Penny Chenery, who owned the great Secretariat, is 89 years old going on 25. She was a breath of fresh air Saturday at Santa Anita when her and Zenyatta’s owners, Jerry and Ann Moss, spent about two hours signing selected prints of “Racing Royalty: Secretariat and Zenyatta” in the East Paddock Gardens.
Chenery, who lives in Colorado, was in town to present the Mosses with the inaugural Secretariat Vox Populi (Voice of the People) Award, which will be given annually to the horse that generates the most interest in thoroughbred racing in a given year.
This past year, that horse happened to be Zenyatta, who was named 2010 Horse of the Year last month at the Eclipse Awards ceremony in Miami Beach and will soon be bred to Bernardini.
Chenery, portrayed by actress Diane Lane in the recent Disney movie, “Secretariat,” handed out the Secretariat Vox Populi Award to the Mosses in the winner’s circle following the sixth race.
Earlier, she spoke to the media about Secretariat’s awesome 31-length Belmont Stakes victory in 1973, which made “Big Red” the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948.
“The week before the Belmont was hell week,” she recalled. “We were on three magazine covers, there were reporters behind every bush. I loved it, but it certainly was exhausting.
“When Secretariat turned for home and opened up that huge margin, and at the end I’m making like (New York) Mayor LaGuardia throwing my arms in the air. Well, that was as much relief as celebration.”
Chenery also recalled when she was at Hollywood Park for last fall’s running of the Lady’s Secret Stakes during the Oak Tree meet and saw Zenyatta score the final victory of her spectacular career.
“I was in (Zenyatta’s) presence, and that’s just the way I felt,” she said. “Being that she’s so in command of her environment, when I was presenting the trophy, she walked toward me and she looked me up and down and sorta said, ‘Hmmm, I guess you can be in my presence.’
“She’s just a magnificent creature.”
Asked if fans’ reaction was any different during Secretariat’s day compared to the hoopla surrounding Zenyatta, Chenery said no.
“Fans are fans,” she said. “They love horses and they love us (owners) because of the horses. There is just so much kindness, so much goodwill. We’ve been signing for I don’t know how long, and my back hurts. But I would love to keep signing just to experience the good vibes they give us.”
Jerry Moss said Secretariat’s career came before he got involved in horse racing, but he said he heard about Big Red and saw all the magazine covers. He saw how powerful the horse was and how much he was loved by the fans.
Chenery said there was nothing quite like the thrill of victory.
“Seeing your colors come across the finish line first is a thrill, no matter what the level,” she said. “It’s what you hope for for that horse that day. (Racing) is a little richer, there’s more money (now), but the basic thrill is still there, ‘I did it! My team did it! My horse did it!’ They can’t take that away from you.”
They also can’t take away the thrills both horses gave the many fans who were blessed enough to have seen both run.