Penny Chenery Announced As Winner Of 2017 Big Sport Of Turfdom Award

by | 11.13.2017 | 1:26pm
Penny Chenery, the "First Lady of Thoroughbred Racing"

The Turf Publicists of America (TPA) announced today that the 2017 Big Sport of Turfdom award, which recognizes a person or group of people who enhance coverage of Thoroughbred racing through cooperation with media and racing publicists, will be presented posthumously to Penny Chenery.

Chenery, the owner of 1973 Triple Crown hero Secretariat, philanthropist, and one of the industry's preeminent figures for five decades, won in a vote determined by the nearly 150 active members of the TPA, a trade organization of Thoroughbred racing publicists and marketing executives. She was also the winner of the Big Sport of Turfdom award in 1973.

“Mrs. Chenery was such an ambassador for our sport and was so incredibly generous in sharing of herself and the legacy of Secretariat all these many years to the media and fans alike,” said TPA President Rhonda Norby. “It is most fitting that she has been awarded the Big Sport of Turfdom a second time to bookend her incredible contributions to racing.”

The Big Sport of Turfdom will be presented to Chenery's daughter, Kate Tweedy, at the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program's annual awards luncheon on December 5, emceed by Santa Anita Park track announcer Michael Wrona. The luncheon is part of the 2017 Symposium on Racing & Gaming at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, Ariz.

The luncheon is included in registration fees for the symposium. Additional information about the luncheon may be obtained by contacting TPA Secretary/Treasurer Dave Zenner.

Chenery, who realized her ailing father's dream to win the Kentucky Derby with homebred Riva Ridge in 1972, passed away September 16 at the age of 95.

“This honor is such an appropriate way to remember Mom's devotion to racing and to its fans,” said her daughter, Kate Tweedy. “Like the TPA, she believed in sharing the excitement of racing. She would be thrilled to be recognized once again in this way.”

In 1973 Secretariat became a pop culture icon, and for the ensuing years Penny Chenery was a careful steward of the legacy of “Big Red.” Always charming, engaging and quick-witted, she represented her equine champions with poise, elegance, eloquence, and excellence, and she also had a keen business sense.

She was the first female president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. She became one of the first women admitted to The Jockey Club and helped found the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. Chenery created the Secretariat Vox Populi award, annually honoring racing's most popular horse, as well as the Secretariat Foundation, which assists and supports various charities within the racing community. She received the 2006 Eclipse Award of Merit for lifetime contributions to the Thoroughbred industry, and in recent years, she advocated for laminitis research and care advancement.

The Big Sport of Turfdom has been presented annually since 1966 and Chenery is the fourth two-time winner, joining jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. and trainers Carl Nafzger and Bob Baffert, who won in 2015 as part of “Team American Pharoah.”

Last year's winner was Art Sherman, the trainer of 2014 and 2016 Horse of the Year California Chrome. Other previous winners include jockeys Mike Smith, Pat Day, Chris McCarron, Bill Shoemaker, Angel Cordero Jr., Eddie Arcaro and Gary Stevens; trainers D. Wayne Lukas and Jack Van Berg; as well as other individuals who have made significant contributions to the sport, such as announcer Tom Durkin, author Laura Hillenbrand, broadcaster Jim McKay, turf writer Joe Hirsch, and actors Tim Conway and Jack Klugman.

A complete list of past Big Sport of Turfdom winners can be found online at

  • Ida Lee

    Billy Graham once said that when we pass, we will be reunited with loved ones we lost during our lifetime including our animal loved ones….so ….Ms. Chenery…. remember when you said Riva Ridge was your horse and Secretariat belonged to the world?? you must be having a great time with your Riva Ridge and our Secretariat…that to me is the very definition of heaven …. We can’t thank this woman enough for what she did for this sport we love so much ….

  • NMBird

    Who else could there have been? Penny was such an inspiration and so dedicated to improving the sport as well as horse after racing.
    I hopw she is with Riva and Secretariat roaming the paddocks and barns where you started out those many years ago…

  • Monique Koehler

    Thank you Ida for the lovely post about heaven. I am so happy to see Penny’s wonderful and important work on behalf of racing honored in this way.

    The passing of Penny Chenery leaves a huge void and a host of wonderful memories in my life. When I founded the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation over 30 years ago, Penny was one of the first people I reached out to for help.

    In those pre-Google days, I knew very little about Penny. Her name was one of several given to me by trainer Daphne Collins, at whose urging I agreed to create a non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing and protecting at-risk Thoroughbreds.

    Of course, Penny knew absolutely nothing about me, a Jersey girl by way of Brooklyn, whose exposure to racing was limited to an occasional trip to Belmont with my sister and her husband. Nevertheless, when I telephoned her out of the blue she immediately accepted my call, chuckled when she learned about my outsider background, and heartily agreed to help me in my quest to “save every ex-racing Thoroughbred in the country.”

    Over the ensuing decades we shared lots of successes, a few disappointments, and through it all Penny never waivered in her support. She became a collaborator, a consistent source of strength and encouragement, and much more. Her guidance, insights and compassion were invaluable to me and helped build the solid base on which the TRF has grown and prospered.

    With her passing the racing industry has lost a true champion and one of its most influential figures. I have lost a trusted friend. We will all miss her terribly.

    • Ida Lee

      Monique, thank you so much for your kind words and for taking the time to tell us about your great organization and Ms. Chenery’s part in its development and growth. When I was a young girl, I wanted to be just like Ms. Chenery …. she had it all…the looks, the brains, the nerves of steel but, most of all, she had Secretariat…through the years, she continued to be a role model to all women by being a major force in her chosen field but even more important to Secretariat’s adoring public, she enhanced and protected this great American Icon’s legacy….for as long as we have the Sport of Kings where gorgeous equine athletes run like the wind, we’ll remember Penny Chenery and her Big Red. BTW I want to thank you personally for your work with the TRF. I can’t begin to tell you how much we admire people like you who give so much of yourself to give our retired TBs a good and safe life….

  • Dave Stevenson

    a wonderful tribute to a very special person!

  • Bob Smith

    Couldn’t have made a better selection!

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