Penny Chenery, who took over her father’s thoroughbred farm with little knowledge of horse racing and became one of the few prominent women in the sport as the owner and breeder of Secretariat, perhaps the fastest horse who ever raced, died on Saturday at her home in Boulder, Colo. She was 95.
Her death was announced by her family.
When Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes in 1973, capturing the Belmont by an astounding 31 lengths, he was a national celebrity. He appeared on the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated and attracted thousands of fan letters.
When Secretariat died at 19 in 1989, Ms. Chenery, who oversaw his fortunes as the manager of her family’s Meadow Stable in Virginia, recalled how he had enthralled so many in troubled times.
“In 1973, the country was in an emotional slump,” she wrote in The New York Times. “It was the time of the Watergate and Nixon scandals, and people were looking for something wholesome to admire. I’ve always felt that because he was a chestnut horse and our stable colors were blue and white, he was running in red, white and blue.”
The story of the wonder horse and the emergence of Ms. Chenery as a pre-eminent figure in thoroughbred racing have endured in popular culture. It was reprised in the 2010 Disney film “Secretariat” with Diane Lane portraying Ms. Chenery as the elegantly dressed and quietly determined owner and Ms. Chenery herself appearing in the film as a race spectator in the grandstand.
Ms. Chenery first gained prominence in 1972, when Secretariat was horse of the year as a 2-year-old and his 3-year-old stablemate Riva Ridge, who is not mentioned in the film, won both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.
In 1973, when Secretariat became the first Triple Crown winner since Citation, in 1948, and was again horse of the year, Ms. Chenery, then known as Penny Tweedy, followed figures like Lucille Markey of Calumet Farm; Elizabeth Arden Graham of Main Chance Farm; and Allaire C. duPont, owner of the champion gelding Kelso, in the limited circle of thoroughbred racing’s well-known women.
“Lucien Laurin trained and campaigned the horse, not me,” Ms. Chenery noted long afterward in recalling Secretariat’s glory years. “I discovered I had the ability to communicate with the public, though, and as the horse’s spokeswoman I suppose people began to think of horses being owned by women.”
Mr. Laurin, along with Secretariat’s jockey, Ron Turcotte, and his groom, Eddie Sweat, shared portions of the spotlight with Ms. Chenery. But it was she who developed an uncanny bond with Secretariat in the view of Randall Wallace, who directed “Secretariat” the motion picture.