LEXINGTON, Ky. It was almost 20 years ago when a writer wondered why Penny Chenery got more television time than Indira Gandhi. The answer was simple: Secretariat.
As Arazi has proved again, few phenomena turn the media world on its axis like the promise of a superhorse. Life changes for the humans living inside the vortex.
"It creates a great deal of pressure because everybody wants to know what you're doing with your horse every minute," Chenery said, recalling the year her family's Meadow Stable raced Secretariat to the Triple Crown.
Certainly Francois Boutin, the French trainer of Arazi who has endured constant questioning and endless mispronunciations of his name, can understand. Likewise Allen Paulson, the shy airline magnate who bought Arazi as a yearling, knows what Chenery means. They and Paulson's partner, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, have faced a barrage of questions since that electric moment in November when Arazi waltzed through, then away from, his competition in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Chenery, interviewed last week at the Lexington home she recently bought, offered them some advice for the weeks to come:
"If your constitution can stand it, enjoy it."
It's not as easy as it sounds.
By 1973, when Secretariat and Chenery arrived at Churchill Downs, neither was a stranger to the media. Secretariat, the big red colt, had been Horse of the Year at 2. Chenery, then a Denver housewife, had raced Riva Ridge to wins in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont the year before.
With Secretariat, though, the attention was intensified, Chenery said. Before he began his Triple Crown campaign, Secretariat had been syndicated for a then-record $6 million. "We had to treat him like a horse, but the rest of world was treating him like a stage commodity," she recalled.
"I felt that I was dealing with public property. It was something like having a movie star," Chenery said.
The glare surrounding the star did not leave everyone happy. Chenery did not own Secretariat; he belonged to the estate of her father, Chris Chenery, who had died the previous January. Although she had taken charge of the racing stable during their father's long illness, Chenery's two siblings shared equally in the estate and in Secretariat.
Still, it was Chenery who was known to the public as Secretariat's owner. "That rankles" for the co-owners who are rarely mentioned, she said. From that experience arises another piece of advice: "Don't have partners."
At home in Denver her youngest child, a son, was less than enamored of the attention surrounding Secretariat.
"People would assume that he was Secretariat's brother and he really wasn't and he kind of resented it," Chenery said.
But at the center was Secretariat, and the horse didn't mind.
Just as Arazi seemed to toss off any hint of jet lag after his non-stop flight from Paris on Sunday, Secretariat was not bothered by the media attention.
In fact, as countless stories affirm, he loved it.
"He was like a teen-age beauty queen, he would primp for the arrival of people," Chenery said. "Till the day he died he would LTC pose if he heard the click of a camera. He would pose all day."
While Secretariat posed, Chenery, trainer Lucien Laurin and jockey Ron Turcotte contemplated his prospects. He had lost his last Derby prep, the Wood Memorial; his sire, Bold Ruler, did not like the Derby distance. "But I really, in my heart, believed that we were going to win the Derby," Chenery said.