Updated on 09/20/2017 10:38AM

Penny Chenery, owner of Secretariat, dies at age 95

Penny Chenery was the first female president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders' Association.

Penny Chenery, the beloved owner of Secretariat whose influence on the sport spanned decades and whose standing inspired generations of women in racing, died on Saturday at her home in Colorado from complications of a stroke at age 95, her family announced on Sunday via her publicist.

Chenery was best known for the way in which she shared Secretariat with the public, both while he was racing and in burnishing his legacy after he retired, but she touched the sport in countless ways.

Among her many accomplishments, Chenery won the Eclipse Award of Merit in 2006, was the first female president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, was one of the first women elected to The Jockey Club, was president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, was on the executive committee of the American Horse Council, helped found the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, created the Secretariat Vox Populi Award and the Secretariat Foundation, and was a decades-long ambassador for the sport.

“Except for my parents, she was probably the person who influenced my life more than anyone,” said Amy Zimmerman, the vice president of business development at Santa Anita and a longtime member of the racing production team at NBC Sports. “I went from watching Secretariat on television to knowing this was what I wanted to do. And to have her become a treasured friend is more than anyone could ask.”

Zimmerman, who won the Penny Chenery Distinguished Woman in Racing Award in 2011, would go to Colorado every January to tape a segment with Chenery in announcing the Vox Populi Award.

“Whether as the owner of Secretariat, the brilliant Triple Crown champion she campaigned nearly a half-century ago, or as a leader and ambassador for the sport she loved, Penny Chenery led an extraordinary life that touched Thoroughbred racing fans and others in a unique and personal way. Thankfully, her legacy will live on for many generations to come,” Alex Waldrop the president and chief executive of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said in a statement.

Secretariat was the 1973 Triple Crown winner and is widely regarded as the greatest racehorse of the second half of the 20th century, if not ever. He was Horse of the Year in 1973 as well as in 1972, as a 2-year-old.

In addition to Secretariat, Chenery also campaigned Riva Ridge, the 1972 Derby and Belmont winner.

“I’m sad to see her go, but she had been suffering lately,” said Ron Turcotte, the jockey who won five Triple Crown races aboard Secretariat and Riva Ridge. “She was quite an ambassador for racing. She’s going to be sorely missed by a lot of people. I’m going to miss sitting next to her, signing autographs.”

Chenery also bred Saratoga Dew, the champion 3-year-old filly of 1992.

Secretariat died in 1989 from laminitis, and research into that crippling disease was one of Chenery’s keen interests over the past 28 years, along with finding proper homes for retired racehorses. She also spoke out against the use of performance-enhancing medication.

Chenery was born Jan. 22, 1922, in New Rochelle, N.Y., to Christopher and Helen Chenery. Christopher Chenery, who owned utility companies, owned the farm The Meadow in Virginia and raced a small but classy string of homebreds, including the champions Cicada, First Landing, and Hill Prince.

After graduating from Smith College in 1943, Penny Chenery joined a naval architecture firm that designed landing craft for the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France, in June 1944. She later served as a nurse’s aide in a stateside hospital, then in 1946 went to France and Germany with the American Red Cross.

Chenery entered Columbia University’s Business School, but six months shy of graduating became engaged to attorney Jack Tweedy, whom she married.

In 1950, the couple moved to Denver, where, among other ventures, they helped raise the initial funds for the Vail ski resort, where Jack Tweedy was the first board chairman.

Chenery, along with her siblings, took over management of Meadow Stable in the late 1960s, her mother having died and her father in failing health. She was voted president of Meadow Stud. Riva Ridge’s 3-year-old campaign occurred in the final year of Christopher Chenery’s life. He died on Jan. 3, 1973.

Her father had long sought the counsel of Bull Hancock of Claiborne Farm, which is where Secretariat went to stud. His syndication was completed for a then-record $6.08 million before his 3-year-old campaign, having been arranged between Penny Chenery and Bull’s youngest son, Seth, in part to raise money for inheritance taxes following her father’s death.

Secretariat brought Chenery to the forefront, and she embraced the responsibility. Her reaction when Secretariat won the Triple Crown, her arms waving wildly with joy after the finish of the Belmont Stakes, is imprinted with anyone who saw the race on television that day or has watched the replay over the years. Secretariat was the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, at the time the longest drought since the Triple Crown was first swept in 1919.

Even though Secretariat retired from racing more than 40 years ago, Chenery remained an in-demand figure right up to the present day. She could hardly take a step at a track without a well-wisher coming up to greet her.

She is survived by four children and seven grandchildren.

“We are deeply proud of our mother, her accomplishments, and her courage,” her daughter, Kate Tweedy, said in a press release. “As we mourn her loss, the example of her strength, her intelligence, and her enduring spirit continue to inspire us.”

A public memorial service will be announced soon, according to her publicist, Leonard Lusky.

“We have always been overwhelmed and amazed by the love and support mom received from her many fans,” her son, John Tweedy, said in a press release. “We look forward to a time soon when we can celebrate her life in a way that honors that legacy.”

In lieu of flowers, the Secretariat Foundation is offering special Penny Chenery Memorial fundraising projects on behalf of selected equine-related charities.  For details, visit Secretariat.com.

:: From the DRF archives: 'Penny & Red' far more than a horse story (2014)

:: From the DRF archives: Penny Chenery's life, unscripted (2010)