By Sean Wagner, Associate Executive Vice President
In October 2010, Phi Delta Theta’s azure and argent raced across the big screen in movie theatres when the film Secretariat starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich and produced by Walt Disney Studios was released.
The film tells the story of Penny Chenery, the daughter of Christopher Chenery, Washington and Lee 1909, owner of Virginia-based Meadow Stables who takes the reins from her father after he falls ill in the early 1970s – despite her lack of horse-racing knowledge. Thanks to the help of veteran horse trainer Lucien Laurin, Chenery navigates the male-dominated sport and produces the first U.S. Triple Crown winner in 25 years. The film was inspired by an incredible true story and suggested by William Nack’s book Secretariat: The Making of a Champion.
While the story of Secretariat is familiar to many as he was an icon in the 1970’s, gracing the cover of such publications as Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated, many don’t know the reason for his trademark colors of blue and white.
Brother Christopher Chenery was born and raised in Ashland, Virginia and attended both Randolph Macon and Washington and Lee College, where he was initiated into Phi Delta Theta and graduated in 1909 with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering. After serving with the United States Army Corps of Engineers in World War I and establishing the Chenery Corporation, he purchased the Meadow Stables in 1932 near his childhood home in Virginia.
According to Alan Chenery, Jr., Randolph Macon ’50, Christopher’s nephew, not long after the stable was purchased the colors were to be selected. Christopher was a proud Phi Delt and came from a family of Phis so when he was to make this decision he gathered his two fellow Phis,“blood brothers” and ranch “side advisers” Alan Sr. and William who were Phis from the Virginia Gamma Chapter at Randolph Macon. The Brothers Chenery decided that the horses from Meadow Stables would wear the same colors of their beloved Fraternity, blue and white. From then on, all horses including the 1950 Horse of the Year, Hill Prince, and the storied stallion Secretariat wore those colors.
Phi Delta Theta has yet another Triple Crown Connection as the 1946 Triple Crown Winner, Assault, was foaled at the King Ranch in Texas, a farm that primarily raised cattle. The Triple Crown Ranch was owned and operated by King Ranch. Tio Kleberg, Texas Tech ’69, Trustee Emeritus of the Phi Delta Theta Foundation, is the great grandson of its founder, Richard King, and continues to serve on the King Ranch’s board of directors.