Mrs. Penny Tweedy Chenery was the owner of the Chestnut Zeus, a thoroughbred whose real name was Secretariat.
[cleeng_content id="380190142" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]But contrary to the enjoyable Disney Productions film “Sectretariat” it wasn’t Big Red that saved Meadow Stable from insolvency; it was the gazelle-like Riva Ridge that did the deed.
Slight of build and nothing like the speciman that was Secretariat, Riva Ridge was involved in the Triple Crown series just one year before the Thoroughbred for the Ages made his historical march through the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1973.
When Riva Ridge was 2 and then three-years old, Meadow Stable had more problems than just staying solvent. Penny’s mother died suddenly and her father was sick enough to need constant care.
Riva Ridge was the two-year-old Horse of the Year in 1971 and as a three-year-old he won both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, which he took by almost eight lengths.
In winning the 1972 Kentucky Derby, the spindly-appearing, mocha-colored colt gave Mrs. Chenery the money to do what she felt was necessary to hold on to Meadow Stable.
She often said she would have felt the same strong bond between Riva Ridge and herself no matter what he did on the race track.
“It was his personality that drew me closer to him,” she said long after her thoroughbred who ran with a deer-like grace over fast racing surfaces had completed his career.
“Riva was such an accessible horse,” she said one afternoon after reaching her 80th birthday. “He was just a sweet, homely, lovable galoot. He kept everything -— the morale, the plan, the program — going until Secretariat came along to do his remarkable things.
“Without Riva, I can’t guarantee we would have even had Secretariat. We might have lost him to Mr. Phipps, or we might have sold the horses by then.
“The bankers weren’t comfortable with having a Colorado housewife’s major asset being racehorses.”
Lucien Laurin, who became a fabled figure because of his association with Secretariat, was the trainer of Riva Ridge. He had been coaxed out of retirement by Mrs. Chenery, among others. Since she was learning the intricacies of the racing business by flying by the seat of her pants, trainer Laurin often did what he wanted with Riva Ridge.
As a light-on-his-feet two-year-old, Riva went to Florida and won the Hibiscus Stakes before weeks later being turned toward Kentucky where he would smother the other Kentucky Derby wannabes by four lengths in the Blue Grass Stakes.
A fast track greeted the field for The Derby. And Riva ran away to a 3 1/4-length win by leaping out to the early lead and then going wire-to-wire in front.
When Mrs. Chenery whispered the Derby news to her failing father that one of his Meadow Stable thoroughbreds had taken the classic race, tears streamed down his cheeks.
The same clinging mud that had dragged him down in the Everglades Stakes was present in Baltimore at the Preakness. The light-bodied Riva Ridge couldn’t get through the deep mud and finished fourth.
Laurin brought him to New York for the long, long Test of Champions, the Belmont Stakes. With a clear lead, he didn’t receive any stretch competition from the others struggling through the last stages of the 1 1/2-mile struggle. He won by nearly eight lengths.
With little or no rest, Riva was kept at running by trainer Laurin. He struggled. Sometimes badly. At other times he was swallowed by the mud that met his efforts.
Finally, the winter came and there was a rest period.
Refreshed and still just as talented, Riva began racing as a four-year-old. In the late winter and spring, he made the headlines for Meadow Stable. Wins came. And he set track records.
Then Secretariat began his quest for the Triple Crown.
Riva Ridge and his doings were sent to the shadows.
Months later, Mrs. Chenery entered both Secretariat and Riva Ridge in the first-ever Marlboro Cup Invitational at 1 1/8-miles.
The mighty chestnut thundered to a win in a world record time of 1:45 2/5ths with Riva Ridge finishing second.
After accepting the congratulations offered in the Marlboro winner’s circle, Mrs. Chenery was straightforward, “I was proud of him,” she said of Riva Ridge. “I was sure Secretariat would outrun Riva; he was just a stronger horse. But I was delighted with Riva’s performance. He beat a lot of good horses that day.”
The lithe and light-weight champion closed his life on the race track with a track record performance in the Stuyvesant Handicap at Aqueduct.
It was in 1998, the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame inducted Riva into its gallery of stars.
“That was such a lovely moment for me,” Penny said in a light-hearted way that did keep her from crying. “He was so special to all of us. I’d like him to be remembered just the way I’m talking about him now — a very good horse with a high turn of foot who, when we didn’t foul him up, was capable of pretty remarkable things.”
Mrs. Chenery’s Meadow Stable had two world-class thoroughbreds. And both were loved in their own right … for their own accomplishments and their own personalities.[/cleeng_content]