When the Run for the Roses ran through Vail
The Run for the Roses, the Kentucky Derby, rolled through early Vail thanks to Vail pioneer Penny Chenery Tweedy, who owned thoroughbred legends Riva Ridge and Secretariat.
Let’s start with a few Derby Day teachable moments:
1. Chenery Tweedy named Riva Ridge after the Vail ski run and the World War II battleground; the run was not named after the horse. Riva Ridge was the battleground in Northern Italy on which Vail founder Pete Seibert was badly injured, along with so many other members of the famed 10th Mountain Division who were wounded or killed.
2. Riva Ridge was Chenery Tweedy’s first great champion, winning two of the three legs of horse racing’s Triple Crown in 1972: Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. In between, Riva Ridge ran fourth in the Preakness Stakes. Secretariat was his stable mate while he was accomplishing all that.
3. The next year, of course, Secretariat rolled through the Triple Crown like no horse ever has. Secretariat became a national hero and was even named Time magazine’s Man of the Year. Above a picture of Secretariat on the cover, Time magazine’s cover proclaimed, “The Man of the Year … is a horse. Secretariat.”
“I’m certainly more nervous than he was,” Penny Chenery told ABC Sports as Secretariat took the track before the Belmont Stakes.
Tweedy became “The First Lady of Racing.”
At the time, Penny Chenery Tweedy was married to Jack Tweedy, the Denver attorney who did much of the legal work for Vail Associates and the fledgling ski area in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When they weren’t in their Littleton home, they were in Vail.
Penny and Jack met in the 1940s when she was working on her MBA at Columbia Business School in the 1940s, a bold step for women in those days. She was one of 20 women students among 800 men.
Penny’s father, Christopher Chenery, founded Meadow Stable in the 1930s back in Virginia. Christopher Chenery had an eye for mares, and for 40 years he bought as many promising mares as he could. He bred them to the best stallions he could find and raised racehorses.
Christopher Chenery’s horses won all sorts of races, but he lost in three runs at the Kentucky Derby.
By 1968, Christopher Chenery was in his 80s and had developed Alzheimer’s. He had three children, and Penny Chenery headed back to Virginia to run the stable. She could run the business, but knew nothing about breeding or training horses, so she taught herself, reading everything she could get her hands on and talking with anyone with something useful to say.
In 1972, Riva Ridge brought Meadow Stable to national prominence, winning the first and third legs of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.
In 1973, Secretariat was a 3-year-old chestnut stallion and ran away with the Triple Crown. His Kentucky Derby win was followed by record-setting performances in the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, which he won by 31 lengths.
Christopher Chenery is recorded as Secretariat’s official breeder. Racing columnist Bill Nack wrote in his book on the racehorse that in 1968, Penny Chenery decided to breed their mare Somethingroyal, to Bold Ruler. The first breeding produced the filly The Bride. The second breeding resulted in Secretariat on March 30, 1970.
“It was an auspicious start for Penny Tweedy,” Vail pioneer Dick Hauserman wrote in his book, “The Inventors of Vail.”
Like his owner, Secretariat knew his own mind.
“He was feisty. He wasn’t mean. But he’d nip at you as if to say ‘You’re in my space,’” she told the Post.
Secretariat ran 21 races and won 16. He retired to stud in 1974.
When Secretariat died in 1989, we learned that he really was a lean, mean running machine who was mostly all heart. His heart weighed 22 pounds, doctors learned during the autopsy, twice what most horse hearts weigh.
Information for this story came from Vail pioneer Dick Hauserman, author William Nack, The Denver Post and recorded interviews with ABC and CBS sports.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.