Dames In The World Of Sires

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In the male-dominated world of thoroughbred racing, it was a woman who bred and raced the most accomplished horse in American history. Penny Chenery, who died last week at the age of 95, was the leading figure behind Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown champion.

Secretariat captured the imagination of racing fans when he broke the longest dry spell at the time- 25 years- to become Triple Crown winner. His record finish at each of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont races still stands today.

After finding fame and glory with Secretariat, the Columbia Business School graduate went on to preside over the Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders Association and join the Executive Committee of the American Horse Council, the trade group in Washington, DC.

Chenery held the highest executive position among women in horse racing but she wasn’t the only influential female in the testosterone-filled world of owners, trainers and jockeys.

High society ladies such as Allaire du Pont of the family of chemical manufacturers, and Martha Gerry whose family was connected to Standard Oil and the Vanderbilt railroad empire, were active owners and breeders.

In 1983, Penny, Allaire and Martha were the first women admitted to the Jockey Club, the prestigious 19th century body entrusted with the registry of all thoroughbreds in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

Female owners of race horses were already common by the 1940’s but in terms of conquering the jewels in the crown, only 4 of the 12 Triple Crown champions were associated with women.

Fanny Hertz, wife of Chicago taxi and rental car fleet tycoon, John hertz, was the first of that feminine cadre when she won the three contests in 1943 with Count Fleet. Her bay colt swept Belmont in 25 lengths, a record margin that held until Secretariat blazed through the finish line in 31 lengths.

After Chenery’s victory with Secretariat in 1973, Karen Taylor and Sally Hill stepped into the winner’s circle in 1977 with Seattle Slew. In partnership and jointly with their husbands, the two paid $17,500 for a yearling that became the only undefeated horse to claim the Kentucky, Maryland and New York events.

A year later in 1978, Patrice Wolfson lifted her three trophies with Affirmed, a chestnut horse bred at a Florida farm owned by her Wall Street financier husband, Louis Wolfson.

Affirmed was the last Triple Crowner before American Pharoah took center stage in 2015.

But greatest credit goes to the female jockeys who stood out from their male counterparts in the battles for stakes races.

In 1970, Diane Crump became the first woman jockey in the Kentucky Derby, piloting Fathom and coming in 15th in a field of 17. Just a year earlier, she required police escort at Florida's Hialeah Park when she made the historic debut as the first female professional racer.

A generation after Crump, Julie Krone broke ground as the first woman to win a Triple Crown chase, capturing Belmont in 1993 aboard Colonial Affair. Twenty years on, Rosie Napravnik was the first of her gender to compete in all three heats.

The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame already has a handful of female inductees. No doubt, more will join in the future.

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