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Kentucky Derby, Secretariat and Traveller

With the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby tomorrow, thoughts turn to the great Secretariat, who won the Derby (and the Triple Crown) in 1973. Washington and Lee proudly claims a connection, for Christopher Chenery, a member of the W&L Class of 1909, started The Meadow farm in Doswell, Va., in the 1930s. There he bred and trained many superb Thoroughbreds, including Riva Ridge (who won the Kentucky Derby 40 years ago) and Secretariat. Chenery even chose blue and white as the colors of his racing silks to honor his alma mater. (A set of The Meadow Farm silks has been on display in Warner Center.)

Secretariat’s legacy continues tomorrow, for an astonishing 16 of the 20 horses in the Derby field are his descendants. According to the blog over at Secretariat’s Meadow, three of Secretariat’s daughters (Weekend Surprise, Terlingua and Secrettame) have produced colts (A.P. Indy, Storm Cat and Gone West) that excelled both on the track and in the breeding shed. In turn, 16 of their descendants will be competing at Churchill Downs tomorrow.

“Secretariat’s Meadow: The Land, the Family, the Legend” is a 2010 book by Kate Chenery Tweedy (granddaughter of Christopher Chenery) and Leeanne Meadows Ladin. They will be in the stands at the Derby tomorrow along with Christopher Chenery’s daughter, Penny Chenery, who oversaw Secretariat’s career. The great horse’s Derby record of 1:59  2/5 still stands. Writes Ladin, “Will one of his descendants dare to try and break it?”

One of those horses, Hansen (a great-great-great-grandson of Secretariat), even produced a nationwide radio mention about W&L’s other famous horse. During his May 2 sports commentary on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” sportswriter Frank Deford talked about Hansen, who is white, an unusual color for a young Thoroughbred. Deford went on to discuss white horses in literature and history, including “Robert E. Lee’s famous mount, Traveller,” he said, which “really was a white horse.”

Well, kind of. As Deford correctly noted, Hansen and Traveller are really gray. Most white horses are born gray, and their coat color grows lighter as they grow older. Such is the case with Hansen, and with Traveller, who clearly sported a black mane and tail in all of his photographs.