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Christopher T. Chenery

Christopher T. Chenery
Induction Year: 
2019
Born: 
Sept. 19, 1886, Richmond, Va.
Died: 
Jan. 3, 19973, New Rochelle, N.Y.

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Bio

Christopher T. Chenery will always be associated with one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time. Triple Crown champion Secretariat will figure prominently in any biography of this celebrated horseman, as will the name of his daughter, Penny Chenery, whose leadership in the sport earned her a spot in the Hall of Fame and, not to mention, a prominent role played by Diane Lane in the movie “Secretariat.”

 

However, it is more than fitting that Christopher Chenery, founder of The Meadow stud and stable in his native state of Virginia, takes his rightful place in the Hall of Fame, too.

 

In “Legacies of the Turf,” Edward L. Bowen wrote of Chenery: “If one assigns to Chenery status as a breeder of all those foals born during his lifetime — irrespective of whether he was still in a decision-making situation — he and Meadow Stud were the breeders of 43 stakes winners. This is not a number that ranks with career figures of most individuals in this volume and its predecessor; but in terms of quality, Chenery’s record was difficult to overstate.”

 

A recap of Chenery’s success as a breeder includes:
 

  • Five of his horses were champions, including Horse of the Year winners Riva Ridge and Secretariat
  • Three of them won a total of six Triple Crown races
  • Four are in the Hall of Fame (Secretariat, Riva Ridge, Hill Prince, and Cicada)
  • Three mares won Broodmare of the Year (Hildene, Iberia, and Somethingroyal)
  • Sir Gaylord, the half-brother of Secretariat that went on to become a sire of international acclaim
  • Ten additional Meadow Stud horses became champions after Chenery passed away in 1973
  • When the Chenery estate sold 18 broodmares at the Keeneland November sales in 1978 and 1979, the net was $5,941,000

 

Likewise, Chenery’s contributions to the health and well-being of racing, particularly in his adopted home state of New York, can’t be understated. It’s safe to say that without him, the New York Racing Association would likely not exist, nor would the current alignment of meetings at New York racetracks of Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga.

 

“It is tough to grasp that a man who was the breeder of record for Secretariat might have done something even more significant for racing. Nevertheless, in developing the difficult plan that became the New York Racing Association, Chenery and his associates more or less saved the status of the New York Turf,’’ wrote Bowen.

 

Chenery’s influence on the structure and business viability of horse racing was widespread. In 1955, he helped found the Greater New York Association in order to promote racing. He was also a significant player in The Jockey Club, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association, and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

 

Prior to his involvement in racing, Chenery made a name for himself, and a good amount of money, as an engineer and utilities executive following his 1909 graduation from Washington and Lee University. He set off for the Pacific Northwest, surveying land for the railroad in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon. In 1918, he married Oregon native and Smith College graduate Helen Clementina Bates, and the couple had two daughters and son, settling near New Rochelle, New York.

 

In 1926, Chenery founded the Federal Water Service Corporation (after 1941 the Federal Water and Gas Corporation) and served as president and chairman of the board until 1948. His work in the emerging energy sector also saw him serve as chairman of the board of the Southern Production Company, Inc. In 1954 he formed the Offshore Company to conduct deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. He served as chairman of the board and chief executive officer until 1965.

 

But for all his pioneering success in the utilities and energy industries, Chenery’s true love was horses. He formed a deep affinity for the horses when, in his youth of relatively modest means in Ashland, Virginia, Chenery took time out from performing odd jobs to go ride horses belonging to his cousin at a nearby farm. He later purchased that very family farm where as a boy he rode his cousin’s horse.

 

That was in 1936, and that farm called The Meadow in Caroline County would be restored by Chenery, who then chose blue-and-white racing silks in honor of his Washington and Lee University fraternity, Phi Delta Theta. Breeding horses was now his passion, as he split his time between New York and Virginia. He started off by purchasing "four or five horses for a moderate price" in 1936, and soon afterward "a good 16-year-old horse named Whiskaway for $115."

 

It is worth noting that Chenery said he never could give up his “day job” as an energy executive and entrepreneur to devote himself full-time to horse breeding, something he could do “with one hand tied behind my back.” That’s a pretty riveting admission, given the acumen he had for building a successful stable of sires, broodmares, and racehorses.

 

The biggest move Chenery made in establishing the Meadow enterprise came in 1939 when he purchased his foundation mare, Hildene, for $750. Hildene foaled two of Chenery’s most important horses, Hill Prince, the 1950 American Horse of the Year, and First Landing, champion juvenile in 1958 and sire of Riva Ridge. He also owned Cicada, the champion filly three years running and at one time the world's leading money winner among mares. In 1947, Chenery added more quality to the Meadow Stable by purchasing a stakes-winning mare named Imperatrice. The $30,000 investment paid off: Imperatrice produced several stakes winners, but her most important contribution was an offspring named Somethingroyal, who produced leading stallion Sir Gaylord and — at age 18 — his half-brother, Secretariat.

 

The pedigree and prowess of these bloodlines was abundantly evident: Between 1939 and 1972, Chenery’s horses won more than $8.5 million on the track. Likewise, the horses Chenery bought and bred at The Meadow yielded an additional $12 million in overall breeding and sales, according to the New York Times.

 

By the time Secretariat was blazing his way into the record books in 1973, health issues had taken Chenery away from the daily operation of Meadow Stud and Meadow Stable. It was then that his daughter, Penny, was tapped to take over. But it’s worth noting how Christopher Chenery was every bit responsible for Secretariat’s very existence, since it was his decision to partner with Claiborne Farm to annually breed two of his mares to Bold Ruler. By 1968, with Penny Chenery now in charge of which mares to send to Claiborne, she chose Somethingroyal. In 1969, in a coin toss she lost over which foals each farm would get to keep, Penny Chenery wound up with Somethingroyal's yet-to-be-born second foal.

 

That is how Secretariat came to be born at the Meadow on March 30, 1970. Sadly, Christopher Chenery would not get to see Secretariat fulfill his promise and win the Triple Crown. Chenery’s passing came just months prior to Secretariat’s 31-length victory in the Belmont.

 

Penny Chenery may have been the star owner in the world’s familiarity and love for Secretariat, but that champion had Christopher Chenery’s influence all over him. Notoriety, however, was never the point. Producing great stakes winners on sure business footing was. For that, alongside his famous horse and daughter, Christopher Chenery takes his place now among racing’s immortals.

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