Penny Chenery has never been afraid to speak her mind. As the 81st Honor Guest at the Thoroughbred Club of America’s annual Testimonial Dinner, held at Keeneland Race Course on Sunday night, Chenery scanned the list of previous honorees and noticed there had been only three other women.
“All I have to say,” she said, slowly but resolutely, “is ‘Come on, guys!’” That remark brought some whoops and hollers from a crowd that is usually a bit more reserved at this function. But Penny Chenery has been telling it like it is for a long time, and that’s just one reason this Testimonial Dinner, according to Thoroughbred Club directors, had its largest turnout in history.
As the head of Meadow Stable during the great runs of Riva Ridge and Secretariat 40 years, and in industry leadership positions in the ensuing years, Chenery wasn’t just setting an example for other women. Through words and actions, she has demonstrated dignity, class, and an all-too-rare understanding that the sport has to open up to its fans, to be more accessible.
“If we love the industry, we need to promote it,” she said. “And if we’re lucky enough to have a good horse, we need to make that horse available to the public. Ours is a shrinking world. This is our job. Promote the horse.”
She advised other owners who have a star horse in their stable to “welcome the groupies, set up a website. Do anything you can to make non-racing people understand. We shouldn’t be a closed society.”
Chenery said she signed more than 280 autographs this weekend at the Secretariat Festival in Bourbon County, Ky., but also took time to visit the Hancock family’s historic Claiborne Farm in Paris, where Secretariat stood at stud from 1974 until his death in 1989. “Yesterday, 300 people went through Claiborne Farm,” she said. “That is what we have to keep doing. You cannot bottle that experience.
“Go to the track,” Chenery chided the audience. “Take a friend, or even take someone you don’t like. We have to promote the live experience. Being at the farms, being at the sales, being with the horses.”
There was no horse that promoted racing better than Secretariat, who was featured not just on the covers of magazines like Sports Illustrated but on Time and Newsweek during his unforgettable Triple Crown run of 1973.
“The horse was a ham, I was a ham. It worked for me,” she said.
To read the rest of the story at the Paulick Report, click here.
To see the TCA testimonial program, click here.