Friday, September 24, 2010


I was invited to attend a special advance showing of Disney's new movie, Secretariat, last night.  I dressed my three older children up in nice clothes, combed their hair and urged them to be on their very best behavior. 

As we walked in, we were ushered to the theater for the screening.  My name was on the list, and we were guided to our reserved seats.  Surrounded by reporters and industry folks and bloggers, we waited for the film to begin.  The kids were very impressed that my name was on the roped off seats.

Okay, so really the kids were more amused that Disney invited me to the screening than anything else. 

Prior to arriving at the theater, I'd told the kids only that the movie was about a horse and that it was a true story.  I confess that I read some of the reviews of the film before yesterday.  Most of them were good, with the exception of a few writers who didn't enjoy the unrealistic portrayal of race horse training. 

After seeing the movie, though, I am not certain that there was an unrealistic portrayal of his training.  I am not naive, and I am fully aware of the realities of horse racing and training in general.  However, I can see how maybe this horse, this family, this trainer, this situation was special.  This family loved the animals like their own children.  This horse was unique, one who just loved to run and run fast.  I think a lot of his abilities were the result of good breeding and luck, and rather than try to train that into him, the people around him just provided a forum for him to do what came naturally.

He was an amazing horse, with an unbreakable spirit and a will to win that may never be matched. 

The movie was as much about the story of Penny Chenery as it was about the horse.  She was a housewife in Colorado who returned home to the family farm in Virginia after her mother's death.  She took over care of the farm since her father, suffering from what I have to assume was Alzheimer's, was unable to.  She tried to balance everything, flying back and forth between her husband and four children and the farm. 

In the end, all the risks she took paid off.  The time away from her family, the financial gambles, the eccentric trainer, it all worked.  Secretariat won the Triple Crown and secured his title as the best racing horse ever.  Into the history books he went, becoming a legend in the process. 

Penny Chenery just might become one too through this film.  She is what so many of us women aspire to be.  Grounded, but driven.  Dedicated to her family and the pursuit of her dreams at the same time.

The obvious trouble with that in my eyes is that she was never much like the rest of us.  She isn't much like me, anyhow.  She came from money.  She had the financial resources to fly all over the country at will.  I could be more impulsive, more risk taking, more free to follow my dreams if I had the resources to do it too. 

I don't intend to diminish her success and achievements at all, really I don't.  I would stop short, however, of using her story as an example for other women to balance home and work successfully.  It's a lot easier to do that when you're wealthy to start out with.

All in all, the movie was fun.  It was entertaining.  It was suspenseful, even going into the theater knowing the outcome. It may have glossed over many of the details.  It may not have given a full picture of what the world of horse racing is really like.  It wasn't just a true story, it was the Disney version of a true story.  The nicely buttoned up version.

It was breathtakingly beautiful at times.  From back in my college cinema class days, I love good cinematography. 

One thing this movie did was to solidify my daughter's love of horses.  Not only does she want to ride she wants to race them.  Too bad she doesn't come from money.  Racehorses aren't cheap.

As a postscript....I can't believe that I failed to mention how awesome John Malkovich was.  He played the eccentric trainer, and did a very good job of it.  I have no idea if it was an accurate portrayal of the real person he was intended to represent, but he was hilarious.  Then again, I am just a huge fan of John Malkovich in general

My thanks to the people at Disney and BlogHer for this opportunity!


  1. As someone whose family is in horseracing, it is the furthest from
    Cruel as you can get. These horses are athletes and they are treated as such. The horses love what they do. Just my 2 cents as someone who has spent a lot if time around horses who are very much loved AND are racers.

  2. If only every racing family ever was like yours Amy! The family portrayed in the film clearly was the same...but you know how it goes as with anything. One or two bad apples give the whole bunch a bad reputation, one that is hard to ahake. (Plus, the reviewers always have to find something to nit pick about right?)

    I think that the movie really showed how much this particular horse just loved to run more than anything else. I have a feeling you are going to love it. :)


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