Clearly I need a coffee table. Although I don’t drink coffee often and generally despise coffee tables as useless furniture, I surely need one of the things.
How else is one to display the new book about Secretariat and his origins, Secretariat’s Meadow?
It is a lovely book, full of color and character, and of course, there are many photos of His Chestnut Perfection. What more could anyone ask?
As a piece of turf literature, Secretariat’s Meadow is largely anecdotal in arrangement, with each brief chapter working as a snapshot in the greater picture that authors Kate Chenery Tweedy and Leeanne Ladin are building with the book.
As the title suggests, the book has a good deal to say about Secretariat, the favorite racehorse for millions of fans of the sport and the greatest of the many excellent racehorses that Christopher Chenery and The Meadow produced and sent onto the racecourses of America.
But the book has quite a lot to tell us about the heritage of the Chenerys, the development of The Meadow, and the history of Virginia as a nursery of racehorses and racing.
For instance, there is a chapter on Bullfield, which bred and raced the great 19th century champion Planet and was located near The Meadow in Doswell, Virgina. Likewise, another important and very old Virginia family in racing is the Hancock family, now normally associated with breeding in Kentucky.
But the Hancocks were first and foremost a Virginia family, raising blooded horses on the family plantation, until the eldest Arthur Hancock developed Claiborne in the early 20th century. And the Hancocks did not sell their Ellerslie Farm in Virginia until the 1940s.
One of the last stallions who went to stud at Ellerslie was the imported horse Princequillo, and the stallion’s first champion was Hill Prince, bred by Christopher Chenery. Hill Prince was the second stakes winner of five from Chenery’s great producer Hildene. A top-class horse over four seasons of racing, Hill Prince won the Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Wood Memorial at 3, when he was elected Horse of the Year.
Hill Prince elevated his owner-breeder to a level of great significance in racing and breeding, going to stand at stud in Kentucky at Claiborne. These are the sorts of stories about great deeds done well that we expect to find in a book like this.
Some of the nuggets in Secretariat’s Meadow, however, are less expected. The chapter on the African-American grooms was insightful about the farm and those who made it work. Told in words and photos, their story is a contribution to The Meadow’s success.
Through the sweep of decades as the story of The Meadow unfolds, there is a sense of sentiment and tradition that builds to the great conclusion. After the work and improvements and success of Christopher Chenery, his death nearly undid the farm. Only the arrival of Riva Ridge and Secretariat, then their syndication for stud, recouped the cash necessary to save the farm and allow the operation to continue for a time.
It makes a grand and moving story and is told with warmth. Beautifully illustrated and produced, Secretariat’s Meadow is a pleasure for readers and fans of racing.
Secretariat’s Meadow is published by Dementi Milestone Publishing (www.dementimilestonepublishing.com).