Monthly Archives: April 2023

Racehorse favored to win Kentucky Derby raised in Clarke County

Originally Posted on 4/7/2023 on, Written by Mickey Powell

MILLWOOD — Horse breeder Amy Moore remembers her first foal, Forte, as being a lovely but shy colt when he roamed her pasture in Clarke County.

His shyness is long gone now. Forte (pronounced for-TAY) has become a celebrity racehorse. Moore, owner of South Gate Farm in Millwood, never expected that, but, as his original owner, she hoped he would shine.

Since his racing career began last year, Forte has won six of seven races. The most recent was the Florida Derby on April 1. Following that race, a television commentator proclaimed him a superstar.

His racing earnings so far total about $2.4 million.

Forte is favored to win the Kentucky Derby on May 6. Moore plans to be there.

“I’m very proud of him,” she said.

Horse breeder Amy Moore shows a photo of Forte, the first foal she raised at South Gate Farm in Clarke County. Forte has won six of the seven races he has raced so far, and he’s favored to win the Kentucky Derby on May 6.

A dark bay colt, Forte was born Feb. 3, 2020, after Moore took his mother, Queen Caroline, who she still owns but no longer lives at South Gate, to a farm in Kentucky to be bred with his sire, Violence.

“He was a beautiful colt,” said Moore, adding “there’s a lot of beautiful horses who can’t run like he can.”

Moore brought Forte to South Gate in May of that year. He remained there until she sold him the following November. He eventually was bought by his current owners, Repole Stable & St. Elias Stable, ventures of New York businessmen Mike Repole and Vincent Viola.

Smiling, she remembered Forte frequently hiding behind his mother until he gradually overcame his shyness after being weaned.

Both Queen Caroline, 10, and Violence, 13, are champions. Queen Caroline last raced in 2017, but she’s still considered active. Violence retired in 2013 after being injured, according to racing trade publications.

Moore described Forte, in terms of his racing strengths, as being “a very good combination” of his parents.

But she attributes Forte’s success largely to efforts of his trainer, Todd A. Pletcher, who in 2021 was elected to the United States Racing Hall of Fame, and his jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr., who guided him to all six victories so far.

Forte (foreground), when he was younger, with his mare, Queen Caroline, at South Gate Farm in Clarke County.
Provided photo

“Fast horses are courageous,” Moore said, “and they lay it on the line during a race.”

Under Pletcher’s and Ortiz’s guidance, she said, Forte has become “a very balanced and athletic horse.”

In breeding horses, though, “you never know they can run like that until they actually go out and do it,” she said.

At the Florida Derby, Forte came from behind to achieve victory by a length in the final seconds. His winning time was 1:49.37.

Moore said the race was “heart-stopping.”

Forte’s current owners already have reserved the right for him to run in races after he turns 4, Moore added. She doesn’t yet know if he actually will.

“Many successful horses retire at the end of three or four years,” she said.

Nevertheless, if his racing success continues, “Forte looks to follow in the hoofsteps of Virginia’s greatest Thoroughbred, Secretariat, on the 50th anniversary of his Triple Crown run into the history books,” said Jill Byrne, vice president of strategic planning for the Virginia Equine Alliance.

Forte wins the Florida Derby on April 1 in this screenshot taken from a video on the Virginia Thoroughbred Association Facebook page.

The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes make up the Triple Crown series for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds.

Secretariat, who was foaled in Caroline County in 1970, was the ninth Triple Crown winner. He died in 1989, yet he still holds the fastest time in all three races. He’s regarded as being one of the best racehorses ever.

Whether he ultimately achieves such fame, “Forte’s prominence on the national scale has been a wonderful way to bring attention to Virginia’s horse industry,” said Byrne. She mentioned that the industry statewide — from racing, to breeding and to farm ownership — has seen a strong resurgence in the past few years.

“Impactful breeders and farm owners like Amy (Moore) … are the lifeblood of Virginia’s horse industry,” she said.

Moore, a retired Washington, D.C., lawyer, has been riding horses since she grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She finds it exhilarating.

“There’s no feeling like the speed of being at full gallop,” she said. Cars go faster, she acknowledged, but when riding in them, “you’re not feeling the muscle” strength that horses have.

Seeking a tranquil place in the country to live, Moore heard about Clarke County from a colleague who retired there. She then bought South Gate, a 126-acre farm, in 2015 and moved there in January 2016.

“But I wanted the farm to be a business,” Moore recalled, and other than law, “horses were the business I knew.”

“I could have raised cattle, I guess,” she continued, laughing. “But I didn’t know anything about cattle. So horses were it!”

Moore currently owns 10 horses. Three are in training to be racehorses.

Asked if she believes they’ll acquire the same talent as Forte, she said, “I certainly hope they do.”

At the moment, she’s focused on watching Forte achieve stardom.

By way of her first foal, “I’ve reached the pinnacle in my first shot,” Moore said. “You don’t dare dream about that … in a lifetime of breeding.”

She doesn’t regret selling Forte. That’s what horse breeders do.

“I can’t start thinking about keeping the best and selling the rest. Nobody would buy them,” she said with a laugh.

— Contact Mickey Powell at

Colonial Downs Tickets on Sale Now for Summer 2023 Meet

Reserved tickets and seats for the Colonial Downs 2023 summer Thoroughbred racing season are now on sale!

Racing at Colonial Downs will take place every Thursday through Saturday at 1:30 PM from July 13 – September 9th. Highlights of the meet include the 20th running of the New Kent County Virginia Derby (September 9) as well as Arlington Million Day (August 12), which promises to be the biggest day in the history of Virginia Racing.

While you may buy tickets to sit in the grandstand or to reserve a box, general admission and parking are free! Tickets can be purchased here.

‘Point of Pride’: Secretariat Stands Tall in Ashland to kick off Triple Crown

Originally Posted on on 4/1/23, Written by Michael Martz

ASHLAND — The Second Mount Zion Baptist Church choir sang “Oh Happy Day” for the public unveiling on Saturday of a massive monument to a big horse — Big Red, better known as Secretariat, on the 50th anniversary year of his unsurpassed dash to the Triple Crown of horse racing.

Larry Tillman, one of three groomsmen for Secretariat who attended the celebration, was the lead singer in a trio of gospel songs to celebrate the fabled horse, born 53 years ago on Thursday at nearby Meadow Farm in Caroline County.

Sculptor Jocelyn Russell takes photos of the crowd after the unveiling of her statue of Secretariat at Ashland Town Hall Pavilion on Saturday. Michael Martz Times-Dispatch

“Talking about Big Red, I always get excited,” said Tillman, who had watched the Disney film “Secretariat” with “tears in my eyes” earlier in the day at the Ashland Theatre during a daylong celebration.

It also was a happy day for Kate Chenery Tweedy, whose mother, Penny, was a driving force behind Secretariat’s string of victories in 1973 for the first Triple Crown winner in a quarter-century.

Tweedy, who moved to Ashland from her native Colorado in 2018, is chair of the Secretariat for Virginia Committee, which is launching a campaign to raise more than half a million dollars to purchase the 3,500-pound bronze statue unveiled on Saturday and install it across from the Ashland train station, so Amtrak travelers will get an eyeful of Big Red in full stride as they arrive in the self-proclaimed “Center of the Universe.”

Larry Tillman, former groomsman at Meadow Farm and Stable, sings with the choir of Second Mount Zion Baptist Church, based in Caroline County, on Saturday. Michael Martz, Times-Dispatch

“He certainly went the distance, and Mom went the distance, too,” she told a large crowd gathered in the Ashland Town Hall Pavilion. “We’re hoping to go the distance here.”

But Tweedy said the event is much more than a fundraiser, as the community — including the Town of Ashland and Randolph-Macon College — unite behind an effort to attract tourists and bring recognition to Virginia’s role in horse racing.

“I think it’s a way to honor the industry and revive it,” she said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Friday. “It’s also a point of pride for Virginia.”

The statue itself is a dramatic statement about a horse that Virginia Commissioner Joseph Guthrie proclaimed, without doubt, as “the greatest racehorse in history.”

Standing 12 feet tall and 21 feet long, the statue arrived in Virginia on Thursday — Secretariat’s birthday — for a brief visit to Ragged Branch Distillery in Charlottesville, which is releasing a new Secretariat Reserve bourbon made in part with corn grown by Hanover County farmer Ken Engel on the Meadow Farm. Engel drove to Oklahoma to bring the statue to Virginia from the foundry of sculptor Jocelyn Russell.

Sculptor Jocelyn Russell stands with Kate Chenery Tweedy, whose mother, Penny, was a driving force behind Secretariat’s string of victories in 1973 for the first Triple Crown winner in a quarter-century. Michael Martz, Times-Dispatch

“I think this is going to be my pinnacle project for my career,” Russell said Saturday before helping Tweedy and other supporters pull off the blue-and-white checked tarp that represented Secretariat’s racing colors. “I don’t know how it could be any bigger than this.”

The statue is one of two cast by Russell. The first was installed in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2019. It shows “1A” as the post position that Secretariat carried in winning the Kentucky Derby in 1973 with a record pace. The second edition unveiled here carries “2” as the post position for Secretariat in winning the Belmont Stakes, also at record pace, by an astonishing 31 lengths in what many consider the greatest racing performance in history.

It will travel to Kentucky, for the 149th running of the Derby next month. Tweedy, who was 15 years old when her mother took over Meadow Stable from her incapacitated father in 1968, will ride a horse in the Derby parade, along with her sister, Sarah Manning.

From there, Secretariat will travel to Maryland for the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown, and New York for the Belmont Stakes. After visiting the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., the statue will return to Virginia, first visiting Colonial Downs racetrack in New Kent County before coming back to Ashland in early fall in a return to what supporters hope will be its permanent home.

“The tour kicks off here and ends here,” Tweedy said.

The ending will depend on the success of the fundraising campaign. Alvin Mines — one of the three Secretariat groomsmen at the celebration, along with Larry and Mason Tillman — promised the crowd a personal story about Big Red, but only if they help raise the money first to bring the statue home.

Alvin Mines, former groomsman for Secretariat, speaks as Kate Chenery Tweedy sits and listens on Saturday. Michael Martz, Times-Dispatch

“We so look forward to installing this wonderful, majestic monument in Ashland permanently,” said Bob Lindgren, president of Randolph-Macon, which is donating the land for the proposed monument.

Secretariat already is honored by two statues each in Kentucky and New York, as well as one in Canada, Tweedy said. “We’re a little late to the party.”

But she made clear that she wants the monument here, in her adopted home, where her grandparents are buried and her mother’s ashes were interred in 2018 after her death the previous year at age 95.

“We have so many connections and so much affection for this town,” Tweedy said.

The affection is returned, especially from those who worked with her grandfather, Chris Chenery, a former New York financier who bought Meadow Farm and Stable in 1936 to pursue his love of horse training and breeding. Chenery had grown up in the community and attended Randolph-Macon.

“Mr. Chenery was a great man, a good man,” said Larry Tillman, recalling how the stable owner would send cards each Christmas to the children of employees as recognition of them staying in school. “He loved his horses, and he loved his employees.”

“It is a blessing to be here.”

Annual Buring of Track gets Colonial Downs Ready for the Races

Originally Posted on on 4/3/23, Written by Kim O’Brien Root

NEW KENT — Colonial Downs set fire to its Secretariat Turf Course last week to prepare the racetrack for its summer horse racing season.

The annual controlled burn prepares — and actually helps — the racing surface for the nine-week season, which is scheduled to begin July 13 and go through Sept. 9.

“The burn takes dead cover off the turf in a rapid manner and allows it to grow back more plush, green and safe within weeks, if not days,” said Colonial Downs spokesman Mark Hubbard. “The controlled burn strategy is used as opposed to trimming, because the fire drives nutrients back into the soil.”

Annual Controlled Burn Of Colonial’s Secretariat Turf Course Took Place ...

The controlled burn method is preferred to cutting the grass, Hubbard said. The process is quicker and more efficient.

Track employees, working with New Kent Fire-Rescue and the Virginia Department of Forestry, started the burn the afternoon of March 28. Virginia law prohibits open burning before 4 p.m. this time of year, so the track was set ablaze just afterward.

Colonial Downs workers used a drip torch, a device that holds kerosene. Once the torch is lit, it drips fire, allowing the holder to basically draw a fire along a line.

The fire was set into the wind, which allows it to burn back on itself, said New Kent Fire Chief Rick Opett. A crew of about 10 firefighters stayed on scene during the burn, positioned inside and outside of the track’s perimeter to keep flames from spreading. A crew of “fire swatters” was also on hand to make sure the fire stayed within the planned boundaries.

Annual Controlled Burn Of Colonial’s Secretariat Turf Course Took Place ...

But nothing went amiss.

Opett said it was “probably one of our smoothest burns we’ve had in a while. … the weather conditions were perfect, the winds weren’t too crazy.”

It took about two hours for the flames to work their way across the old, dead layer of thatch, leaving a charred surface behind. Colonial Downs adds a fresh layer of dirt after a burn, leaving plenty of time for the grass to grow back for the season.

“In another week, with that good sun, we should have a layer of green,” Opett said.

At 180 feet wide, the Secretariat Turf Course is the widest grass racing course in North America, while its 1¼-mile dirt track is the country’s second longest. The turf course is named for the famed thoroughbred who swept the Triple Crown Series in 1973. Secretariat, considered one of the greatest racehorses of all time, was born in 1970 in Doswell and trained in Virginia.

Colonial Downs plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s historic season this summer.

Colonial Downs to conduct turf burn

The year’s racing season will feature three Thoroughbred stakes races that are moving to the New Kent course for the first time — the Grade 1 Arlington Million, the Beverly D. Stakes and the Grade 2 Secretariat Stakes. File photo

The year’s racing season will feature three Thoroughbred stakes races that are moving to the New Kent course for the first time — the Grade 1 Arlington Million, the Beverly D. Stakes and the Grade 2 Secretariat Stakes.

In addition, the racetrack will be modifying its live race days to Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays instead of the traditional Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday schedule. The change is intended to make horse racing more accessible to everyone, the racetrack has said.

The 2023 race season will be the first under the new owners, Churchill Downs Incorporated, the owners of the Kentucky Derby venue, after the sale was finalized last year.