Equidaily Racing Journal

Secretariat: A Review

The last twenty minutes - the run through the Triple Crown - were fun. But it took too long to get there.


By Seth Merrow

Rank: 6 of 10 stars

On Thursday night in Saratoga I had the pleasure of attending a special press screening of the upcoming Disney film Secretariat.

I'm a film school graduate - but not the stereotypical beret-wearing aficionado of Jean-Luc Godard. My tastes run more toward Frank Capra - so some emotional manipulation in service of a feel-good story can suit me fine. Unfortunately, while Secretariat seems to aim for those goals - it misses the mark.

Be aware - if you're reading this as a racing fan - that the movie is more the story of Penny Chenery than of Secretariat. Through the first hour there are perhaps five minutes of racing action. The story has been plugged into a template straight out of Scriptwriting 101 and can be summed up as 'plucky housewife gambles everything on the big horse to win the big race and save the family farm.' And in the way that synopsis harkens back to a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland era, the movie itself is kind of a throwback. For instance, there's the saucy, quick-witted female sidekick who shows disdain for the male lead, but eventually they develop a respect for each other - bringing to mind a Mary Wickes-type character from movie history.

And ultimately the plot that focused on the trials and tribulations of Ms Chenery-Tweedy and her efforts to save The Meadow Farm all while juggling wife and mother responsibilities [complete with '60's teens engaging in some Disney-sanitized war protests] added up to a movie that had more of a Lifetime TV feel to it.

The last twenty minutes - the run through the Triple Crown - were fun. But it took too long to get there. The script came off as simplistic with some forced set-ups to propel the drama. Plucky fist-in-the-air declarations of defiance against doubt in the idea of Secretariat as savior. Feel-good moments that were a little cloying. It all added up to something that would be hard for me to recommend - and yet I wouldn't discourage anyone from seeking it out either. It was mildly entertaining - and after all, movies are subjective. I said it had a Lifetime TV feel and while I don't watch Lifetime movies, they do have an audience. And likewise, Secretariat might have far more appeal for others than it had for me. I'm just not sure it will have enough 'legs' to last more than a short time in the theaters. We'll see.

As far as the racing action and how authentically it was portrayed - well, bring in your suspension of disbelief along with the popcorn.

In Secretariat's debut at Aqueduct it looks like the paddock is in a parking lot. At one point there's a car parked just off to the side. After the race the jockeys seem to return to someone's barn - as opposed to the jockeys' room. When Chenery gets the phone call that Secretariat is about to be born, her kids are splashing in the swimming pool in the background - a highly unlikely occurrence in Denver in March. And - best guess here after checking the credits for locations - Saratoga's 'stand-in' is the Evangeline Downs training center. And, OK, most viewers aren't going to know the difference per se - but the crown jewels of American racing, Saratoga, Santa Anita, Churchill, etc, have a certain ambiance - and the far turn at Evangeline with a chain link fence and pick-ups and trailers just doesn't cut it as Saratoga. It would be kind of like a movie portraying an opening night red-carpet and a Honda Accord drives up, the driver gets out and opens the door for the celebrities inside. OK, it's a car - but inherently the audience knows that it should have been a limousine.

But hey, even though there were a hatful of minor errors a racing fan might look at askance, if the story grabs you and holds your interest that transcends the gaffes. In the case of Secretariat however, I'm not sure it will work out that way.

Official Disney Secretariat website

IMDB: Secretariat website


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