It’s official. The movie Secretariat is a winner. Roger Ebert gives it two thumbs up in his very favorable review that declares “this is one of the year’s best films,” and longtime racing columnist Andy Beyer likewise sees the positives in the production.
In his review, Beyer has the insight to report that “Disney mined William Nack’s meticulously reported biography of Secretariat to find the female-empowerment theme that could make this film a hit.”
A hit movie with award potential provides some needed positive reinforcement for horse racing and raises it greatly in public awareness. That is important to everyone and especially to the sport we love.
In Disney’s casting of the movie, which I know only from watching previews and trailers, Diane Lane is passably like Penny Chenery, while actors for Eddie Sweat and Ron Turcotte also fill in their roles well. John Malkovich couldn’t be less similar to Lucien Lauren, but the man can act.
However, the actor I’m most curious about is the one portraying His Chestnut Perfection.
Among the many reasons for this, one is that while I was an avid reader of racing material in 1972, Secretariat turned me into a maniac for the sport. I haven’t overcome that affliction, nor do I wish to.
One of the reasons that Secretariat made so many fans for racing and caught the nation’s attention through the spring and summer of 1973 is that when the biggest chips were on the table, he took the pot. Yes, he lost the Triple W, but what more emotionally satisfying result could have happened than for the $6 million horse to lose his final (and longest) prep for the Run for the Roses, be pronounced a cripple by Jimmy the Greek (in print), trail the field into the first turn, and yet win the race in dramatic fashion and record time.
The big red colt had style!
Secretariat won the remainder of the Triple Crown in a different style but with no less excitement. The colt’s loss to Onion in the Whitney late in the summer upped the stakes for a much better race than a match with stablemate Riva Ridge; it provoked the creation of the Marlboro Cup, which brought together one of the greatest fields ever for a single race. The lineup from post 1 through 7 was 1972 champion 3yo colt Key to the Mint, 1972 champion turf horse and 1973 Santa Anita Handicap winner Cougar II, 1973 Whitney Stakes winner Onion, 1973 Travers Stakes winner Annihilate ‘Em, 1973 Hollywood Gold Cup winner Kennedy Road, 1971 champion 2yo colt and 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Riva Ridge, and Secretariat.
And on national television, Secretariat won the race and set another record.
He was a horse who could draw a royal flush when he needed it.