Secretariat: Too Pretty to be Good
Sometimes the best racehorses are the homeliest. Sometimes they are not.
At 10 minutes past midnight on March 30, 1970, a foal was born who would draw more attention to racing than any horse since Man o’ War. The chestnut colt with three white stockings was stunningly bred–by Bold Ruler out of Somethingroyal, a Princequillo mare–and he looked it.
“He was wonderful looking, almost too pretty to be good,” said owner Penny Chenery. “He was one of the bigger foals but not outsized. He was just standard issue but with a lot of chrome. The year before, we had Riva Ridge, who was truly a homely foal, solid bay with mule ears and a narrow chest. He turned out to be such a good horse that the pretty chestnut wasn’t what I was looking for. I was looking for another Riva Ridge.”
As the chestnut colt romped and grew at The Meadow, the Chenerys’ family farm in Virginia, Christopher Chenery’s personal secretary, Elizabeth Ham, and his daughter Penny Chenery (then Tweedy) tried to come up with a name for him. In Secretariat: The Making of a Champion, author William Nack recounts that the first five names submitted to the American Jockey Club were turned down (not an unusual occurrence).
Chenery’s first choice was Sceptor, Ham’s was Royal Line. Something Special was rejected, along with Games of Chance and Deo Volente (God Willing). Then Ham, a former diplomatic secretary, came up with another suggestion. The Jockey Club approved, and the young chestnut with all the chrome had a name. It was Secretariat. The Triple Crown was his future.