets so much out of an article. Thanks for your kind comments. Merry!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 2 weeks ago from Massachusetts, USA

      What a great article about a stunning horse. I hadn't heard of Penny's death in September. When I was just a kid, we used ride at an English Riding Academy in horse country back in New Jersey. Secretariat was anything anyone could talk about; he stole the hearts of many and stories of him were everywhere . One was how he loved his exercise and would, on occasion, gently toss a rider if he was led back to his stall before he was ready. His energy was amazing, and he had a stunning stride. Not many people know how large his heart was -- 22 pounds is huge. (I understand that Sham's - his competitor at the Derby -- weighed in at nearly 19.) Even more surprising is that it was in excellent condition when he died. And thank you for writing about Riva -- a horse that is often overshadowed by Secretariat.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I'm glad too that they emphasized that fact in the movie. I was sad to find out in my research that Penny's marriage actually did not survive.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 3 months ago from Ohio

      I remember watching Secretariat as a child. What an outstanding horse! I still get shivers down my spine watching him. That is amazing about his heart size, and that it was not diseased at his death. Proud to know that he was raised by a woman!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 5 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      You don't see that greatness in every generation. We were lucky to live at the time this amazing horse ran.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I still, from time to time, pull up that Belmont Race on YouTube to watch it, and I still watch it in awe. Going down the backstretch, pulling away from the other horses like they were standing still....I still get goosebumps.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 6 months ago from Oklahoma

      Very interesting.

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 6 months ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      Good to meet you, too, Kathleen! I work mostly on WordPress now, and occasionally add a Hub. I'm primarily interested in writing Fiction, though, and spend a lot of time with that (off the Internet.) Good luck with your writing projects!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I'll keep an eye out for your articles. I'm sure I'll learn enough to rewrite this one! I'm moving on to another project, but I'll pop onto HP from time to time. Glad I met you.

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 6 months ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      You're very welcome, Kathleen.

      I'm a sports nut, and horse racing always has been one of my favorites. I began watching the races on television, when they first were presented in black and white, and the Kentucky Derby became a regular sporting broadcast.

      I love the history and stats. Several years ago, I did regular horse racing articles on the Internet at Suite101 as the site's Horse Racing Contributor.

      The Chenerys, of course, went front and center with Secretariat in the mix, but it was, as you astutely pointed out, Riva Ridge who saved the family farm before Secretariat did his miracles.

      I enjoyed your Hub immensely!!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Jodah: Again, I am a novice in this field. Appreciate the additional information from you folks in the know. One thing I didn't include in this article was the fact that the Chenerys did not allow the autopsy to remove Secretariat's heart. So the weight of his heart is an estimate. I thought that was touching. Thanks for returning to my work!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Wow! Barbara, you know your stuff. This experience was my first foray into horse racing. This family was as much a part of the story as the horse(s) for me. Thanks for contributing to this article. And welcome to my hubs!

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 6 months ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      See me ABOVE -- I wasn't signed in before I started commenting the first time!!

    • profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg (Barbsbitsnpieces) 6 months ago

      Very well done, Kathleen! Secretariat arguably was the best ever American racing Thoroughbred. Another Triple Crown winner, Citation (45: 32-10-2) and Man o' War (21: 20-1-0) were right there, also.

      John Hansen, below, mentioned another horse nicknamed "Big Red" -- New Zealand-bred and Australian-raced Phar Lap, who also had claims to having the biggest heart recorded. He was awesome, as were a few other horses in other countries in their racing lifetimes.

      Another "Big Red" was the USA's Exterminator, who went to post an incredible 100 times. He finished his career winning exactly half of those races. Man o' War's owner refused to race against Exterminator. Tall and skinny, "Bones" (another nickname applied to him) won the 1918 Kentucky Derby and went 100: 50-17-17-(26) overall.

      In my heart, I agree that Secretariat was the best ever American Thoroughbred: even though his career record was less than some (21: 16-3-1-(1), he simply was unstoppable in the Triple Crown after recovering from an abscess, and his Belmont Stakes remains one of the most remarkably powerful races ever run. That triple speed record (still standing) speaks well for him to be referred to as the greatest racehorse we've seen in America.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 6 months ago from Queensland Australia

      This was a great hub as I am a racehorse lover, and Secretariat's name and champion are too words that will always be associated. There are comparisons with an early Australian champion Phar Lap who was also known as "Big Red" and who was found to have the largest heart of any racehorse at that time and still on display in the museum.

      Australia's current champion is a mare known as "Winx" which has currently won 17 straight races from 1300 (6 1/2 furlongs)to 2200 metres (11 furlongs) and rated World Mare and Turf RaceHorse of the Year in 2016 and 2017 and won over 12 million dollars in prize money.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Jo: You know Mr. Chenery was so set on winning the Derby for the exact reason that his horses were raised in Virginia! As a lover of the Derby, you'll really enjoy the book mentioned in the article. It is written by Penny's "rebel" daughter (from the movie) and a distant cousin. There is so much more in it!

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 6 months ago from Tennessee

      Enjoyed reading your story. As a Kentuckian, I've always enjoyed the Derby so know about the greatness of Secretariat, but much information here that I did not know. Sounds like a fascinating family story.

      Good luck with your novel writing and be sure to share your progress with us.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Followers: This is my last new hub for a while. Think a better use of my time is to go back to work on my new novel. Watch for some recycles though!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I wrote this article as a promise to Ms. Ladin after a wonderful tour of The Meadows with my grandchildren last April. I'd heard the birthplace of Secretariat was between Richmond and Fredricksburg, and I always wanted to visit. What a treat and too much information to contain in a hub! The book is fascinating, as was the tour! Thanks to Ms. Ladin for her hospitality and generosity.