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Penny Chenery And Her Horse, Secretariat

Victoria Bonavita Penny Chenery Joe Bonavita's portrait

When I was 11 years-old, I had the opportunity to sit down for an exclusive interview with Ms. PennyChenery at the beautiful Saratoga Racetrack in Saratoga, NY to discuss her life and her amazing racehorse, Secretariat. In 1973, Secretariat won theBelmont Stakes and the Triple Crown by a record 31 lengths. He is considered to be the greatest racehorse of all-time. Ms. Chenery also realized her father’s dream of winning the Kentucky Derby the previous year with their horse, Riva Ridge – who also won the Belmont Stakes, but missed winning the Triple Crown due to a loss at the Preakness.

Ms. Chenery grew up with horses. As a girl, she inherited her father’s passion for them and rode constantly, both at home and at the Virginia horse farm, The Meadow. She said she loved the eyes of a horse, “They look at you and they tell you a lot”.

She adored her father and always tried to make him proud. During my interview I asked her, what was the most important thing she learned from him? “Believe in yourself – he taught me, you can do anything you are willing to work hard enough to achieve – you can do it”. Although Secretariat lost his first race, Ms. Chenery knew he was special. “He was so good looking that you expected a lot from him. He had to learn to race” – and he did. Secretariat went on to do the impossible, by winning the Belmont Stakes by a record 31 lengths. In the movie ‘Penny and Red’, Ms. Chenery said, “At the Belmont, he was on his home turf, he was at his peak of fitness, peak of self-esteem. He was just out there, I’ll show you what I can do”.

I asked, after the Belmont race, if Secretariat could talk, what do you think he would say to you and what would be your response? She replied, “Well, I think he would say something like, what do you think of that, was that good enough for you? And if I dare get that close, I would of put my arms around him and given him a kiss – but you didn’t get familiar with Secretariat”.

Ms. Chenery always said, the horse can’t talk, so I must talk for him. And I believe she did just that. Penny Chenery was an amazing person. She never gave up and always worked hard for what she believed in. Sadly, she passed away on September 16, 2017 at the age of 95 in her home in Boulder, Colorado. I will forever be thankful for the special opportunity I had to meet this amazing woman. I thank Mr. Leonard Lusky, Ms. Chenery’s friend and business partner, for helping to make that possible.

You can see the 1973 Belmont Race and my full interview with Penny Chenery on my YouTube channel, ‘Victoria’s Amazing World’.

Secretariat by Joe Bonavita

Victoria’s Fun Facts and Tips:
• In 2010 Disney released the movie ‘Secretariat’, which tells the story of the amazing racehorse and its owner.
• After Secretariat retired, Penny Chenery went on to become an ambassador for Thoroughbred Racing. She also became the first female president of the Thoroughbred Owner and Breeders Association.
• Originally, Secretariat was called “Red”, but that wasn’t unique enough for the Jockey Club. Meadow Stable’s secretary, Elizabeth Ham, submitted five names, all of which were denied for various reasons. Approval finally came with the sixth submission, a name Ham herself picked from a previous career association.
• After my interview, Ms. Chenery graciously signed a portrait of Secretariat that my great grandfather, Joseph Bonavita, painted in 1976. It’s something I will always treasure.
• A “length” is equal to the length of a horse from nose to tail – approximately 8 feet.
• An autopsy revealed that Secretariat’s heart was twice the size of a normal one.

For memorabilia and information on Penny Chenery and the legendary racehorse Secretariat, visit

Written by Victoria Bonavita

For more information on me, please visit And if you’d like me to visit your school or library for one of my animal education programs, please contact me at


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