A 20-year-old grandson of Secretariat, whose star never shined as brightly as the one that hung over the great red racehorse, will step into the yearling paddock once occupied by the famous Triple Crown winner this month and bring a little mystique of his own to a Virginia event designed for horse lovers and Secretariat fans alike.
Covert Action, a bay Thoroughbred gelding who looks nothing like his great-granddad, but who still melts hearts and charms onlookers with similar star quality, will appear at Secretariat’s former farm, now named Meadow Event Park, to kick off the annual Virginia Horse Festival and a celebration of Secretariat’s birthday.
The two events, which will be held jointly for the first time, will take place over the March 27th weekend. And they will call attention to the joy of horses, as well as a bygone racing era that lives on in books, movies and the imagination of racing fans everywhere.
“Secretariat means so much to people, he transcended racing to become such an inspiration to people,” says Leeanne Meadows Ladin, tourism manager for Meadow Event Park and coauthor of the book Secretariat’s Meadow: The Land, the Family, the Legend. “He had athletic perfection and Penny Chenery had to overcome so many obstacles to keep the Meadow going in order to race him. He’s become an American icon and people come from all over the country to see his foaling shed.”
Ladin notes that several couples have even gotten engaged or married in that famous barn where Secretariat took his first tentative steps. And, though his grandson took a far different path in life, to the inmates at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation at James River where he now resides, Covert Action is a pretty big star in his own right.
After running 26 times and finishing in a claimer at Suffolk Downs in Boston, Covert Action was retired to the TRF at age 6. Upon retirement, his race owner at the time proclaimed, “He’s too nice a horse to keep racing or have something bad happen to.”
And the day he stepped off the trailer at the James River prison to become one of seven horses who would teach inmates new skills, is a day Anne Tucker, a founder of the horsemanship program at James River, will never forget.
“All of the horses arrived on the same day, and we were all so nervous. Here we had seven horses we’d never laid eyes on, and seven guys who’d never handled a horse; each getting ready to take the lead rope. That was the day we had an inmate step up and take Covert Action, and see his life turn around,” Tucker says. “Today that inmate is an excellent and well-respected farrier.
“At the time we really didn’t know much about Covert Action, just that he was out of a Secretariat mare. But he has proven to be just a wonderful horse to work with. He’s so patient, and good to handle.”
He’s the type of horse that will stand there all day as adoring youngsters crowd around, or patiently allow fledgling horseman to develop their skills. The kind-eyed gelding found his calling as a teacher and an ambassador, Tucker says.
“Covert Action will be there to attend the Secretariat Birthday celebration, and he will also participate in the parade of breeds for the horse festival, and represent the TRF,” she adds.
Joining Covert Action in the festivities are many luminaries from his grandfather’s day, including Penny Chenery’s daughter Kate Chenery Tweedy, biographer Bill Nack, and exercise rider Charlie Davis. And Covert Action will be smack dab in the limelight, greeting one and all from the famous front paddock at the old Meadow Farm.
“Covert is a great horse and people just love him,” Ladin says.