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coverSecretariat’s Meadow: The Land, The Family, The Legend
By Kate Chenery Tweedy and Leeanne Ladin
Dementi Milestone Publishing, September 2010, 160 pages hardcover

There is no doubt in any sports fan’s mind that 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat is one of the greatest Thoroughbred racehorses of all time. However, many events had to fall into place for the big red chestnut to mark his place in history, even as far back as before the Civil War. In her third non-fiction book, author Kate Chenery Tweedy, daughter of Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery, tells the story of The Meadow, that sacred land in Virginia, and how it led to the 31-length romp that was the Belmont Stakes. Many books have already been written about Secretariat and a movie is soon to be released, but this new book offers a unique perspective on the background history, as told by a direct descendent of James Gunn Chenery, who moved to Virginia from Massachusetts in 1842. Tweedy and co-author Leeanne Ladin spent 3 years researching this project, including many interviews with family members as well as past employees. She also was able to incorporate her personal experiences at the farm and the track, and used more than 200 photographs from her family’s collection.

Kate Tweedy tells the Secretariat story from the perspective of her family, sharing with the reader how she and her famous mother Penny experienced those magical moments in 1972 and 1973. Christopher T. Chenery’s death in January 1973 meant an enormous estate tax bill would be due, forcing the tough decision on whether to sell Secretariat, the champion 2-year-old, or race him in the Triple Crown in hopes of inflating his value further. Penny insisted they race, and settled on a record syndication of $190,000 per share. Kate enjoyed going to The Meadow to visit the horses, but often felt uncomfortable and out of place at the track. She only occasionally watched from her mother’s box and viewed the Kentucky Derby at home on television with her sister Sarah.

The Meadow was a 3,000 acre parcel of land that had seen many owners over the years, starting with the native Indians before it was taken over by the British colonists and used for tobacco farming by the Carter family. The property got its name from the fact that it is mostly wide open plain, in stark contrast to the hilly terrain around it. It then passed to the Morrises, who are also prominent ancestors, and then to the Harts. Meanwhile, James Gunn Chenery’s grandson Christopher made his fortune first in the Federal Water Service Corporation and then Southern National Gas Corporation and the Offshore Company. As a horse-crazy boy, Christopher exercised horses at Bullfield Stable, a Virginia breeding powerhouse that produced champions in both Thoroughbred and harness racing. Working there gave him the ambition to one day build a similar farm of his own, “an empire built on broodmares”. Now wealthy, he set out to complete his mission and bring The Meadow back to the family. After purchasing the land, Chenery used his engineering expertise to improving the water and soil quality, built dikes to hold back the river, and then finally built the barns and training tracks.

Chenery was able to watch many of his homebred champions race, including Hill Prince, Cicada, and First Landing, but as his health failed, the farm began to lose money. Of his three children, only Penny was willing and able to take over the family business, but clearly the pressure was on to turn a profit or give up the farm. After knocking at the door for years, Meadow Stable finally won the Kentucky Derby in 1972 with Riva Ridge, saving the farm from extinction. He won the Belmont Stakes 5 weeks later, but a wet track at Pimlico denied him a Triple Crown when he finished fourth in the Preakness. While Riva Ridge slowed down during the rest of his 3-year-old season, a 2-year-old Meadow Stable homebred, won in a coin toss, was attracting the attention of racing fans with his enormous size and dominating performances on the track. Sadly, Christopher Chenery was never able to witness either of his Derby victories in person.

A thorough epilogue titled “The Legend Lives On” covers what happened after Secretariat and Riva Ridge left to stand at stud. Penny did not appreciate a “Welcome Home Secretariat” sign she saw on his arrival at Claiborne, noting that Virginia is his home. Over the years the Meadow was sold in parcels, and in 2003, just 360 acres remained, the heart of the property including the barns and the training tracks. The State Fair of Virginia purchased it to preserve the farm’s place in equine history and move the annual fair to what is now called the Meadow Event Park.

Kate Chenery Tweedy has produced a very fitting tribute not only to Secretariat, but to her late grandfather Christopher Chenery, her mother Penny Chenery, and everybody who had a part in the success of the Meadow Stable, especially the many African-Americans grooms who worked at the farm. This book is strongly recommended to racing fans especially history aficionados, as it tells such an important story of the American turf. Secretariat fans who could tell his story on their own will truly enjoy Tweedy’s first-hand account, as someone fortunate to have personally witnessed greatness in her family, their farm, and their horses.

Secretariat's Meadow has a list price of $29.95 and can be purchased from Amazon.com for $20.21, from Secretariat.com, or the directly from the publisher at SecretariatsMeadow.com.

Rating:     5/5

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