The story of Secretariat is timeless.
Those who wrote it are not.
Penny Chenery, the owner, died on Saturday at 95.
Trainer Lucien Laurin passed away in 2000. Eddie Sweat, the groom whom Secretariat followed like a dog trailing his master, left in 1998.
The jockey, Ron Turcotte, lives in a wheelchair.
Secretariat himself lived to 19 before a structural problem in his hoof defied treatment.
Chenery was the stately woman in the sleeveless white print dress who joyfully held up her arms as Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes.
If she had been forced to hold her arms up until runner-up Twice A Prince arrived, she might have passed out.
No one had seen such a victory margin, or would until Tiger Woods came along. They had to break down the film to determine that Secretariat won by 31 lengths, or a 16th of a mile. That’s a unanimous decision even in Las Vegas.
When announcer Chic Anderson saw Secretariat flee from his four understudies, he exclaimed, “Secretariat is moving like a tremendous machine!”
The champion broke the track record for a mile and a half by 2-3/5 seconds, just as he had broken the 1973 Kentucky Derby and Preakness records. He still has them all. He was the first Triple Crown winner in 27 years.
Chenery took a little knowledge and a lot of luck and concocted history.
Her father Christopher founded Meadow Stable. When he was afflicted with Alzheimer’s, suddenly the horses were hers.
In 1972, Chenery, then married to John Tweedy, won the 1972 Derby and Belmont with Riva Ridge, which saved the company financially.
By then Secretariat was a monumental 2-year-old who easily could have raced for Ogden Phipps. The Phipps stable had Bold Ruler, one of the great sires in racing history, and it arranged to breed him to one of the mares in Chenery’s barn.
The families held a coin flip to see who would get the pick of the first foals. Chenery lost.
Phipps got a filly named The Bride. The next group belonged to Chenery, and a red colt came forth with a white star on his snout.
“And we got Secretariat’s sister,” Phipps said, “‘who couldn’t outrun me.”
When Christopher Chenery died, a whopping estate tax bill arrived. Penny syndicated Secretariat for $6.08 million, months before the Triple Crown season. For the stockholders it was a reach that became a bargain. But now Secretariat wouldn’t run past his 3-year-old season. He was too valuable in the barn at Calumet Farm.
He won 16 of 21. The what-might-have-beens were silenced by…