Secretariat won the triple crown of horse racing in 1973 – winning the
Belmont Stakes, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and smashing
horseracing records in the process – the horse became arguably the greatest
just a bit of bad luck that the actual story of Secretariat is not
quite as interesting as the story of Seabiscuit, a previous champion horse
whose tale was made into a very similar – and frankly significantly richer –
film bio just a few years ago.
Therefore, the beautiful horse that was called Big Red by his owner and his
rabid fans has done something with his biopic that he rarely did in his
racing career. He has come in second place.
just fine as a movie, even often rather good. It’s not the horse’s fault
that Seabiscuit was even more evocative and its era was more
intriguing. Seabiscuit was a symbol of hope during the Great Depression as
compared to Secretariat’s reign in the inflationary early 70s.
However, perhaps the biggest problem with Secretariat the movie is
that the horse appears to be a supporting character in his own story.
Secretariat focuses on his owner, Penny Chenery, who
appeared to be a nice, smart housewife of the 60s. Yes I know it was the
70s, but she hadn’t moved into the new generation yet and neither had her
family, though her oldest daughter did seem to want to be a hippie six years
too late, but she mostly did it in a polite middle-class suburban way. Instead,
Chenery didn’t actually buy the horse; she inherited him from her infirm
rancher father (Scott Glenn) upon his death. Despite the protestations of
her husband and brother (the Dylans – Walsh and Baker), Penny decided to try
to rebuild the family horse-breeding business by throwing all her faith (and
all of their money) into turning him into a great racehorse.
horse did have a great bloodline – his father was also a champion –
therefore she ignored the fact that it would be monetarily and personally
easier for her sell the animal.
Secretariat was her lottery ticket. And a great ticket he turned out to be.
course, it was not quite the long shot that the film suggests. It was
always pretty obvious that the horse was a great competitor – it just was a
surprise how great he turned out to be.
Penny put together a team – an eccentric French trainer (John Malkovich), a
daredevil jockey (Otto Thorwarth) and a just slightly racially stereotypical
groom (Nelsan Ellis). Together Penny and her father’s loyal assistant (the
always reliably-great Margo Martindale) set about rebuilding the family’s
course the fact that because of her immersion in creating a champion she has
to move away from her family and put them all in huge financial straits
before the big payoff appears to be of secondary importance.
Penny Chenery literally did gamble everything – and she is damned lucky that
said, the racing scenes are exciting – if a bit frenetically filmed – and
Secretariat does end up working as a feel-good movie.
just wish that, like the horse it portrays, the movie tried giving it’s all
rather than being content to comfortably trot into the finish line.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: January 25, 2011.