A Horse Named Planet
Secretariat’s larger-than-life mystique tends to eclipse the triumphs of many great race horses from the Richmond area. However, one stands out as maybe the best of the forgotten.
Farrar: Commentator Brooks Smith is rediscovering Richmond’s sports history, and, Brooks, today we’re gonna talk about horse racing, and Richmond really does have quite a history as a horse town.
Smith: There’s this great account from a German visitor way back in 1783, describing our city of Richmond as an Arabian village, it had so many horses. He described them as “indubitably the finest in America.” Now as far back as we go, I think for many the most famous horse locally would be Secretariat. Secretariat’s 40th birthday would be this year. He was a Triple Crown winner in 1973, still holds the speed record at the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. I think it’s disputed at the third leg of the Triple Crown, but pretty close to a tie for a speed record. He was born just up the road at the Meadow in Doswell, and there’s a lot of attention on Secretariat this year. There’s going to be a big-screen Disney movie starring Diane Lane as Penny Chenery, Secretariat’s owner, as well as a book, co-written by Chenery and an extraordinary local writer named Lou Ann Ladin.
Farrar: Well, the history of horses in Richmond and Virginia goes back much longer than that.
Smith: And that’s the story for today. Amazingly, over a century before Secretariat’s triumphs, there was a very fast racehorse here in our local area, named Planet. And Planet was considered one of the fastest race horses in the country, if not the world, before the Civil War. He was a champion thoroughbred born 1855, a chestnut colt, was owned by a fellow named Major Thomas Doswell, for whom the town of Doswell is named, and was raised at an old, what I would consider to be nearly forgotten horse farm called Bullfield, among the Pamunkey River up in Hanover County. Here’s some of the salient satistics: Planet won 27 of his 37 races. In the four he didn’t win he came in second, so that’s a pretty good record. And, interestingly, by comparison to today, most of those races were four milers. Now, things like the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont, Preakness, are all between a mile and a mile and a half, so we’re talking long races and Planet would sometimes run as many as twelve miles in one afternoon, which is unthinkable today. His victories abounded all over the country, from Richmond to New Orleans, to Savannah, to Charleston, to New York, and here’s the fun part about the story: tipping the hat to our Arabian village of old and Penny Chenery’s role with Secretariat, the Chenery family, Lou Ann Ladin who is working on the book, all three of them are putting Planet forward for a candidate for induction into the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame, up in Saratoga Springs. An honor that Planet never received because he dates so far back in time, and certainly deserves, based upon his record.
Farrar: Do you know when the Hall of Fame was started?
Smith: I think the Hall of Fame dates back to the ‘50’s.
Smith: There are some remarkable horses that are already in the Hall of Fame.
Farrar: Excellent. Thank you, Brooks, any parting words before our time runs out here?
Smith: I tell you, back in the 1850’s, we were in what was considered then to be the golden age of horse racing, and I think for horse aficionados out there we might return to that golden age sometime soon, if the wind is in our favor.
Farrar: And now with Colonial Downs and the pari-mutuel system that’s renewed some interest in the sport of horse-racing…
Smith: That’s right. Who knows, we might have another Triple Crown winner before too long.
Farrar: Thanks to Brooks Smith, Rediscovering Richmond.