HE MEADOW STUD. Its is a modest place, as thoroughbred farms go, with its rambling, rather stately white clapboard house and its clean white barns trimmed with blue rising from spring fields coming green again after a hard winter. Just down the road lies the gaudy sprawl of King's Dominion amusement park, near Doswell, Va. This is where Secretariat, the wondrous thoroughbred they said could have run for office, was born. These days when fairy-tales are read to be dissected, the saga of Secretariat seems fanciful at best.
There was the man, Christopher T. Chenery, who made a fortune in utilities with which he was able to buy back the family land known as The Meadow - it had passed out of family hands during impoverished times after the Civil War - and fill its gently hilly fields with blooded horses. And there was his fair-haired daughter, Helen "Penny" Tweedy, who inherited her father's sporting tastes along with the management of the farm and the racing stable after his health began to fail. And the red-gold horse with very blue blood who ran fast enough in 1973 to win the Triple Crown, a feat no horse had managed since Citation, back in 1948.
Christopher Chenery didn't live to see Secretariat's greatest triumphs on the track, but from his hospital room he did watch on television another of his horses, the long-eared, affectionate Riva Ridge, win the Kentucky Derby in 1972. It was the beginning of The Meadow's comeback on the racing scene, active proof of the old horse breeder's adage, "Blood will tell."
There was a lot of talk when it began to look as if Secretariat might not ever be a father. It was positively scandalous, but although he had been syndicated for $6.08 million - $190,000 a share - he failed to pass his fertility test. He was the piece de resistance of 30 years of selective breeding, he had been twice named Horse of the Year in the racing world, and his seed was valuable, to say the least. Christopher Chenery was dead, and The Meadow's fate was in question. Penny Tweedy literally was banking on him, the handsome sone of Bold Ruler, out of Somethingroyal, grande dame of The Meadow mares.
And then "Big Red" - whose admirers called him by the nickname which had belonged exclusively to Man o' War until The Meadow's burnished upstart began to attract so much attention - did "settle" his mares, as they say in the horse business. And Riva Ridge was syndicated to stand at stud, too, for more than $5 million. For a time, at least, The Meadow was saved.
Now their progeny inhabit The Meadow's patures - yearlings, 2-year-olds just learning to negotiate a track, and new spring foals. Out in Kentucky, the first offspring of Secretariat to touch hoof to track in a real race - a chestnut filly known as, yes indeed, Sexetary - finished fourth in her debut last Saturday at Keeneland. Time marches on . . .
Riva and Secretariat don't live at The Meadow now, but in Kentucky where most all the socially acceptable stallions are.
Penny Tweedy, who announced her divorce from tax lawyer Jack Tweedy early in 1974, and has recently become Mrs. Lennart Ringquist, says she sees Secretariat and Riva a couple of times a year. They're standing at stud at Claiborne Farm, a bluegrass showplace owned by Seth Hancock, son of the late "Bull" Hancock who was an old friend of her father's.
"For the longest time, I felt Secretariat really knew me.But now, with crowds of people who are willing to wait an hour to get a look at him - and it isn't the first visit for some of them either - he seems to have suffered a change in personality," she says. She once told a reporter that she called the red horse "sexy" and some people joked that she had fallen in love with him, or at least with his glamourous aura.
"But poor old Riva," she sighs, "who just doesn't have the glamour and who's not the handsome horse Secretariat is, and who always been more of a people horse - he knows me."
The wind at The Meadow is very strong, and it makes talking difficult.
One tends to watch the horses silently instead, or limit remarks to the laconic but suggestive phrases horse people use to communicate with each other.
"Good hindquarters," says Howard Gentry, kindly, ruddy-faced farm manager at The Meadow for 31 years, who is reputed to have said when Secretariat was born, "There is a whopper," and who is unofficial keeper of the operation's secrets - the pedigrees and blood lines Mr. Chanery chose.
Western Front, a bay 2-year-old son of First Landing - the grand old man of The Meadow who sired Riva Ridge and at 21 is still producing offspring - skitters across his paddock after his morning workout and lets fly with his heels at nothing in particular. His every movement is a little threat of speed.
"He really has matured in the month since I've seen him," says Penny Ringquist. She spends much of her time in New York, where she has a house on Long Island's North Shore, and she travels to watch her horses race, to present trophies, and, as president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, to represent the sport.
She met Ringquist, who says she's already gotten him "hooked" on racing, while doing a talk show at a local New York station two years ago. He's a tall, gray-haired producer at Metromedia, and she says she is as interested in his business as he in hers, partly due, no doubt, to the large dose of TV exposure she got during Secretariat's heyday.
"Something has to be done about that tail, if I have to break it," says Al Homewood, the Irish farm trainer who used to manage a riding club in New York when Mr. Chenery was alive, and schooled Penny Revson, among others, to win at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden. "He looks like a Saddle horse," he scoffs, leaving no doublt in anyone's mind as to his opinion of most any horse which isn't a thorughbred.
Western Front, oblivious to praise or blame, is amusing himself by snorting and trotting about, holding his tail in "falglike" fashion, as they say in books for and about horseloving adolescent girls. He is a little gangly in his movements, pitching his weight too far forward when he halts so that the delicate, finely bred racer's forelegs have to take the strain. He carries his head low when he runs.
Everyone watches in silence for a moment, and Homewood says, " Hill Prince, First Landing - they ran with their heads low. They all went to the track like hunters, and it never bothered them any."
They won, it seems, not showily, but with quiet workmanlike precision. In another year, Western Front may be like that. Or Straight Flush - a son of Riva Ridge and a half brother of Secretariat, presently considered the best of the 2-year-olds - or Flying Bravely, another Fist Landing son, or Hope For All, a bright chestnut daughter of Secretariat.
"Are you going to save the form?" asks Penny Ringquist of Hope For All, whose dam was called, as one might expect, Hopespringseternal. It's what she said to Riva Ridge, and to Secretariat, now to their sons and daughters. "I always like to say that the land nourished the horses and the horses saved the land." There is always a need for more money - for feed and help and fence repair and entry fees and breeding fees and new horses and training fees and track fees and bills from the veterinarian. And so, while there is "big money" to be made in racing, it takes "big money" to win it.
"Always before, we've raced our own horses," she says, "but this year we're selling six yearlings. Nearly all the breeders sell yearlings now, except Calumet Farm. And Paul Mellon doesn't sell yearlings. But John Galbraith does and Bert and Diana Firestone, and Eddie Taylor in Maryland, who is the world's leading breeder now."
Back in 1975, one of Secretariat's weanling colts sold for $25,000, breaking the record for weanling prices previously set by Paul Mellon, who once had paid $202,000 for a weanling filly. "I would think it's risky enough, buying a yearling." says Mrs. Ringquist. "You really have no idea how he's going to turn out." The percentage of young thoroughbreds who make it to the track is discouragingly small and of those who do, the percentage of winers is incredibly tiny. Conformation faults, minor weaknesses, lack of drive and the will to win, and accidents all take their toll in the terrific competition.
"We have a horse racing now, Patriot Stand, by Hoist The Flag out of Bold Experience, who has all the equipment," Mrs. Ringquist says."He sound, he's a big strong horse, and he's handsome. But he's chicken. When they break from the gate and that mud comes flying back in his face, he just won't run -"
The percentages are against him, but, as Howard Gentry is fond of saying, "Mr. Chenery always said, 'Hell, if I couldn't beat percentages, I'd get out of it."
The trophy room at The Meadow is in a sort of refurbished basement in the house Chenery rebuilt from what his daughter remembers as "a gaunt shell." Winnier's circle photographs line one wall, and built into the others are glass cases which display 37 years' worth of accumulated gold and silver plate, and a few pieces of antique silver Paul Mellon recently began to give as trophies, setting a trend. Mrs. Ringquist points out in the photographs the increasing informality of dress over the years, fom the early days when her mother invariably wore white gloves and a hat, with something beautifully tailored, to the more recent past when - though the stakes were higher - a simple cotton dress would do.
"Racing costs so much these days," she says, noting that "Twenty-five percent of the purses go out again immediately - 10 per cent in jockey's fees, 10 per cent ot the trainer, and another 2 per cent toward such things as "the backstretch welfare fund."
Meanwhile, "The overhead here at the farm has doubled in the last few years," she says. "Racing and breeding have always supported this place.It's only lost money in, let's see, three years now in the last 20. You see, dad wasn't really a very wealthy man."
Because she is away so much. Gentry and Homewood, whom she calls "the Sunshine Boys" - Gentry, bemused behind rimless spectacles, often playing straight man to Homewood's graying Irish rake - must keep things well in hand.
There are young horses to be watched over the reared in civility and started under saddle, broodmares to be tended, all-important foalings to be supervised, and the mares, accompanied by their week-old foals, to be shipped to Kentucky and bred again for the next year.
Four grooms and as many as three exercise riders begin work at 7, says Mrs. Ringquist,and everyone keeps busy until all horses have been worked, cooled out, groomed, turned out in paddlocks, or returned to clean stalls with fresh straw beds.
In winter, when the ground is sealed and unyielding, everything is suspended, it seems. The horses are turned out anyway, with a silent prayer that they not slip in the slick fields and injure themselves, for they are too high-strung and energetic to be confined in stalls for days at a time. The broodmares, heavily in foal, await their time and many deliver in the little white clapboard foaling stall while the eaves are still heavy with snow.
The news from the track filters back, of racewon or lost, of horses fulfiling their promise or pulling up in disappointment. Lucien Laurin, the man who trained Riva Ridge and Secretariat, is no longer training for The Meadow. A "public" trainer, or one who takes horses from various stables, handles The Meadow's stock now - Steve Dimauro, who was named Trainer of the Year two year ago. This year, The Meadow's Derby - or "Triple Crown," as Mrs. Ringquist has begun to think of it - prospects haven't prospered: The handsome but diffident Patriot Stand, and the less handsom but eager Spirit Level may be ready for stakes later in the summer, she thinks, but most of the glory of the 1977 season will go to other horses, toher stables.
At noon, when the Ringquists are at the farm, there may be "a business luncheon" at the big house. Everything is still quite formal there, Mrs. Ringquist says, as her mother would have wanted it.
"The two girls who come in twice a week when we're away to keep the place were trained by my mother, which means service plates and everything else, always. But we're here so little." She strokes the fabric of a small coach. "This has probably been here for 40 years without ever being recovered, and with luck, will probably be here for 40 more. We think it will last." She gestures toward the whole of the elegant dim room. "We hope it will."
As self-appointed keeper of her father's legacy, Penny Chenery Tweedy Ringquist has made it her business to learn something about bloodliness and something about racing. Some oldtimers still scoff at her, the Colorado housewife who stepped into the winner's circle with horses she'd not turned a hand to "make," and who has been a fixture on the racing scene ever since.
Though the glamour of Meadow Stable has faded somewhat in the interim between Secretariat and Riva Ridge's turf successes and the performance of their progeny, her enthusiasm hasn't waned in the slightest. She talks less about the famous Meadow mares and their daughters, who were the backbone of her father's breeding program, and elaborates on the potential of the stallions who brought The Meadow fame.
"There has been so much talk about how Secretariat isn't going to make it as a sire, about how Riva's foals all look like him while Secretariat's come in all shapes and sizes, about how Riva is going to be the better sire. Well, I say I just hope they're both marvelous."
She and Len Rigquist and Howard Gentry and Al Homewood prepared to go in to luncheon. There is some discussion of who has been or is interested in going to the Kentucky Derby, as it doesn't look as if The Meadow will be represented in the field this year.
"I'd like to go something running," Gentry says.
"He means the manager of The Meadow Stud has never been to the Kentucky Derby," says Homewood in Irish, lilting mock incredulity.
"He can't go," says Penny fondly, with her famous smile. "He's got to keep the next generation coming along."