Secretariat tours at historic birthplace offer insider information
Visitors who tour Secretariat’s historic birthplace get the inside scoop. Secretariat Birthplace Tours at The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County offer a behind-the-scenes look at the historic property and the Thoroughbreds raised there. The tours are led by Leeanne Ladin, co-author of Secretariat’s Meadow – The Land, The Family, The Legend.
“Meadow Stable had very famous horses long before Secretariat came along,” Ladin explains to tour participants. She shares that Christopher Chenery bought the property in 1936 to raise racing Thoroughbreds, and he had several national champions. But after 1962, Meadow Stable began to decline, along with Chenery’s health. In 1967, “everything came to a crashing halt,” Ladin said. “Mrs. Chenery died, and Mr. Chenery went into the hospital and never came out.” He never got to see Secretariat win the Triple Crown.
Tour guests learn that the Chenery’s daughter, the late Penny Chenery, was asked to take over the business. She was determined to fulfil her father’s dream of breeding a Triple Crown champion.
Riva Ridge entered the picture in 1969 and, in 1971, won $500,000 as a 2-year-old. “He saved this farm,” Ladin said. “In 1972, Riva Ridge became the first Meadow Stable horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Mr. Chenery’s dream. His nurse had the TV on in his (hospital) room, and when she told him that Riva had won the Derby, tears streamed down his face.”
The next year, Secretariat won the Triple Crown, breaking track records in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. Those records still stand today.
That kind of insider information is one of the draws of the tours, which have attracted everyone from local 4-H clubs to visitors from as far away as Germany. They are offered six days a week year-round.
Ladin has spent the past decade gleaning information about The Meadow’s history. She has met and interviewed Penny Chenery; Ron Turcotte, Secretariat’s jockey; the late Charlie Davis, his groom; and other former Meadow employees.
The State Fair of Virginia bought The Meadow Event Park in 2003 and stabilized the remaining historic barns. Tours and Secretariat-themed events began on a small scale. Then Virginia Farm Bureau Federation bought the property in 2013 and hired Ladin to manage the Secretariat tourism program.
Today, the Meadow Historic District is listed on both the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Part of the proceeds from the Secretariat tours goes to the venue’s historic barn restoration fund operated by the Museum of the Virginia Horse.