Ron Turcotte Meeting and Thoughts on 'Secretariat'

This will be my last post about the World Equestrian Games, but I wanted to tell you all about my encounter with Ron Turcotte, the jockey of Secretariat, while I was out at the Kentucky Horse Park a couple of weeks ago.

I was walking around the huge tent promoting dozens of local stores and various organizations, and I happened upon the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation booth. Sitting in his wheelchair preparing to sign autographs was the man himself—Turcotte--who had piloted Secretariat through all of his Triple Crown glory.

Part of me was thinking that I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time, but another part of me felt like the situation was meant to be.

“I’ve been at the Kentucky Horse Park quite a few times…but not when there was this many people or many horses,” Turcotte told me in a soft spoken voice, so faint, I could barely hear him.

There were so many things I wanted to ask him…how does it feel now, all these years later, looking back at his accomplishments? What was Secretariat really like to ride? What has Turcotte been up to during his retirement from racing?

But for some reason, I had trouble getting the words out, and time was running short. Turcotte had places to go, autographs to sign, and there was already a hefty line forming at the TRF table of people eager to meet him. But I did ask him one thing…what was it like being here at the Horse Park for such an event as this?

“It’s always pretty special to come here,” he said with a smile. “I love horses—I have owned horses all my days. And the memories from my riding years are still fresh--especially the ones with Secretariat.”

Turcotte added that the last several years, he has taken pride in volunteering and promoting such organizations as the TRF, as well as the Permanently Disabled Jockey’s Fund.

My friend Angie and I were able to snap a quick photo with him before we went on our way, and I left the TRF table star struck, and so grateful at the same time that I was able to spend a few moments with such a man as Ron Turcotte.

The following is an Associated Press article that I saw the other day about writer Murray Evans’ meeting with Turcotte and his thoughts on the recently released Disney film:

The jockey who rode Secretariat says the film about the equine star “pretty well” captures the story of what happened during the horse's famed run to the 1973 Triple Crown.

Ron Turcotte, who recently visited Remington Park as part of the festivities surrounding the Oct. 10 Oklahoma Derby, acknowledged the filmmakers took some poetic license with the tale but said he “thought it was a very good movie.”

“Secretariat, he had the looks, he had the charm, he had it all,” said the 69-year-old Turcotte, who saw the film for the first time the first week of October in Lexington.

The film, starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich as Secretariat's owner, Penny Chenery, and trainer, Lucien Laurin, respectively, was released nationally Oct. 8 and finished third at the box office, taking in $12.6 million, according to studio estimates released Oct. 10.

Otto Thorwarth, a former jockey who once rode regularly at Remington Park, Oaklawn Park, River Downs, Turfway Park and other tracks, answered a casting call to play Turcotte in the movie at the encouragement of a friend and didn't think anything would come of it.

“I've never acted a day in my life, other than in front of the (track) stewards,” he said, laughing.

Director Randall Wallace chose him for the part, though. Thorwarth said he only met Turcotte once before attempting to portray the jockey.

“I could tell real quick he was a straight-to-the-point, confident person,” Thorwarth said.

Turcotte, who wasn't consulted on the film, said Thorwarth “did a real good job” capturing his personality, even if some of the scenes featuring Turcotte's character in the film didn't quite happen as filmmakers portrayed.

“Secretariat” does use television footage from the 1973 Preakness Stakes and part of announcer Chic Anderson's call of the Belmont, including his famous line, “He is moving like a tremendous machine,” as Secretariat pulled away from the field.

Turcotte recalls those two races vividly.

“The greatest race was the Preakness,” he said. “I could have won by 15 lengths if I'd wanted to.” Secretariat beat Sham by 2 1/2 lengths in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

In the Belmont, “(Secretariat) had such a nice, rhythmic stride,” said Turcotte. “He was just covering ground. He was doing it so easy. He added that he looked back “one time, at the 5/16ths pole when he called me 20 lengths in front. I could see the crowd and hear the roar.”

Turcotte was paralyzed in a riding accident in 1978. Thirty-seven years after Secretariat's Triple Crown, he said he continues to receive “tons of mail” concerning the horse, who died in 1989 in Kentucky after a bout with laminitis.

“People have been learning about Secretariat since he ran,” he said. “It's just what Secretariat did. He was such a great horse--I really believe the greatest horse that ever lived. I'm not the only one who believes that.”

Okay, I want to hear what you thought of the Secretariat movie if you have already seen it. Even with the discrepancies and historical inaccuracies, did you feel that the movie gave the story justice?

I also wanted to let you guys know that I spoke with Lisa Yassa of the American Humane Association’s film and TV unit, and she informed me that “Secretariat” had received the organization’s “No Animals Were Harmed” end-credit disclaimer, as well as its highest rating “Monitored: Outstanding.” Please click here for more information.

I wrote a blog awhile back about Thoroughbred actors and how they are trained for movies, so I found this bit of information quite interesting.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

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