State Fair, Secretariat tours are highlights of historical property

September 2018

It’s not often a property can claim two historical events, but The Meadow Event Park (MEP) has bragging rights as both the birthplace of Secretariat and home of the State Fair of Virginia.

The two events have been brought into the limelight since the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation bought the property in 2013. Determined to preserve the bankrupted fair and to capitalize on the historical aspects of the property, Farm Bureau has concentrated on promoting the fair’s agricultural heritage and the land’s rich Thoroughbred racing history.

Triple Crown winner Secretariat was born in 1970 on the site of what’s now The Meadow Event Park. When Farm Bureau bought the property, President Wayne Pryor hired Leeanne Ladin to manage a Secretariat tourism program. Ladin has spent the past decade gleaning information about Secretariat and The Meadow’s history and is co-author of Secretariat’s Meadow — The Land, The Family, The Legend.

Groundshaker is a great-great-granddaughter of Secretariat and now resides at The Meadow Event Park.

She immediately began working to obtain state and national historic designations for Secretariat’s birthplace, including his foaling shed, the yearling and stallion barns, horse cemetery and well and pump houses. Ladin acquired coveted listings on both the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.

Also in 2015, MEP Vice President of Operations Marlene Jolliffe came on board. One of her goals has been to highlight the significance of Secretariat to the property and expand the related tourism program.

Secretariat is honored at The Meadow on his birthday each spring, as well as during the State Fair in the fall.

This year’s State Fair is Sept. 28 through Oct. 7. The fair showcases the best of the best of Virginia — from its creative and culinary arts to its crops and livestock.

Blue ribbons are given to winners of more than 1,200 categories of general competitions — everything from apple pies to appliqued quilts and African violets.

“There is truly something for everyone to see — from the culinary competitions to the award-winning artwork to skillfully grown plants and vegetables,” notes Stuart Sanders, the fair’s educational competition manager.

Fairgoers take a break before strolling down to the Midway.

Fairgoers take a break before strolling down to the Midway.

New competitions this year include Virginia Flea Market Flip, the State Fair’s version of the HGTV show Flea Market Flip. The fair’s competition encourages contestants to purchase and refurbish, refresh or repurpose a flea market item for less than $100. The top 10 items will be on display during the fair, and the winner will be determined by fairgoers.

Brand-new culinary competitions include a calzone/stromboli contest sponsored by King Arthur Flour and the Virginia Egg Council’s Berry Delicious contest in which entrants whip up dishes using eggs and berries. The egg competition is a culmination of county contests, and the top three winners from each county will compete at the State Fair on Sept. 29.

Other new culinary contests include a House-Autry Mills Bring Your Flavor Wing Competition on Sept. 30 and a Virginia Peanut Growers Association competition on Oct. 7. Visitors can also watch what kind of island-inspired concoctions contestants enter in the Great American SPAM® Championship on Oct. 6.

In total, there are 581 categories of creative arts, 97 culinary arts competitions, 448 horticulture categories and 131 classes of canned goods. Visitors can see all the award-winning entries at the fair.

Click to View Gallery

“The fair showcases the best of Virginia’s talent,” Sanders says. “Some of the categories award cash prizes or scholarships, but all of the winning entries will receive a blue ribbon and bragging rights that they’ve created Virginia’s best of the best.”

In addition to viewing the winning entries, guests can take Meadow Hall Mansion Tours led by Meadow Farm and Secretariat experts. Tour guides will walk visitors through the stately homesite on the property.

The tours explain the vital role horses played in Virginia’s history and share how the former Meadow Farm became the birthplace of “America’s Super Horse.” Participants can view historic photos of Meadow Farm broodmares, the original Chenery home and Secretariat’s 1973 Triple Crown victory.

State Fair guests will also be able to see Secretariat descendants on the grounds throughout the 10-day event. And there are daily equine events planned during the fair.

For those who would rather learn about Secretariat outside of fair time, guided Secretariat Birthplace Tours at The Meadow Event Park are offered year-round. The tours are led by Ladin, and part of the proceeds benefit The Meadow’s historic-barn-restoration fund.

For more information on the Secretariat Birthplace Tours, visit: MeadowEventPark.com. For more information about the fair go to StateFairVa.org.