Meadow Farm Grooms (Cont.)
Updated: Tuesday, January 15, 2002 3:50 PM
Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2002 3:50 PM
Gregory worked at The Meadow for 31 years and another several years after Penny Chenery sold the farm. Of the next two owners of The Meadow, also known as Meadow Farm, one went bankrupt and the other went to prison. The current owner tore down the original house and built a new one across the road from the old training complex.
Gregory was around Secretariat from the day he was born, which was March 30, 1970, at 10 minutes past midnight. Dr. Olive Britt, The Meadow's veterinarian who still practices part-time at age 83, remembers getting a call from the nightwatchman, telling her that Somethingroyal was in the middle of foaling. By the time she arrived, Somethingroyal had already given birth. Britt, who now lives in nearby Goochland County, said she'll never forget farm manager Howard Gentry watching the foal get to his feet and saying, "This is what we've been waiting for for 35 years."
Gregory could tell right away the colt was something special. "We knew from the get-go he was different from any horse we ever had," he said. "There was definitely something there. I remember him being very alert, and he'd test you. When you walked him to the paddock your mind and his had to correspond. If he thought you weren't paying attention he was gone. You had to have your mind focused on him at all times. I also worked with Riva Ridge and he was an altogether different horse. He was so quiet, and all you had to do was say, 'Whoa, Riva,' and he'd just stop and stand there. But Secretariat would try you in a heartbeat. You had to know what you were doing, because he always knew when you had him and when you didn't. And if he knew you didn't, that was it; he was gone.
"He was a gorgeous colt, with a beautiful head, and those three white stockings. I'll never forget watching the Belmont Stakes on TV. Lord, that was something to see. I'm very proud to have been around a horse like that. I remember putting his mother, Somethingroyal, in the ground after she died at age 31. I also buried Hill Prince. Those were really special days back then, and you couldn't work for anyone nicer than Mr. Chenery. Money was never a problem, and we got bonuses and shares in winnings. I was available anytime they needed me, because I loved what I was doing and where I was working. When I wanted to build my own house, they helped me out. And because of Mr. Chenery, I live in a six-room house on five acres, and it's all mine. There aren't many people out there like Mr. Chenery anymore.
"I stayed on after Mrs. Tweedy sold the farm, but the last fellow I worked for, Mr. (Eric) Friedlander, couldn't pay us, so I left. I drive by the farm most every day, shopping and doing errands, but I go right by. I haven't been back since the day I left. It hurts me too bad to see what's become of it. I've had several jobs since, but I'm pretty much retired now. I thank God I'm still around to do whatever I want to. I couldn't ask for more than that."
Gregory, like Ross, has little in the way of memorabilia from the old days, and no longer sees much of his fellow workers. "I used to have all kinds of stuff, but where they are I couldn't put my finger on it," he said. "It's been so long. I very seldom get a chance to visit with the other guys. Everybody's pretty much gone on their own now. Every once in a while I run acrosss one of 'em, but not too often."
Gregory actually lives only five or six minutes from Riva Ridge Road, and was able to point out Bannie Mines' house before heading to Richmond to do some errands. Mines, who is Charlie Ross' brother-in-law, is an amiable fellow with white hair, who cordially welcomed a stranger into his home. While his memory is not nearly as sharp as Gregory's, and he has a problem hearing, he did try to pull out whatever remnants of the old days his memory could muster. Mines worked at The Meadow for 25 years, mainly in the broodmare barn and helping out with the yearlings.
"I remember Secretariat was a big, strong colt; bigger than the others, and very well built," he recalled. "With the weanlings, we always tried to put the three best horses together, and the best horse would go into the first stall. I remember Secretariat was put in the first stall, so everyone must have felt he was the best. He gave you an idea even then that he might turn into something. It made me feel real good to see him become such a great horse. He was pretty easy to work with, but he had a temper, too. I had him for about a year, and then he went to Charlie."
Mines continued on after the farm was sold, then went to work at another farm before retiring. "I don't do much these days, just rake a little leaves and cut a little grass," he said. "I watch TV most of the time. I don't have any souvenirs, but I did have a picture of Hill Prince. I think it's out back in the shed somewhere."
Mines then went out to his backyard and opened the door to his shed. He had to step over several large objects to get to the back wall, and there, hanging in a glassless frame, was a finish and winner's circle photo of Hill Prince, yellowed by the years. Mines removed the photo from the frame and showed off his only link to the old days. "I really do miss those days," he said. "But I left after the last people took over and I've never been back."
Riva Ridge Road and Sadie Lane comprise the settlement known as Duval Town, which was originally built after emancipation to house freed slaves. It was there that the majority of grooms lived. Each morning, the farm truck would make its rounds through Duval Town, picking up the grooms and bringing them to work. Sadie Lane was named by the county after the matriarch of the extended family that lived there. Known as "Aunt Sarah" or "Aunt Sadie," she cooked for Penny Chenery's mother in the 1940s.
"I remember Raymond Goodall's mother, Magnolia, worked in the house, along with her sister," Penny Chenery recalled. "And they were daughters of Aunt Sadie. They were all great people. The grooms were all in their 30s during the heyday of the '70s. Whenever we won a big race, we gave them a week's pay. They were wonderful to me. I clearly was not my father, but they were respectful and helpful as I was learning on the job. It was just a wonderful team."
And they came up with a wonderful horse, believed by many to be the greatest of all time. There are only faint memories left for The Meadow's grooms. But Howard Gregory's eyes still light up when he thinks of the chestnut foal who would one day grow up to be Big Red. He rolled the images around in his mind for a few seconds before the words made their way out: "A horse like Secretariat. That will never happen no more."
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