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Saved from Hurricane Camille, Riva Ridge saved Meadow Stable

By Staff | Jul 21, 2017

Central Virginia was ravaged by flood waters caused by the torrential rains churned by Hurricane Camille. It was in 1969.

Meadow Stable of owner Christopher Chenery was in financial difficulty. Mr. Chenery and his holdings were in a steep decline. And the scion of Meadow Stable had health issues as well. Among his three children, only daughter Penny wanted to keep Meadow Stable and the thoroughbreds that went with it. The other two siblings were inclined to sell the stable.

Along came Camille and its many inches of rain. Flood waters lapped at the stable fronts of the Doswell, Virginia farm.

Rescued from the possible tragedy that was at hand was a light bay colt named Riva Ridge.

Riva Ridge wasn’t even a year old.

Later as a two-year-old in 1971, Riva Ridge brought the blue and white checked colors of Meadow Stable to most notable of thoroughbred race tracks in the country. Trained by Lucian Laurin and ridden by Ron Turcotte, the black-tailed colt did so well that he was named the U.S. Champion two-year-old colt for 1971.

Christopher Chenery was still alive . . . and his daughter, Penny, had mostly silenced the clarion calls to sell by her two siblings. But the family was not out of the financial woods just yet.

In 1972, Meadow Stable and Penny Chenery would bring forth another magnificent thoroughbred Hercules. His name was Secretariat. But Big Red was just a two-year-old. He couldn’t try the heavily-watched Triple Crown series until the next year.

Riva Ridge was three. He could contest the Triple Crown races.

And he did . . . winning the Kentucky Derby – erasing Meadow Stable’s remaining debts and giving Penny all the leverage she needed to stay standing next to her favorite thoroughbreds.

Riva Ridge had been rescued from flood waters, and then he rescued Meadow Stable from its waves of red ink.

A wet race track doomed him in the Preakness Stakes. Six of Riva’s 13 career losses came when floundering on wet tracks.

Three weeks after the muddied loss in the Preakness, Riva won the Belmont Stakes on a fast track.

Two victories in Triple Crown events were enough to produce the U.S. Champion Older Horse Award for Penny’s first gentlemanly thoroughbred.

The next year, when Secretariat was holing the sporting world in his muscular grasp, Riva Ridge was still racing as a four-year-old.

He won the Massachusetts Handicap and the Stuyvesant Handicap. In nine tries at age four, he set four track records and tied another. He even raced once against Secretariat, finishing second by 3.5-lengths to Big Red’s world record time. Riva Ridge, even though second, also shattered the world record in that race.

Those voters who determine entry into the U.S. Hall of Fame must have taken kindly to Riva Ridge’s record of 30 starts, 17 wins, two second-places and a third-place because he was enshrined in that hallowed club in 1998. His $1.1 million in earnings could have also influenced the voters.

With Man o’ War, Nearco, Hyperion, Heliopolis, Turn-To and First Landing on his prestigious family tree, Riva Ridge went to stud.

What would have happened had he not been saved from Camille’s waters? What would have become of Secretariat had Penny’s relatives been able to convince Christopher Chenery to sell his farm?

Mr. Chenery was alive when Riva Ridge won the Kentucky Derby, a race he valued more than any other.

It really wasn’t Secretariat which saved Meadow Stable. It was Riva Ridge.