As preparations continue for the third season of Thoroughbred racing at Colonial Downs under the ownership of the Colonial Downs Group, another group began initial prep work for an upcoming event at the New Kent track, and it has strong ties to Colonial’s signature racing surface — the Secretariat Turf Course.
Kate Tweedy, daughter of Penny Chenery Tweedy — who owned the great Secretariat — visited the track last week from her nearby home in Ashland, Virginia to begin planning a Secretariat Fans Day at Colonial Downs on August 30. The celebration will take place the day before the Virginia Derby and include a silent auction, guest celebrities and other aspects to benefit the Secretariat Foundation.
Once her meeting prep was complete, Tweedy ventured out onto the massive turf course with a big smile on her face and inspected the plush green racing surface.
“I’ve always loved Virginia,” she said. “I relocated from Colorado to Ashland three years ago to develop a place where we can share Secretariat’s memorabilia and history and to celebrate his legacy. To have Colonial Downs back open again with this great turf course named after him is just icing on the cake.”
The foaling shed and barns at Meadow Farm in Doswell — located several miles from Ashland — are still in place and the site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I used to come to Virgnia as a kid and have fond memories of being at my father’s farm in Doswell,” said Tweedy. “There’s that emotional pull of course. And Ashland is a beautiful retirement town. Next year would have been Mom’s 100th birthday and Riva Ridge’s 50th anniversary of his Kentucky Derby and Belmont wins. And 2023 will be the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown season. I love being part of the Virginia story and coming full circle.”
Tweedy’s connection to horses began as a young child growing up in the suburbs of Denver. She had a horse, belonged to pony clubs and competed in pony shows in her youth. Every August, she would visit her grandparent’s house in New York and would attend races at Saratoga and Belmont. She saw her share of races long before Secretariat and Riva Ridge competed. Decades later, she is preparing to honor the legacy of both as landmark anniversaries approach. “It’s a mystique that has been with me my whole life.”
Tweedy is a writer by trade, has penned two racing-oriented books to date and is working on a third. Along with co-author Leanne Meadows Ladin, “Secretariat’s Meadow” and “Riva Ridge, Penny’s First Champion” have already been published. She is currently working on a mother-daughter memoir.
“It’s going to be Mom’s story,” she said. “So many people looked up to her as a breaker of glass ceilings and an icon of determination and strength at a time when women were struggling to gain a foothold. I’m a member of the family and an appreciator of the racing history that my granddad and mom put together.
I never could have imagined that he’d still have this kind of drawing power,” said Tweedy as she spoke of Secretariat. “I think at the time we were blown away by what he did, but we also suspected the future may have something special in store. People who saw him race are aging, but the Disney movie (released in 2010) helped create a whole new group of fans. It’s a legacy we were unbelievably lucky to have. His Belmont Stakes win is one of the greatest sporting events of the 20th century.”
Tweedy witnessed that special 31-length triumph in person and has a vivid recollection of the scene after Secretariat crossed the wire.
“That moment was well beyond what anyone’s expectation or dream was,” she recalled. “Everybody was babbling and crying. It was so emotional. Since then, I’ve added up the times of each Triple Crown winner and Secretariat’s is still the fastest by five seconds when you add the three together. I don’t think we’re ever going to see that mark fall.”
Even with that accomplishment, Tweedy recalls two of his other races she cherishes: “I just loved the Preakness. The move he made in the turn was fabulous. His sheer athletic power in that race was so impressive. And as a two-year-old in the Hopeful, his burst between horses was something I’ll never forget. He was blocked by three horses on the rail and in the home stretch there was a momentary opening and he just shot through. You just never see something like that from a two-year-old.”
Tweedy is a big fan of history and since moving to Virginia, she has spent time investigating her family’s history and has also reconnected with a less positive angle of it.
“Many of my ancestors were families that had plantations and slave people,” she said. “I’m working with descendants of some of the grooms who worked at The Meadow for my grandfather, who were in fact descendants of people that were enslaved at The Meadow in the previous century. We have a racial reconciliation group that wants to find a way to tell their history. We’re linked in a way that I’m a descendant of people who owned The Meadow and they are descendants of people who were enslaved there.”
“It’s not a legacy Secretariat descended from,” Tweedy added. “The Chenery’s were not involved but the family my granddad married into was along with his great, great aunt.”
As part of the process, Tweedy is hoping to make a video from footage of taped interviews conducted in 2007 with some of the grooms that worked at the Meadow Farm.
“There are some wonderful stories they shared about taking care of Secretariat and traveling around the country in the days of segregation,” noted Tweedy.
Her group also discovered an old graveyard where the enslaved people were buried, and they hope to put a plaque there to recognize them.
This summer in New Kent, Colonial’s Secretariat Turf Course will host plenty of action beginning with the July 19 opening day card which features a four-pack of $100,000 stakes — three for Virginia-Restricted horses and one for Virginia-Breds. In all, 21 of the 25 stakes scheduled will be contested on grass, including the New Kent County Virginia Derby card on August 31. The season continues through September 1 with racing every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 1:45 PM (EDT).
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