BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – The racing horse I’ll Have Another has won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and next Saturday it could capture the Triple Crown.
That would be exactly 39 years after Secretariat’s historic win at Belmont Stakes, a day Boulder resident Penny Chenery still remembers fondly.
Horse racing captivated the world of sports in 1973. For the first time in a quarter century, the sport of kings produced a Triple Crown winner with Secretariat, but the legend of Secretariat wasn’t just about a horse.
“He was my hero,” said Chenery, 90.
Chenery wasn’t just a fan of the big chestnut, she was his owner. And she still remembers 1973 like yesterday.
“I had the horse and I wasn’t going to let go. So I was not second-guessing myself, but I was sure having fun,” Chenery said.
The daughter of a Virginia horseman, Chenery’s early life revolved around horses. But in the 1960s she was far away from that world living in Denver with a family of her own.
“This is a great place to raise kids,” she said.
But after her mother died and her father’s health failed, Chenery made her way back to Virginia to take charge of the family’s horse operation. It wasn’t exactly a woman’s place in those days.
“I just thought, ‘This is my job and I know how to do it and kinda get out of my way.’ ”
Chenery’s business sense kept the racing stable and breeding farm afloat, but it was luck that brought her the greatest success. A simple coin toss decided Secretariat’s owner. It was a coin toss that Chenery lost, but she ended up with the horse that would give birth to Secretariat.
The run to history began at the Kentucky Derby. Secretariat’s winning time would set a record that still stands today. Two weeks later, Secretariat would capture the second leg of the Triple Crown at Preakness Stakes.
Secretariat and Chenery became celebrities.
“I couldn’t go to the supermarket without someone taking my picture or coming up to talk about the horse,” Chenery said. “It was just hell week and it was so much pressure.”
But the ultimate test was still to come — the Belmont Stakes. The grueling 1 1/2 mile track and the pressure to win it all was too intimidating for most Triple Crown hopefuls, but Secretariat seemed to relish it and played to his role.
“He’d hear the cameras click and he’d stop and put his ears up. ‘Is this my good side?’ ”
The cameras were everywhere at Belmont Park on the evening of June 9, 1973. And what the standing-room only crowd witnessed that night was nothing short of breathtaking. With only five horses in the race, Secretariat was the overwhelming favorite, and he didn’t disappoint. Secretariat ran away from the field and lead by an astonishing 31 lengths at the finish.
Secretariat’s crowning moment is forever frozen in time in a picture in Chenery’s Boulder apartment.
“It was a tremendous accomplishment and gosh, I’m proud.”
The story of Secretariat and Chenery was retold on the big screen a few years ago. The Hollywood film starred Diane Lane as Chenery and several horses took turns as Secretariat. Chenery says the movie was quite close to the real thing.
“I like the movie, I was proud of the movie, but it’s a romanticized version … it’s a Disney movie.”
This Saturday Chenery will be watching and rooting for another chestnut at Belmont — this time it’s I’ll Have Another.
“I think it would be wonderful to have a Triple Crown. It’s been 34 years since a horse has won the Triple Crown.”
In all, only 11 horses have achieved the racing immortality of a Triple Crown. Of course for Chenery, there’s one champion standing above the rest.
“People will say, ‘He could be another Secretariat,’ but nobody has said, ‘Oh, this horse is another Secretariat.’ That just hasn’t happened yet. It can. I may not be here.”