Story by Laticia Headings
Secretariat, arguably the most well-known winner in U.S. racehorse history, made his way to Middleburg this week where he stood resplendent for three days. The 3,800-pound bronze statue of “Big Red” was met by a police escort at Greenhill Winery before making its way to the Middleburg Community Center for a special reception honoring the 50th anniversary of the beloved horse’s Triple Crown win in 1973, followed by a special screening of the film “Secretariat.”
The statue, entitled “Secretariat Racing into History,” was unveiled on April 1 in Ashland, Virginia. Later that month, artist and sculptor Jocelyn Russell and her husband, Michael, embarked on a 3,500-mile Triple Crown tour with the sculpture, making visits to racecourses including Churchill Downs in Kentucky, Pimlico in Maryland, and Belmont Park and Saratoga in New York.
Middleburg was the first stop back in Secretariat’s home state of Virginia. The three-day visit also included two days at the National Sporting Library & Museum and a reception on Friday at the Virginia governor’s mansion hosted by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
The striking statue arrived on Tuesday, but not without issue. “It was adrenaline-filled,” says Russell. “My husband and I were whipping down the interstate and bam, we had a blowout and we’re late for the party and the police escort is waiting for us.”
The couple opted to take the blown tire off the trailer instead of waiting for AAA to replace it. “Within 50 minutes, we were back on the interstate and only 30 minutes late,” Russell laughs. “We got here and everyone was so amazingly gracious, clapping and cheering, and that’s the response we’ve gotten from Big Red.”
Also on hand to celebrate Secretariat was historian, speaker, and co-author of “Secretariat’s Meadow” Kate Chenery Tweedy, and co-author Leeanne Ladin. Tweedy is the daughter of Penny Chenery Tweedy, who bred, owned, and raced Secretariat. Her grandfather, Christopher Chenery, founded the Meadow Stable where Secretariat was born and raised.
The event was a partnership between the Middleburg Community Center and Loudoun Therapeutic Riding, also celebrating its 50th anniversary. LTR Executive Director Laura Smith had the idea to do a joint anniversary event after she met Russell in April at the unveiling of the statue, working for months to make it a reality. “We are thrilled to welcome Big Red home to Virginia,” says Smith, who is also a board member of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association.
Smith and her husband, Bruce, share a deep love for Secretariat and worked in the thoroughbred industry in Lexington, Kentucky, for 10 years. They also volunteered for a therapeutic riding program. It was there she met Penny Chenery Tweedy while working for the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and struck up a friendship.
When the couple moved back to Virginia in 2002, Smith met Tweedy, Ladin, and Wayne Dementi, the principal founders of “Secretariat for Virginia,” and joined their cause to build a museum honoring the equine giant. When Smith approached them about her 50th anniversary idea, the longtime friends were happy to help.
“So many people in Middleburg love horses and the arrival of the sculpture generates all sorts of emotions. Some people teared up. It was really an overwhelming thing to behold,” says Smith. “To see this sculpture at a full gallop is a true celebration of the horse.”
The awe-inspiring statue is 11 feet, 5 inches tall and 21 feet long, slightly more than one and a half times the size of Secretariat when he lived. It is the largest of five known Secretariat monuments in North America.
From concept to completion, it took Russell 18 months to create the statue, which also showcases jockey Ron Turcotte. Russell says, “They could have chosen any horse and I would have sculpted him, but to get the call that it was Secretariat dropped me to my knees. If you want a great project, you start with a great subject. He was the people’s horse and I believe this is the people’s project, the people’s monument.”
Only 13 horses have become Triple Crown winners, but none command quite the same fascination or have cemented the same legacy as Secretariat, 50 years later. He holds the stakes records for each of the Triple Crown races: the Kentucky Derby (1:59 2/5), the Preakness Stakes (1:53), and the Belmont Stakes (2:24).
Secretariat accomplished the near-impossible in his lifetime and his memorial will remain a towering testament to “the people’s horse.” ML
Following his stop in Middleburg, Secretariat was welcomed by The Virginia Equine Alliance and the Governor and First Lady of the Commonwealth of Virginia at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Virginia. “On this 50th anniversary of the greatest racehorse in history winning the triple crown, we celebrate Secretariat’s Virginia breeding and bonafides,” said First Lady Suzanne S. Youngkin. “We were also thrilled to learn that the ‘Secretariat Racing Into History’ bronze statue will permanently reside in Hanover County, Virginia, as a reminder of this grand accomplishment.”
Posted on: August 16, 2023