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Spotlight on Thoroughbred history in Virginia

By Robert Banner and Vicky Moon

Secretariat comes to town.

Bluegrass TB Services/John Stuart, VEA Executive Director Jeb Hannum and TB breeder/Josh Pons. Photo by Rob Banner

It all started in front of Middleburg Community Center. With a police escort, the first stop for the 1 ½ size version of the horse, was in the village at the Middleburg Community Center which included followed by the 2010 film, “Secretariat,” starring Diane Lane as owner Penny Chenery. Five different horses played the part of Secretariat, also fondly referred to as “Big Red.” The evening was sponsored by Loudoun Therapeutic Riding with Executive Director Laura Smith organizing the event.

The following day, Secretariat moved across Washington Street to the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) for more fawning and a talk by sculptor Jocelyn Russell. The next four days, the spotlight on Thoroughbred racing in Virginia could not have been brighter for the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown. A live grandson, Secret Beau, entertained the crowd at the NSLM with his lookalike confirmation.

Inside the Founders’ Room, a capacity crowd listened to remarks from Jocelyn Russell and Kate Tweedy, Penny Chenery’s daughter. Together, they brought the best racehorse that ever lived back to life, and spine-tingling racing footage from 1973 left everyone slack-jawed.

On Friday, the statue of Secretariat traveled to Richmond for a reception hosted by Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and the first lady at the executive mansion following hurdle racing at Colonial Downs. Their glowing remarks recalled the still unequaled achievements of the Virginia-bred Secretariat and inspired the horsemen gathered that the horse is one of Virginia’s finest resources.

They were clear that Virginia has no equal in the equine community. No one in attendance could recall a governor and first lady who stood more staunchly behind the equestrian industry in Virginia. As active horse owners, they recognize the history, the jobs, the tourism, and the industry the horse has brought to the state.

Janie Ober, DVM, USET and Tim Ober, DVM, Virginia Thoroughbred Association Director Pat Shepherd. Photo by Rob Banner.

The next day, Saturday, August 12, the bright light turned back to Colonial Downs as the racecourse hosted the most prestigious flat racing ever held in Virginia. The race card ended with the G2 Secretariat Stakes, the G1 Beverley D Stakes, and the G1 Arlington Million. In all, an astounding $2.5 million in purse money was distributed throughout the day.

Proudly, a Virginia-bred, Gigante won the Secretariat Stakes by 7 ½ lengths for trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Javier Castellano. And French jockey Florent Geroux set a new track record winning the Arlington Million by 5 lengths with Set Piece, trained by Brad Cox. Governor Youngkin and Kate Tweedy were there to present trophies.


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