‘Go, Big Red!’
Racing Movie Gallops Away
When you see a movie about a subject that you lived through, it is easy to dismiss the effort as something that can’t teach you anything.
The new Disney movie, “Secretariat,” tells the story of the rare Triple Crown winner in horse racing’s storied history; and there is much more to the story than ‘Secretariat wins the three races in a row.’
Diane Lane portrays Penny Chenery, the housewife daughter of a Virginia horse training ranch owner, who is unexpectedly put in charge of the operation when her mother dies and father becomes infirm. Chenery doesn’t want to sell the ranch just to pay the taxes; she wants to be true to the spirit her father taught her growing up among the stables.
The amazing story, beginning with the colt’s birth to his win at Belmont, is as perfect as it is seemingly impossible. Lane relives Chenery’s life through the unexpected but meaningful turns and twists during that crucial four year period. The two year old, ‘Big Red’ does well enough in his races as he gets better with each one. The specter of losing the ranch looms as ‘Secretariat’ – as he known officially by the Jockey Club – enters the realm of three year olds and Horse Racing’s Triple Crown: the winning of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
As one character puts it, “That’s three races in three different states in five weeks! Are you guaranteeing a Triple Crown?”
“Yes, I am,” answers Lane/Chenery.
The mother of four and full-time housewife has to devise a plan to raise six million dollars to save the ranch, which of course is due long before the first race in May of 1973. She does but it depends on the unproven horse to win all three different races.
Everyone knows the horse does it, but very few knew of the stakes involved behind the scenes. Chenery made her decision based on her belief in ‘Big Red’ and the bond they held as owner/horse.
There are several lessons in the story, but none are hammered endlessly. Seeing Lane’s performance alone is a wonderful testament to the drive and faith that Chenery had in her horse and her convictions. She never backed down from anyone or anything; and neither did Secretariat.
John Malcovich is excellent as the trainer Lucien Laurin. His irascible personality is great for the horse and the moviegoer alike. You can see the pride and sensibility in his manner and work ethic. Also, Margo Martindale is wonderful as Miss Ham, Mr. Chenery’s longtime secretary, who continues in that capacity with his daughter. In fact, it was her idea for a suitable horse’s name for the Jockey Club to accept.
There are several other strong performances by supporting actors including Fred Thompson, James Cromwell and Dylan Walsh, as Penny Chenery’s husband. The child actors portraying Lane’s four children are also a delight.
Yes, the story is a known quantity; but the folks at Disney have brought the ‘back-story’ out front to take the lead. And it is a winner!
Who says an old horse can’t teach us new tricks?