Chronicles: Racing Into History A statue of Secretariat made a stop in Lexington last spring, as the man whose dream produced the Virginia-born racehorse was a W&L alumnus and trustee emeritus.
It’s been 50 years since the great racehorse Secretariat won the Triple Crown (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes). And so it’s fitting that this spring, a statue of the Virginia-born racehorse made a stop in Lexington, as the man whose dream produced Secretariat and many other top Thoroughbreds was a W&L alumnus and trustee emeritus: Christopher Chenery, Class of 1909.
Chenery (1886–1973) grew up in modest circumstances in Ashland, Hanover County, Virginia. He rode horses belonging to a cousin in next-door Caroline County. Before entering W&L in 1907, he attended Randolph- Macon College and surveyed for a railroad. He graduated with a B.S. in engineering and even taught the subject at W&L.
He started his engineering career in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. During World War I, at Camp A. A. Humphreys (later Fort Belvoir), Virginia, he taught riding to cavalrymen. After the war, he held various engineering posts until 1926, when he embarked on a long corporate career that included the creation of the Federal Water and Gas Corporation, the Southern Natural Gas Company, the Southern Production Company Inc., and the Offshore Company. For W&L, Chenery chaired the bicentennial celebration in 1948–1949 and served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1950 to 1970.
When he wasn’t presiding over boardrooms as a CEO, Chenery could be found at his Thoroughbred operation in Virginia, The Meadow, having bought in 1936 the Caroline County farm that had belonged to his kin. His blue-and-white racing silks nodded to his alma mater of W&L. He owned, bredand raced such famed horses as Riva Ridge, winner of the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.
By 1968, Chenery, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, had turned the business over to his daughter Penny Chenery Tweedy. She arranged the pairing of the famed racehorse Bold Ruler and The Meadow’s broodmare Somethingroyal. The result: Secretariat, born at The Meadow on March 30, 1970.
The big red horse became a worldwide celebrity. The 1972 and 1973 Horse of the Year, he took the Triple Crown, set speed records, triumphed at the Belmont by 31 lengths, and won 16 of 21 total races. The charismatic stallion was syndicated to stud for the then-record sum of $6.08 million. In late 1973, Secretariat retired to Claiborne Farm, in Paris, Kentucky, where he lived until his death on Oct. 4, 1989.
Chenery died on Jan. 3, 1973, four months before his most famous horse won the Kentucky Derby and rocketed into history.