Diane Lane in Secretariat
Photo: Courtesy of Disney Enterprises
In Secretariat, Diane Lane (left) plays Penny Chenery, the elegant and strong-willed owner of the thoroughbred who took the Triple Crown in 1973. The real-life Ms. Chenery, now 88 and living in Colorado, shared her memories of "Big Red," as he was known, whose record-breaking 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes sealed his reputation as perhaps the greatest racehorse of the past century.

O: The movie's called Secretariat, but in many ways you're the star of this story

Penny Chenery: Well, somebody had to be. The horse couldn't talk!

O: What was he like?

PC: He was a cheerful, good-looking ham. He knew he was big stuff. When he won the Belmont, he was in his own zone, racing for the joy of it.

O: So between the two of you, who was the boss?

PC: Oh, I worked for him. Secretariat definitely considered me part of his retinue.

O: When you started running your dad's stables, you were new to the business—not to mention a woman in a man's world.

PC: I knew about horses and riding, but I didn't know a thing about the basics of racing, like what a furlong was. "It's an eighth of a mile? Oh, I can do that!" At the time, I was bringing up four children, active in my community—and bored to tears! The opportunity to do something challenging, plus having the luck to own a good horse, was thrilling. It was perfect timing. I was 50, and I wanted women to know they could really do something with the second half of their life.

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