LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – Penny Chenery, owner of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, will go down in history as a pioneer for women in Thoroughbred racing and an owner with the “people’s touch.”
Chenery died Sept. 16 in her Colorado home following complications from a stroke. She was 95.
Chenery became lovingly known as the “First Lady” of Thoroughbred racing during her lifetime. She took over her father’s racing stable in the late 1960’s when he became too ill to work.
In 1972, Chenery’s colt, Riva Ridge, won the Kentucky Derby. The following year, Secretariat swept the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes sending him into stardom. Chenery became well-known as “the voice” of Secretariat, a great ambassador for the horse racing industry, and an advocate for equine welfare.
“You could call her racing royalty but I don’t think that really fits the bill because anybody could approach Penny Chenery,” said John Asher, vice president of Racing Communications at Churchill Downs.
It didn’t matter if she was talking to someone very well-connected in the Thoroughbred racing industry or a casual fan wagering two dollars. “She made you feel like the most important person in the world,” Asher said.
Chenery’s unique way of connecting with people was a resounding quality noted by those who knew the “First Lady” well.
“She would give you her undivided attention and make you feel like you were the only person in the world,” jockey Pat Day remembered. “The industry lost a great friend. She’s a great loss to the racing industry and a great loss to society at large.”
Leonard Lusky, Chernery’s longtime friend, and business partner said it was important to Chenery to make every fan feel special.
“She was so accessible, she was such an average joe. She loved her glass of bourbon and a dirty joke. I mean, she was just ‘one of the guys’ so many times,” Lusky said.
Lusky said he always admired how well-versed Chenery was on a variety of topics, joking that she was not a “one trick pony.” He said the 95-year-old loved sports, especially UK Basketball, and had just taken up painting.
“As sad as I am, I’m also just so grateful to have been around and to have seen what she accomplished – it was incredible,” Lusky said. “She was truly a pioneer.”
A public memorial will be held for Chenery in the coming weeks. Those plans have yet to be announced.