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Secretariat’s human family rejects Kelce’s steroid idea

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Retired National Football League center Jason Kelce ignited passionate responses from the racing industry Thursday when he put up a social-media post suggesting Hall of Fame champion Secretariat “was being juiced” and that his famously large heart was evidence of it.

Admitting “it’s impossible to know for sure,” Kelce concluded that Secretariat’s record times that still stand from his Triple Crown victories “may have been natural, but I also think that it’s unlikely given the time it raced and what was happening with a lot of those horses and the lack of testing available.”

The family of the late owner Penny Chenery was quick to respond to Kelce, who was born 14 years after Secretariat’s last race and was not quite 2 when Big Red died at 19.

“The fact is Secretariat was never given performance enhancing drugs,” wrote Kate and John Tweedy, the daughter and son of Chenery. “Indeed, both our mother Penny Chenery, who managed Secretariat, and our grandfather Christopher Chenery, who bred him, were morally committed to the rule that horses should only be given healthy feed, water and such medical treatment as is required to maintain health.”

Kelce first made the claim about Secretariat on the “New Heights” podcast he hosts with Travis Kelce, his younger brother who is a tight end for the Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs. On that show he declared “Secretariat was juiced to the gills.”

Kelce recently retired from what was likely a Hall of Fame career as a 13-year center for the Philadelphia Eagles and signed a contract to begin his broadcasting career this football season on ESPN.

Here are the full texts of what Kelce posted on social media and the Chenery family’s response:

Kelce’s original post:

“Just going to put this out there, you know who else has enlarged hearts. People who take copious amounts of steroids. I’ll admit I don’t know whether Secretariat was on steroids or not, it’s impossible to know, because in 1973 when Secretariat won the Triple Crown there was not adequate testing available to find out. But, the fact this horse had unparalleled muscular stature and died with an enlarged heart, and raced at a time when steroids were extremely prevalent, without adequate testing, raises flags in my book.

“Thoroughbred steroid use dates back to the 60s at least. I’m not saying what Secretariat did was unimpressive, because he was likely also racing against other majorly juiced up horses of his time, and if Secretariat was indeed a natural horse, that would make his accomplishments all the more impressive. I just find it highly unlikely given the circumstances of where the sport was at at that time, how dominant the horse was in the era, and the records it still holds to this day. The enlarged heart in my mind is actually more evidence that at some point the horse was being juiced. There is a gene that some thoroughbreds carry that causes a larger heart, but this wasn’t just a larger heart, this was a heart large enough for the vet to say it was the largest heart he had ever seen. The horse was undoubtedly born with incredible natural mechanics and ability, and may have been natural, but I also think that it’s unlikely given the time it raced and what was happening with a lot of those horses and the lack of testing available.”

Later Thursday, he posted this apology:

“I’m sorry everyone, wasn’t trying to get people riled up, I really thought it was just known that in the 70s steroid use was rampant. I’m not trying to take away from Secretariat’s, or anyone from that eras legacy. You’re right, without proof it is unfair to assume these things publicly, I apologize.”

And here is the Tweedys’ response:

“We, the family of Penny Chenery, strongly protest the grossly inaccurate speculation recently posted by Jason Kelce about Secretariat racing while being ‘juiced.’ Kelce later admitted that he knows nothing about Secretariat and bases his opinions entirely on the fact that Secretariat belonged to an era when drug use in athletes was rampant. The fact is Secretariat was never given performance-enhancing drugs. Indeed, both our mother Penny Chenery, who managed Secretariat, and our grandfather Christopher Chenery, who bred him, were morally committed to the rule that horses should only be given healthy feed, water and such medical treatment as is required to maintain health. It was a well-known rule among our trainers and handlers. The fact that in 1973 drugs were less regulated just underscores the exceptionality of Secretariat’s performance — given that he was NOT under the influence of steroids or any other drugs now banned.

“What does explain his unrivaled speed and stamina is well known, if only Kelce had cared to find out before making his comments. It was the size of his heart — at 22 pounds, over twice the size of the average equine heart. It was not chemically or pathologically enlarged, just a genetic gift of nature that enabled him to run farther and faster than any horse in the last century. This large-heart trait has been researched by equine geneticists who have documented its occurrence in the bloodlines of both Secretariat’s forbears and his descendants. It has zero to do with steroids or any other drugs. If Secretariat had needed drugs to set those records in the 1973 Triple Crown races, records that still stand 50 years later, how does one explain the fact that the top three finishers in this year’s Kentucky Derby were all Secretariat descendants, as were 15 others in that same race? Or that in all major races today at least half if not three-quarers of the entrants are Secretariat descendants?

“As a pro athlete, Kelce has a national platform, which places on him the responsibility not to assert facts he has no information about.

“We, as the inheritors of Secretariat’s proud legacy of unrivaled excellence, urge anyone who wants to discuss him on a public platform to do their homework first.”

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