Big Red on the Big Screen

Part 3 of my Secretariat trilogy is a review of the long-awaited film that opens nationwide on Oct. 8. For those who wish to see the movie with an open mind and not be made aware of its flaws, you can just read the opening and closing graphs. To the casual and non-racing fans, the flaws will be of little concern. As much as I want the movie to do well, and believe it will, I cannot write an objective review in a racing publication without mentioning them. But this is Disney, and on the feel-good meter, it registers a "10."

I decided not to write a review immediately after seeing the movie in order to let it sink in and come to terms with the revisionist history aspects of it. I didn’t think it was fair to offer a knee-jerk critique as a racing aficionado when the film was not geared toward an esoteric viewpoint. As representatives of the film keep pointing out, it is not a documentary.

As I said, I wish the film all the best and hope it does well, because the sport needs all the positive mainstream exposure it can get. And it’s time for people, especially the younger generation, to get an idea just what kind of impact Secretariat had, not just on racing, but on the American public. Imagine a horse today being on the cover of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated in the same week and occupying the entire front and back pages of the New York Daily News. Secretariat transcended racing and sports in general, weaving himself into the fabric of American culture.

Also, the movie has rejuvenated sales of the two books on Secretariat (by William Nack and Ray Woolfe Jr), as well as the new book, “Secretariat’s Meadow,” written by Penny Chenery’s daughter, Kate Chenery Tweedy, and Leeanne Ladin, which has already climbed to No. 1 on in the category of Horses and Racing.

The key word in assessing the merits of the film is “Disney,” and that is not meant in a derogatory way. It is merely drumming in the name of the artist before revealing the painting, so one can be prepared for that particular style of art.

Like most Disney movies, the audiences are going to love the look of the movie and most of all the racing footage. I am not knowledgeable enough about film-making to say whether it was filmed in a form of Stop Action photography, but it had that look, and gave the racing scenes a feel of speed and excitement that is difficult to capture with normal photography. It was extremely powerful and brought the viewer right into the race.

Also, the extreme close-up scenes in the starting gate, including the zoom-in shots right into the eye of Secretariat and Sham, and the jockeys’ hands grabbing a piece of the mane, added to the drama, the tension, and the anticipation that precedes a race of the magnitude of the Triple Crown events.

Although the horses who played Secretariat did not capture the majesty and physical presence of Big Red, the equine stars did well enough, considering there isn’t a horse alive who could have done justice to him.

As for the human stars, Diane Lane really got into the role of Penny Tweedy and was convincing for the most part. She gave a decent enough attempt at portraying the tough, business side of Secretariat’s owner, but Penny was pretty tough and shrewd – she had to be, wheeling and dealing with Kentucky’s bluebloods while still a novice in the sport. Lane didn’t quite reach that toughness, but she did a good job and, as usual, lit up the screen.  And she did well portraying Penny’s determination. Overall, I thought Penny’s storyline, beginning in Denver, was well done and set the tone for the movie, as did the opening title scene, which was powerful and beautifully filmed and directed.

John Malkovich, as great an actor as he is, was pretty much a caricature, geared more for comedic relief, and bore no resemblance physically or character-wise to Lucien Laurin, who was for the most part quiet and understated and spoke with a thick French Canadian accent, which Malkovich did not even attempt. But Laurin’s personality was not geared toward a major movie role, so it is understandable why Disney decided to add its own colorful strokes to his character.

Disney also is known for its countless and unforgettable villains, and every Disney movie has to have its Cruella Deville and Scar. In this case, the stereotypical villain was Sham’s trainer Pancho Martin, who came across as some street thug and obnoxious braggart (“Secretariat is goin’ down!”). Pancho could be gruff, but was tame compared to the character in the movie. Even poor Sham, who suffered enough by coming along the same year as Secretariat, was portrayed as the equine villain, much as the infamous Postman was in the movie “Kentucky,” which by the way had a very similar storyline to “Secretariat,” with Loretta Young playing the Penny Tweedy role, who saves the farm after her father dies. Even in “Seabiscuit,” War Admiral came across as the evil equine, miraculously growing from 15.2 hands in real life to an absurd 18 hands in the movie.

As for the many liberties taken in the movie, I can recall standing outside the Palace Theater in Louisville, Ky. following the premiere of “Seabiscuit,” talking to Penny, and she was very critical of the number of liberties taken in that movie and didn’t have many good things to say about it. It is now seven years later, and welcome to Hollywood, Penny. It was a great touch showing her for an instant in the crowd scene at the Belmont.

Many of those liberties taken were pretty ridiculous. I will list some of them, but must state again that the majority of people who see the movie will not notice them or care, and those are the people to whom the movie is geared.

Penny, Lucien, and groom Eddie Sweat being in the stall for Secretariat’s birth was way too Hollywood and over the top, and was too far removed from reality for even a Disney movie; as was the jockeys for Secretariat’s first race at (“Aqueduct”) mounting and dismounting their horses in the backstretch (filmed at Evangeline Downs), directly outside the barn. That's something you'd see in a low budget 1930's movie. Also, the shot of Penny, Lucien, and Sweat dancing and hip-bumping and Penny washing down Secretariat with no one holding the horse were a bit too much, as was Eddie Sweat standing on the track on the eve of the big race, shouting to the heavens about what the world was about to see. And Penny’s relationship with Secretariat was a bit too spiritual, but we’ll give Disney creative license on that one and the Eddie Sweat scene for the sake of audience appeal. I would like to have seen a little more about his 2-year-old campaign, considering he was Horse of the Year. It was glossed over in a matter of seconds and gave no indication what he accomplished to earn the title. Again, no one will care. They’ll just want to get to the Triple Crown.

And speaking of Horse of the Year, another farcical scene was Penny and Lucien learning that Secretariat was named Horse of the Year by being shown a copy of the Daily Racing Form while having breakfast in the track kitchen. It trivializes the award and the honor that the owner and trainer were not even aware of it and had to see it in the trade newspaper.

That was the same track kitchen where Ogden Phipps offered to buy Secretariat for $8 million. I did think the coin toss scene with Penny and Phipps was well done.

The filming and aftermath of the Wood Memorial was totally bizarre. They showed the correct finish – Sham losing by a neck to Angle Light. But then Pancho Martin starts jumping up and down in celebration, and there is reference by the Secretariat camp to Sham winning the race. It was as if they didn’t know how to handle this, so they went both ways and gave us the right finish and the wrong result. That is something people might notice. Wouldn’t it have made for better drama had Secretariat been beaten by his own stablemate, as it actually happened? Then Penny could have really had a reason to chew out Lucien, which she did. But Disney needed to introduce the villainous adversary at the point, in which case they should have stayed consistent and shown Sham actually winning the race. That was not the time to remain loyal to the truth if you’re going to contradict it five seconds later.

The pre-race press interviews were nonsensical and fabricated, and all that was missing was Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier verbally sparring with each other. If racing did have pre-race press interviews they would have been a lot more boring than the frantic assault of questions and answers shown in the movie, so, why not give it the old Hollywood touch, right?
If you’re going to film the Belmont Stakes at Keeneland, which is like trying to make Rock Springs, Wyoming look like Manhattan, they at least should have made an attempt to hide the fact that it’s Keeneland. This was like a travelogue for Keeneland in all its countrified splendor, showing the grandstand and rolling hills and fields. You just got no flavor at all of Belmont Park and the Belmont Stakes.
Finally, although the long view, ground-level shot up the stretch in the Belmont was effective, as the audience waits for Secretariat to appear, it ruined it for me when the song “Oh Happy Day” came blaring off the screen and lasted for the remainder of the movie. Gospel music and gospel lyrics just didn’t fit at all, and took away from the impact of the stretch run, rather than enhance it. But I have to admit, I still get goosebumps when I watch the real stretch run of the Belmont, and I discovered I also get them when I watch a staged version of it on the screen, despite the odd choice of music.
But as stated before, most of these flaws will be overlooked by audiences. Having lived through the Secretariat years and having been close to the horse, I'm probably not the best person to dissect the movie because of the sharpness of my scalpel. So let me say again, I think the mainstream reviews will be excellent and that audiences will be thrilled and moved by it, and that’s all that matters.

If they walk out of the theater feeling good and being awed by the greatness of Secretariat and the almost mythical persona he still possesses, then the movie will have succeeded. And after having time to digest it and put it all in perspective, I am convinced they will. 


Leave a Comment:


Tx for the heads up. I will go anyway & enjoy the good parts & cinematography.  I will no doubt cringe inside at this 'Disneyism' but at least it isn't 'Dreamer'!!

19 Sep 2010 8:31 PM

Thank you so much for your honesty in offering your review of the upcoming movie, Steve.  I believe this will prepare those who do follow racing to go see it and recognize it for what it is, a Disney version, rather than expecting to see a documentary on the horse most of us hold in the highest regard.  Due to the magic touch that Disney movies have to enchant us and pull us into the characters on the screen, if it creates a new fervor for horses, evokes an interest in racing, then it will be a success in spite of not being true to the actual history.  I'm looking forward to seeing it and sharing it with my family, much as I implored them all to accompany me to see Seabiscuit when it first came out.  I think it's interesting that Disney chose to do Secretariat and base it on his story using at least some of the people who were important in his life instead of simply doing a remake of that Loretta Young movie.  I'd forgotten all about that one - lol!  I'm hoping that since Penny Chenery was not impressed with Seabiscuit, she can take some comfort in the fact that this move, even with its limitations will continue and reinforce and encourage people to learn about and remember Big Red.  Since I wasn't following racing at the time, I will be one of those who didn't know some of those details until you've pointed them out here - I have no frame of reference to know what kind of personality any of the trainers had, so it will be interesting for me to see if I can pick up on some of the inside information you've pointed out.  No, it probably won't happen.  I'll probably just sit there and be enthralled by it all and cry like a wimp when he wins the Belmont.

19 Sep 2010 8:55 PM

During the production of the movie, I sent an email to Disney regarding the importance of their selections of music for the film.  I mentioned that when selecting the music, it HAS to reflect an imposing athlete, THE KING of the sport of kings, who was the model of perfection in physique, fierce in competition, humorous in personality, regal, and a horse who transcended sports as you mentioned in your article.  We're talking about the greatest athlete in ANY sport.  

Needless to say, "Oh Happy Days" just doesn't cut it for me.  I was hoping for accuracy and a spirit of reverence to reflect the greatness of Secretariat so it sounds like I'm going to a love/hate relationship with the movie.  I loved "Seabiscuit" and thought they really captured the characters in essence.

Oh well, I'll  try not to prejudge.  I've already put in for a vacation day October 8 to catch the matinee!

Thanks for your perspective, Steve.

19 Sep 2010 9:08 PM

I am looking forward to seeing the movie I am a little dissapointed that Riva Ridge was left out how did they do the Marlboro cup? From what I am hearing about the movie Hollywood throw their own story in I just hope it does justice to the Great Champion Secretariat was if nothing else at least the movie will put him back in to the spotlight where he belongs He may be gone but racing is better because once there was a Secretariat and he will never be forgotten by the fans that loved him.  Darlene. What happened to the horses that played Secretariat?

19 Sep 2010 9:20 PM

As with Seabiscuit which had the pull of Tobey McGuire when he was on a roll, it is good to see the forest for the trees as you have done in your review, Steve.  Almost any horse racing movie is better than no movie at all, even when disneyfied with gospel music to boot.  We can only hope the DVD will be keep the kids interested for years to come.

19 Sep 2010 9:24 PM
needler in Virginia

VERY even-handed, Steve, and put beautifully. One day someone will explain to me why a perfectly marvelous story with a fairy tale creature as its' star, with larger than life characters, and MUCH larger than life reality needs to be Disneyed ad nauseum. What on Earth could be wrong with the actual truth?? I'm not that surprised that it has turned out this way, but fer Pete's sake, can't they have gotten the Sham/Angle Light results right? And how did the truth make the story less than what it really was and is?

Nah, never mind; you said it best.....this WILL be a much-needed shot in the arm for racing, so I should just shut up and be glad they didn't make Big Red a mustang who escapes capture, is found trapped in barbed wire by the poor-but-lovely ranch owner's son.......who frees the red colt, becomes his jockey in the Derby and they ride into the Triple Crown, history and the sunset together.... YE GODS! I should write for Disney!!

Thanks for a well-balanced and fair review of what we have been expecting, Steve.

Cheers and safe trips.

19 Sep 2010 9:35 PM

Two things that bugged me a bit (while adding that I enjoyed the movie a lot)...

I really felt the lack of Riva Ridge, personally. If you're doing the Secretariat movie, I suppose that's fine. However, despite Big Red getting top billing, this was certainly more the Penny story, and to leave Riva out of that felt really, really strange.

The photograph of Turcotte looking back approaching the wire has got to be one of the most famous pictures in racing history. I liked that they had the jockey look back, but how hard would it have been to throw someone playing the photographer on the inside rail?

19 Sep 2010 9:35 PM

Too sad that Hollywood couldn't just present the facts, which were stunning enough. Poor Sham indeed - the other three year old besides Monarchos and Big Red who ran the Derby in less than 2 minutes...too sad that Hollywood does not have the sense to consider its audience (America) intelligent enough to be enriched and enthralled by the real story.

19 Sep 2010 10:03 PM
Bet Twice

I'm super excited to see the movie.  

When I read they were making the movie, I thought - wow, where's the drama?  Hats off to them for finding the Penny Chenery angle.

There's not a lot of dramatic tension surrounding Secretariat's races.  My guess is they had to vilify Sham in order to create an antagonist.  While it would be accurate to portray Sham in his true light, it would be the death of momentum (most people don't want to watch the favorite win, as expected.)

The criticism surrounding locations is fair, but totally unrealistic.  Almost no one will know and there's no way the production had enough money to schlep from track to track paying all those location fees and company moves.  Likewise, saddling in the barn area.  Totally silly to us, but it compressed a ton of action (ie. made it much, much cheaper) and who else will know?

My take?  Thanks Disney for reminding the world while racing matters.  I know you feel them same too.

19 Sep 2010 10:05 PM

Well said Steve. I'll will go and try to watch the movie with an open mind.  

19 Sep 2010 10:07 PM
Paula Higgins

"Oh Happy Day," you have to be kidding. There is no way that captures the Belmont stretch. I don't even know what to say. A shame they did that to Lucien Laurin's character and to Sham as well. No horse is a villain in my book. In fact, I always felt so bad for Sham. He was one of the few horses who tried to stay with Secretariat. I always felt he had alot of heart in a no win situation.

I never watch this type of movie believing the whole thing. Hollywood cannot restrain itself unfortunately, which is too bad because the story of Penny Tweedy and Secretariat is compelling enough on its own. I think the last sport movie made that accurately reflected the real story was MIRACLE with Kurt Russell. That was about the American ice hockey team made up of high school kids who won the Olympic Gold Medal against the Russians.

But I am sure Secretariat will be a  good movie from an entertainment point of view. Hopefully better than Seabiscuit. As one reviewer said, the only thing missing in Seabiscuit was Seabiscuit.

19 Sep 2010 10:08 PM
Ted from LA

I was there in the stall when Secretariat was born and you're right, those others weren't.  Dr. Drunkinbum delivered him and I held his doctor bag.  I heard Disney is going to do a remake of Field of Dreams in downtown Manhatten.

I'm with you Steve.  I think the publicity from this movie for racing is the key.

19 Sep 2010 10:13 PM
Abbie Knowles

Thanks for another brilliant and incisive piece of writing.  It does sound like there are many good things about the film as well as some flaws.

The choice of Oh Happy Day as the background music to which Secretariat blasted up the stretch at Belmont Park does some somewhat odd.

I always think that watching a film should have a feel good factor about it so agree that if Secretariat has that and if it also captures the great horse's personality then it will be graet for racing!

It is so good that Disney are immortalising Secretariat in a film which will without doubt reach people outside horse racing.  There are, after all, many horse lovers who will watch the film because it is Disney and about horses.

Many thanks for this blog Steve.

God bless you, all on the blogsite and everyone at The Bloodhorse.

Best wishes


19 Sep 2010 10:14 PM
The Rock

I was able to bear Seabiscuit at the theatres, and I quite enjoyed it even after I read the book.

Dreamer was a nightmare to watch, based on your reviews it seems like Secretariat is on the same path. Got free passes to the premiere, but I think i'm gonna pass. Dreamer scarred me for life! lol

19 Sep 2010 10:48 PM
Mary Ann W in Louisville

That is exactly what the horse racing industry needs!  We want those young folks to be introduced to the BIG RED legend so that they may fall in love with the awesomeness of our beautiful thoroughbreds.  

19 Sep 2010 10:58 PM

"Oh Happy Day?"  O Please.  At least I was warned. Hope mainstream America and the left and right love this movie.

About the Seabiscuit film making War Admiral 18 hands, that really smoked my shorts.  And when I told non-racing friends that I liked War Admiral, they right away made a comment about his East coast owner and how he was so much bigger, etc.  When I told them that the two horses were both about the same height and that The Biscuit may have had an inch on the Admiral, I was asked for proof.

Tell Penney I'm sorry that Riva was left out.  He's in my fave yearling's pedigree--s on the bottom half.

19 Sep 2010 10:59 PM

Even though I haven't seen the movie, I think I'll have to agree. Disney messes up most of their films with stupid mistakes like these. But the movie will, as you said, still probably be good to those who are casual racing fans. I'm honsetly still excited to see it, though. I wasn't lucky enough to have lived during the Secretatiat years, but I'm a huge fan none the less:) Racing really needs some publicity right now. And what America needs is a Triple Crown. 32 years is too long. Much too long.

19 Sep 2010 11:02 PM
Zen's Auntie

My kids 7 an 17 cannot wait to see it. They were quick to tell me it probably wont be like real life if its Disney but they cant wait just the same, and you know what? Me too.

Im sure the "Keeneland staged Belmont" Stretch run will have me balling like every time I have seen the real one starting with live on TV the first time.  

Any upbeat racing movie is good for Thoroughbreds and racing and how can you not love a movie about Big Red?? Even with liberties taken and hollywood slathered on it. Its a movie, not a documentary and we are keeping that in mind.  

19 Sep 2010 11:12 PM

Steve--I'm a "bit" older than you and, as a young girl, I was enamored with Citation the same way that many young girls are in love with the singing stars of their generations. To me, Citation was the be-all, end-all. When I was older, and watching all those years of horses attempting to win the Triple Crown after Citation, I could never bring myself to root for them. I wanted that distinction to remain with my "first love", Citation. But then a Big Red Magnificent horse, by the name of Secretariat, appeared on the scene. I watched him in awe as he won the Kentucky Derby and then the Preakness. But when the day came for his attempt to become immortal, I wasn't sure I wanted him to win .....until he entered the starting gate. All of a sudden, I found myself wanting him to win so badly it hurt. AND WIN HE DID!!! It says something about who he was and the effect he had on people that I could not help myself from rooting for him. He was a truly GREAT and breathtaking Champion and I, for one, will never forget him.....nor will I ever forget Citation. Wonderful creatures, both!!!

19 Sep 2010 11:17 PM

Does not sound much worse than the mistakes they made in HBO series "Jockey". I think the "Oh Happy Day" is in reference to God providing such a magnificent animal as Secretariat to win the Triple Crown. We Christians thank Him for it.

19 Sep 2010 11:27 PM

Does anybody know who plays the announcer Chic Anderson in the movie?

19 Sep 2010 11:54 PM
christy tate

having not seen the movie yet, i think it's a bit unfair for anyone who has to be talking about it. of course they took dramatic lisence with the story, it's disney after all! if you want acuracy,watch a documentary, or read a biography or autobiography.

20 Sep 2010 12:23 AM
Steve Haskin

As I said, most people will not care about the flaws, but it still was something that had to be mentioned in a racing publication review. Trust me, you all will enjoy the film. And, yes, thanks to Disney for embarking on the project.

As Bet Twice said, there isn't a lot of drama, in a movie sense, in Secretariat's races, so liberties had to be taken to appeal to the masses. What I found bothersome will not be bothersome to the majority of people who see it. Yes, definitely go with an open mind.

20 Sep 2010 12:45 AM

Oh Happy Day? *palmface* I`m christian, I like the song and all that, but that almost makes me not wanna see it. Maybe a short bit of the song during the trophie presentation or something would be passeable, but coming upthe home stretch and lasting the rest of the movie?! It just doesn`t fit, at all! That`s why I don`t expect much from Hollywood, let alone Disney (it was awsome in the 60s and such, but now it sucks hard), but I beleive they may have just reached a whole new low.

20 Sep 2010 1:15 AM
The Deacon

Thanks for the critique and comments Steve. I will see it only because it is about horse racing and a great legend. But truthfully, leave it to Hollywood to screw up a great story. I can't tell how many countless books I have read that were later turned into a movie that Hollywood totally changed around and messed up. They change the names, the settings, the endings and just about everything else. I only hope that the movie is perceived properly and doesn't tarnish anything about the sport or Big Red. I am probably over reacting a little especially since I have not as yet seen the movie. I do trust your judgement and instincts on this though Steve as you are a true horseman. If anyone knows Secretariat Steve it is you, so I hope the movie does well............

20 Sep 2010 1:21 AM

Steve, just a couple of comments ..

I will watch the movie, no doubt, but I truely dislike the casting of Lucien - he was much shorter than Penny.  

Enough from me at this point except to say the song they should have used was "We Are The Champions" by Queen! Why didn't they ask me?  LOL!

20 Sep 2010 2:09 AM

What they really did with this movie is try to tell the how, we all really already know the what. They tell the how with character dialogue that is created just for the audience's benefit.

At least they didn't change the ending.

Movie reviewer, Mike Chestmut says it well:

"I think when it comes down to it, there are basically two kinds of people. There are those who watch a movie where the characters talk about following their souls' desires and become wrapped up in it, and then there are those who roll their eyes and groan when confronted with such dialogue. There's really no in-between. If you're the former type, then even if you know what Secretariat is setting out to achieve, you'll still cheer when you see it happen on the big screen. If you're the latter type, you'll be confused by the responses of those other people in the theater with you. But that doesn't mean you won't be wishing you were as into it as they are."

20 Sep 2010 2:45 AM
Outlaw Enterprises


Thanks for giving away the glaring irregularities.  Now, I will not have to concern myself with watching for them and maybe I can enjoy the movie like the regular public =)

I have been looking forward to seeing the movie and we plan on taking as many "non racing" friends as possible with us.  I can only hope that this movie strikes a good chord the public like the unfortunate battle that Barbaro endured.  We dearly need a new infusion in the industry or the next generation of writers and movie makers will be producing historical documentaries about the entire industry, not just one outstanding fraction of it.


20 Sep 2010 3:17 AM

Great review.  I'll go see it, and probably enjoy it a lot, since I don't go to movies for history since, you know, they virtually never provide that service to the viewer.  Plus, as apparently unhip as it apparently is if the comments here are any barometer, I love Disney and most of their flicks.  They're entertaining and that's why I go to movies.

20 Sep 2010 3:56 AM
Fuzzy Corgi

I'll see the movie but I'd MUCH prefer to see a documentary, complete with original footage plus a few still pics thrown in, and minus corny, inappropriate tunes.

20 Sep 2010 4:04 AM


20 Sep 2010 4:10 AM
Twilight Tear

The first thing that strikes me is that the racing silks are the wrong color.

SHOULD BE ROYAL BLUE AND WHITE,are they this light blue color in the film as in the ads??

RED, WHITE, and BLUE, another form for his popularity. Patriotism, when the country needed a lift.

20 Sep 2010 5:31 AM
Secretariat-Seattle Slew Fan4ever

Thx for the review, Steve. I can't wait to see the "Secretariat" movie either! I'll probably cry during the movie, which is what someone else said they do whenever they watch the real footage of his races, especially The Belmont. I cried whenever I was fortunate to see Secretariat in his paddock @ Claiborne. I got goosebumps seeing Slew too. The special ones have that "look in their eyes" & they know they're something special too. I see it watching their races & whenever I saw them in person too @ Claiborne & Three Chimneys. Well, you guys know what I mean since you guys love Secretariat too. I remember saying as a kid, that I may not ever see another Triple Crown winner again since it happened back-to-back w/Slew & Affirmed, after Secretariat had accomplished this only 4 yrs. earlier. It's something special to win the Triple Crown. I just hope that the distances or the times b/w each of the 3 races is not tinkered w/ b/c it would take away from the rare feat of the T.C., IMHO. There won't be another Secretariat, b/c he was definitely one of a kind. And, I'll always have goosebumps rewatching his races & shedding tears too while I watch those races too. Even after all these years, it's always the same. It will be good for a younger generation to see & Secretariat will have even more fans than he already has, all these yrs. later.  

20 Sep 2010 5:45 AM

As I said, most people will not care about the flaws.

Re:  Steve, thats because most people dont even know about the flaws. You, on the other hand have a more indepth knowledge than the average joe out here. The average joe wont know the difference.

I must  say,  Between Oprah listing Zenyatta in her short list of influential females of 2010 and the release of the Secretariat movie, Horse racing in general should definitly get some major attention that it needs.  

20 Sep 2010 6:03 AM

All I know is my 13 year old daughter sees the ads on ABC Family Channel and says, Mom, I want to go see that.  O Happy Day indeed!

20 Sep 2010 7:53 AM

As someone who has spent some time in Rock Springs, WY and who has yet to reach Manhattan, your comment makes me smile.  Thanks for the review.  I am looking forward to the movie despite its inaccuracies.

20 Sep 2010 8:09 AM

"A warrior’s greatness is measured by the courage of his opponents."...You had that in a blog, Steve...I can't go simply because they make Sham the villain...Sham, one of only 3 horses ever to run the Derby under 2 minutes...the horse that pushed the mighty Secretariat to go faster than him and create the record that stands...Sham, who ran with broken teeth, blood streaming from his mouth...nope, can't do it...I loved Sham as a young girl and I won't watch him be the bad guy...he was a very brave horse. ♥

20 Sep 2010 8:09 AM

Secretariat provided the thoroughbred industry with a golden opportunity to take the sport mainstream but in their wisdom they wait 37 years to release a movie about him. Crazy! Let's hope we don't have to wait until 2047 to see a film celebrating the accomplishments of Zenyatta.

20 Sep 2010 8:21 AM

Wow Steve, thanks for the heads-up on some of these "adjustments" to reality.  The villain aspect, although typical, is disturbing to me but I can get by that for the sake of fantasy drama. Changing the result of the Wood makes no sense to me whatsoever & that I will really have a hard time swallowing, just like filming the Belmont at Keenland. BUT....  I have to express my TOTAL agreement with you on the song at the end of the movie. It should have been something much more heroic & bandstand-ish!! Building up with the unbelievable result to the wire. Ah, well, Disney didn't poll Blood-Horse readers for these answers so what can we do?  My daughter & I are counting the days that we get to see it at last & usually if we like a film we watch it twice! I am still excited!

I am new to you blogs just this year & have been enjoying every one & find that the bloggers on your blogs are much more.... sane(mature? realistic?) than on most blogs... for the most part. I really enjoy you & the company you keep!  Thank you all!

PS - What did you think of Phar Lap, which I really got into & is there any way humanly possible to get a copy that will play in the U.S.?

20 Sep 2010 8:25 AM
Lynn and Michael


WE think you nailed it! We were fortunate to see a screening in Georgetown yesterday and we too believe no one will notice what you noticed.

Our issue was that if you are going to pick one of the Triple Crown races to show the actual race, why wouldn't it be the race that helped define him, the Belmont Stakes? We think the attempt at recreating the call of the race was horrible. It would have been great to hear and see the original.

We would however recommend the movie to everyone that has a chance to go.

20 Sep 2010 8:59 AM

I won't see the movie.  I got a clue in the previews when they show a bay foal being born. A chestnut foal is very distinctive.

20 Sep 2010 9:07 AM

To bad it's not feasible to cast a 20 year old stallion. I recently saw Tinner's Way at Old Friends. In this son of Secretariat lives - if not a greatness equal to Secretariat's - a powerful reminder of his sire's appearance and presence.

Thanks for the warning about the movie's discordant moments. Instead of being irked, I can expect them and just enjoy a positive representation of racing's great athletes and dedicated connections.

20 Sep 2010 9:08 AM

Let me understand, Secretariat’s getting gang tackled right out of the gate in his debut then losing only because he didn’t have enough track left before the finish is not drama? Secretariat’s losing the 72 Champagne because having no hole to run through he decided to make his own is not drama? Did Disney hire a Shire to portray Forego?

I am sorry that Sham was portrayed as a villain. The only thing he did wrong in his career was break his own massive cardiac muscle trying to thwart Secretariat’s Triple Crown bid. I cry whenever I watch the tape of that historic Belmont, not just because of the magnificence of Secretariat in all its glory nor that fabulous race call, but by visibly watching Sham’s legs turn into rubber. How many thoroughbreds can even run 6 furlongs in 1:09 4/5 as both Sham and Secretariat did that June 9th? And who thought before the race that Secretariat would be the winner of an early speed battle, since his preferred running style before then had been to linger at the back, like Zenyatta in the early going?

Paula Higgins wrote earlier that she “always felt he (Sham) had alot of heart in a no win situation.” Well, yes he did. According to Bill Nack in his book, which Disney should have adhered to for the movie, Sham’s heart was the second largest in size ever recorded. Only the Meadow Monster’s was bigger. Like Secretariat, Sham was out of a Princequillo mare. According to Marianna Haun, developer of The X Factor theory, Princequillo was a carrier of Eclipse (1764)’s large heart gene which Haun postulates is passed on the x-chromosome. So, if correct, this large X would have passed from Princequillo to Somethingroyal to Secretariat, and from Princequillo to Sequoia to Sham. Neither Secretariat nor Sham would have passed it on to their sons. However, the pattern does seem to continue through Secretariat’s daughters as attested to by the success of stallions such as A. P. Indy, Summer Squall and Storm Cat. Zenyatta is potentially a carrier of this same X. In her case, the magic X could have passed from Princequillo to Sharp Queen to Kris S to Vertigineux.

20 Sep 2010 9:13 AM
Pedigree Dude

Yes, I remember watching "Seabiscuit," and them saying that War Admiral was "huge," and I was thinking "no he wasn't!"

20 Sep 2010 9:17 AM

I have to admit,Steve, that as one who watched Secretariat as a 2 yr old and KNEW who I was going to bet in the Derby.....Iwouldn't expect Disney to be satisfied with the REAL story and would have to do "something" to change, add or otherwise "disney-ize it".   BUT, I'm glad that the generation who werent' lucky enough to have BEEN there and hear the stretch run of ....."SECRETARIAT IS MOVING LIKE A TREMENDOUS MACHINE...."  well....maybe this movie will give them the goosbbumps I STILL get when I see that footage.  

Her's hoping some smart breeder out there is busy Line breeding BIG RED's progeny to get those lines concentrated mucho.   As a breeder, I know this is somewhat of a roll of the dice....but it may be the only chance we have of ever seeing a flicker of that greatness again! about a movie of another great horse from that crop....the Mighty FOREGO.   If there is not a story on how that horse continued to carry weight and run and WIN on those legs....I dont' where there is one!   :)

20 Sep 2010 9:28 AM

No one in my family was ever enamored of horse racing...and yet, when I was 9, and had my first TV, I became immediately transfixed in front of the screen the first time racing was nationally televised.  (Perhaps it was all those cowboy movies as a child where I had more affection for the horses than the actors)  or the news reel clips in theaters showing the awesome Citation.  But my experiences were limited.  When the "Seabiscuit" movie debuted, not aware of the details of his life, I was charmed and enthralled by the movie.  I believe that will be the general reaction to "Secretariat".  I cannot conceive of a more likely hero to draw in an entire new generation.  I thought the "Ruffian" movie was beautiful until it became devastating, and led me to tears I thought would never stop because I also remembered seeing Eight Bells go down identically to Ruffian.  The past 2 years, however, (retirement can be fun) I've been able to watch horse racing every day, and become involved in these blogs with folks who have taught me so much.  Thank you all for that.  Now as I try to cram horse racing down the throats of my kids and grandbabies, perhaps the Secretariat movie will do something I have been unable to do. (except my daughter whose first ride led to a broken collarbone when her horse tossed her).  But like the blogs, seeing the movie will be another extension of the magic of Secretariat.  And perhaps when the gospel music starts, I will hear instead, Queen doing "We are the Champions"....and Sham will never be villainous to me; I loved him too much to believe that.  Sham, like Alydar, just got born the wrong year....but is the caliber of the rivals that make the champions.  

20 Sep 2010 9:34 AM

Weekendstorm: Great minds think alike.  Your comment went up as I was typing mine.  Hail to Queen.

20 Sep 2010 9:38 AM

Steve, I am going to have to disagree with you on one point regarding the film. You say repeatedly that you think the majority of the audience will overlook the flaws in the film and I contend that the majority of the audience for this film is going to be either people who remember watching Secretariat race or have seen footage or read the books. Yes some parents will take their youngsters to see the film, but I think it is going to be the racing fans who turn out for this movies and they are going to come away disappointed that Disney had to doctor the story to the point that it doesn't even approach truth let alone being a documentary. I doubt there is a bigger Secretariat fan out there than me and I have been looking forward to this film for over a year, but even the trailer had me scratching my head going "why are they doing this?" There will never be a more compelling horse racing story than Secretariat and they couldn't let the facts speak for themselves. I hope I am wrong and this film brings a whole new audience to our sport but I don't think it will.

20 Sep 2010 9:53 AM

As a journalist once told me, "never let the facts get in the way of a good story."

20 Sep 2010 10:13 AM
Steve Haskin

Richard, I wrote that I think they will, but I'm more hopeful than anything else. Many saw Secretariat when they were young and many never saw him. Sure, some of the flaws will be noticed by anyone who knows anything about racing. I'm just hoping it won't bother them as much it bothered me, and that enough people will have no idea that those flaws exist. Then there will br those who do know and are very forgiving. The bottom line is, the movie is what it is, and I hope for the sake of the sport (PR-wise) that audiences as a whole will concentrate more on the positive parts and the overall impact of the movie, as fabricated as most of it is,

20 Sep 2010 10:35 AM
Steve Haskin

Slew, you're next. Look for the Slew story in the next couple of days after this one has run its course.

20 Sep 2010 10:37 AM
Shelby's Best Pal

Steve, thank you for this series of articles on Secretariat.  I enjoyed each one very much.  I loved the photos and memories you shared.  I certainly know the difference between Belmont and Keeneland but I will still be first in line when Secretariat opens in my neck of the woods.

20 Sep 2010 10:44 AM

I am looking forward to this film and already hoping the DVD will have some of the real Big Red's races included in the extras.  I own the old Secretariat DVD but wish film restorers could do something about the poor quality of the race tapes.  I've never seen a film biography of horse or human that came close to the truth, and I don't think it really matters.  Like the man said, folks, it's not intended to be a documentary, so why not get your disgruntled racing fan noses out of the stratospshere and go see this one, flaws and all?  It can't hurt horse racing for this movie to make a lot of money and introduce a new generation of children to this struggling sport.          

20 Sep 2010 10:50 AM

I have a suggestion. Why doesn't ESPN or Bloodhorse make their own movie about Secretariat & make it more like a documentary showing the true facts of Secretariat?? I thought the Ruffian movie, was good, even though it was VERY sad & I cried like a baby at the ending. I will go see the Secretariat Movie, because I will ALWAYS LOVE SECRETARIAT, FOREVER :) Keep the BIG RED Flame Burning!!

20 Sep 2010 10:58 AM
Steve Haskin

Mybigred, Racing documentaries don't sell, pure and simple. Just ask the producers of the John Henry documentary, which was extremely well done, but no one has seen it. I'll bet most racing fans dont even know it was released several months ago.

I'm hard to please when it comes to regular racing movies -- I can count on one hand the ones I've liked. Unlike you, I couldnt stand the Ruffian movie and I hated Dreamer. Phar Lap told the REAL story and did it brilliantly, so it can be done right. And Champions was fantastic, despite the prolonged hospital scenes.

20 Sep 2010 11:06 AM

I have been waiting for this day and at the same time dreading it as I have never known Disney to NOT hack a historical related movie (Dreamer comes to mine, as it was 'based' on the story of Mariah's Storm, mom to Giant's Causeway).  There were so many things in that movie that bothered me, though I will say it was a good movie- I just found I, as a race fan, couldn't get into it and, since seeing it years ago, never watched it again.

I will go see Secretariat on Oct 8th (or on DVD, if my baby decides that is the day she wants to enter the world, lol) but I would have rathered that someone other than Disney to take on the project.  I'm sure it is good and I will keep my mind open.

I never did see Big Red run, as I was born 11 years after he ran, but he is the reason why I am massive Thoroughbred fan- his story inspired me and still does. I love everything about him- the only horse that I feel has come close to the spotlight for horse racing that he brought back in 1973 now is Zenyatta. There have been a few horses since then that have tried (with exception of Barbaro, he was special in his own right) but Zenyatta has transcended, as you said Steve of Secretariat, horse racing.

Thanks for the heads up!!

20 Sep 2010 11:12 AM

You are such a sweetheart, Steve, and I'll thank you in advance, even though I just know you will bring me tears again.  If only all sports writers had the heart and common touch that you do, we might be stirred more often not only by an athlete's accomplishments, but also by the lives that were touched along the way.

20 Sep 2010 11:17 AM

Hi -

nice review, Steve, thanks.  As long as Disney's version is better than the Shirley Temple version of "The Story of Seabiscuit", whose redeeming feature was that it preserved some of the actual footage of him racing, we'll be ok!

As for Phar Lap - the movie "A Horse Called Phar Lap" (1984) amazingly doesn't seem to be on DVD (really odd), but you might be able to download it from here:

I've never bought anything from them, but it might be worth exploring.

20 Sep 2010 11:25 AM
Bill B.

As my email address suggests, which you cannot see, I was and still am a huge Secretariat fan. I was in my 20's when he ran and know just about every fact there is. I am also from NY and was at his amazing Belmont, though that was the only time I saw him in person. I cannot imagine how I didn't go to the Marlboro Cup, one of the most anticipated races ever, but for some reason I only saw it on TV. This movie, which I truly hope is a success for the sake of thoroughbred racing, sounds really dreadful and I'm not so sure I really wish to view it as I just know too many facts and from what I've just read, it sounds foolishly made. This is the greatest horse I have ever seen, bar none, and I think it might be painful to view, though not as painful as his handlers retiring him at 3, which I am still angry about 37 years later. I was at work with a radio on the day he died and had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom so that I could cry as no one would understand how this affected me. I have fallen for a few others over the years, but no horse has ever meant as much to me as this one did. He was the very best and I don't think I wish to see anything but a truthful depiction as it feels so personal. "Seabiscuit" wasn't bad and if it was terribly inaccurate, it did not bother me as I had no personal involvement, but this story is another matter and I am still reeling from the awful TV movie "Ruffian".

20 Sep 2010 11:28 AM

I am a tour guide at Pimlico and in our museum we ,of course have pictures the Seabiscuit/War Admiral match race.W e all loved Seabiscuit and laugh good heartedly at its mistakes;like his owner,trainer,and owners wife crawling on their hands and knees to spy on War Admiral.(It reminded me of Scarecrow,Tin man and Lion spying on the WW of the W.)And who didn't check the correct way to  fly the Maryland flag ? Still ,If it hadn't come out the same year as the Tolkein Trilogy, it might have won best picture.(sort of like poor Sham)I loved it and I'll probably love Secretariat. The music does sound tacky. At least Seabiscuit had a great score by Randy Newman.

20 Sep 2010 11:30 AM

Still forcing ... er, taking the kidlets to the movie.

Still will be sitting a few rows back of them, grumbling under my breath about lack-of-Riva, badmouthing-of-Sham, tallness-of-Lucien, etc.**

They don't want me to comment on what really happened.  They don't want me to "spoil" the ending -- although all of them at this point aleady have at least a vague idea of what happens, having heard me spout off about racing for as long as they have been alive.

It's the best I can do -- at least all them know that horse racing IS  a sport.  

I will thank Disney now despite ** above.

20 Sep 2010 11:30 AM
Susan Nunes

I think anybody other than Disney would have also taken liberties with the facts of this film and would probably junk it up with a bunch of bedroom scenes, obscenities, etc.

I think Secretariat's story is basically unfilmable outside of a documentary format because no filmmaker can possibly replicate what this extraordinary horse did. I would prefer to see the real CBS Sports footage of Secretariat's TC races interwoven with the film itself.

I will still see the film, but I KNOW having closely followed the horse's career at the time he raced it won't be accurate.

20 Sep 2010 11:32 AM
Susan Nunes

ESPN already made a documentary about Secretariat's life.  It was made right after he died in 1989 and is available on DVD.  I believe all 21 of his races are included, too, as extras.

20 Sep 2010 11:35 AM

Several non-racing fan friends of mine want me to go see this movie with them.  I said I'd ruin it for them because of my reaction to the "liberties" (I choose to call them damned lies) the movie contained.

After seeing the first movie poster (the one with Penny Chennery and Secretariat) I knew I was in for a movie that made Sea Biscuit look lie a documentary.  The horse chosen looked like a $5000 claimer reject.  Over at the knees, shoulder perfectly verticle, and weedy.

While no horse could match Secretariat's magnificence, there are hundreds who come closer than those used in many of the scenes shows in the trailers.   Its as if ANY red chestnut with 3 whites, star and strip would do.

I'll watch it on my own some weekday matinee.  Then come home and re-watch for the 100th time "The Life and Times of Secretariat" - the documentary which should be shown along side this fairy tale.

Oh, and buy the book on Sham at Exclusively Equine.  The horse was brilliant and any other year would likely have walked off with the TC.

20 Sep 2010 11:44 AM

Seeing the trailers, I had already caught several items that I knew just don't happen. I appreciate your review, and like you, to the general public nothing will seem out of place. I will be in a theater on 8 October, and I go knowing the flaws, the pure fabrication, but I go not to pick apart the movie, I go to relive my memories of those weeks in 1973. I will enter that theater a 52 year old woman, when the lights dim, the screen lights, I will revert to that 15 year old girl that witnessed history thanks to a colour zenith television set. I go for the love of the horse that stole my heart, completely and holds it today.

20 Sep 2010 11:46 AM

In reading the review, I am worried to even see it.  First off, Oh Happy Day during the stretch run of the Belmont?  That just does NOT get it.  What were they thinking?  And in Seabisquit they did a great job, I thought, of making Keeneland look like Pimlico for the match race between Seabisquit and War Admiral.  Why couldn't the same be done for Keeneland and Belmont?  And then poor Lucian Lauren is going to now be remembered as a caricature that Malkovich portrays instead of the man he really was.  I don't know, it just seems to me they could have left the truth as it was, and include Riva Ridge in SOME way in the movie, and the Wood result - it sounds like a fiasco.  How could they show one result and then talk as if there were a different result?  Was sense does that make?  I don't know, seems like the truth would have been much better for the story line.  And I agree with For-O, Tinner's Way would have been perfect casting if not for his age (I wrote that in a blog when they were casting him, but I am sure someone did give him some thought for some of the non-race scenes, or I would hope so. He looks so much like his sire. But, I guess his age didn't work out.  Well, Steve, thanks for the forewarning.  I am still glad someone finally made a movie about the great horse, just wish it was more factual.  

20 Sep 2010 11:59 AM

A good movie about a super hero usually has a moving, powerful theme song. I just knew a great piece would be written for the Belmont stretch. An opportunity missed I suppose.

20 Sep 2010 12:01 PM

I was lucky enough to see an early preview of the Secretariat movie. Being a huge racing fan but not born when Secretariat won the Triple Crown I was hoping to get a feel for the times, the horse, the connections, and all of their accomplishments. I agree it cetainly fell short and I am glad that someone else noticed many of its flaws. I went into the theater hoping to see something to the level of Seabuscuit but was sorely disappointed. I would like to ask Disney to never again make a horse racing movie. Not to mention I couldn't help but cringe during the Belmont Stakes, it was far to obvious it was Keeneland. Belmont Park is unique and one of a kind, the race should have been filmed on site rather than at Keeneland.

I also have to agree that Phar Lap is one of my favorite racing movies. They did a wonderful job.

20 Sep 2010 12:02 PM

There are only 3 stallion race hats I have ever owned...Man O'War, his descendent Seattle Slew and his descendent Tiznow.

I'm thrilled you're doing SS. He has a compelling story and he was a great race horse. ♥

PS I hope Disney never does a story on him.

PSS Phar Lap was a great movie

20 Sep 2010 12:20 PM
The Don

Nothing new, just a different subject - all this does is remind people of a time and things that used to be good, like racing.  Thanks for the review, it frankly sounds weak and uninspiring, probably with several other flaws as well and will have little impact upon the game today.

20 Sep 2010 12:21 PM

Thank you for the heads up Steve..i can't help but wonder why any other sound besides the sound of hoofs hitting dirt would be used in the Belmont scene?I will go watch it anyway,at least there are horses in it,but i too remember every little thing about Big Red and i have to say that the sound of his hoofs made the hair on the back of my neck stand up!

20 Sep 2010 12:25 PM

Okay, this seals the deal for me. Reading Steve's comments and (most) of the other bloggers remarks, I probably won't see the movie. I have the "Life & Times of Secretariat" which is a wonderful "strictly business"  DVD. His entire career is featured and complete footage of all his races. Plus there is some other story lines woven in. And I'm still looking to convert my VHS "Jewels of the Triple Crown"  into DVD format as that is a fantastic look at the T.C. in general and is very heartwarmingly narrated by the late great Jim McCay.  At the time of that one's production, Secretariat, Seattle Slew & Affirmed were still alive and real footage of them is included (plus a brief cameo of Alydar!)  And, yes, the covers of the three magazines w/Secretariat are there too along with some "people" story lines.

I would love to throw my support behind this movie but I would probably get up and leave when I got to parts that are inaccuate or annoying.  I saw some trailers and immediately was turned off by the individual yelling "he's going dooownnnnnn"    Now I know the back story behind this and it's even more of a turn off.  And to think that noble Sham is being portrayed as Dick Dastardly....   okay, it's getting too much already. With all of Disney's $$$ why couldn't they film at Belmont? (probably my ignorance here and they most likely couldn't work that out with the track...)  And the whole "Oh Happy Day"  c'mon!!!!   Of all the inspirational musical pieces out there, was there none better than this????  (Perhaps not Rocky, but Chariots of Fire theme, maybe?? or countless others)  

Overall, I am very glad to see that the incomparable Secretariat is getting well deserved recognition and I sincerely hope this will attract fans but as has been said by Steve and evidenced by many other comments, the tried and true racing fan will have some issues.    For my $10 (x 2 as I'd drag along the 'ol man) I would forsake the film and pop in my own dvd's, enjoy some take-out and relive the memories of Big Red from the comfort of my own living room!

20 Sep 2010 12:38 PM


Thanks for your review of the Secretariat movie. I am looking forward to seeing this and to bringing some of my grandchildren to see it. I can use the "artistic license" that is taken in the film as an opportunity to teach my grandchildren the truth about the people and all the horses who were involved with Secretariat's story. It is always refreshing nowadays to even find a movie I feel comfortable taking children to in the first place. I really want this Disney film to succeed so that maybe other horse racing movies can be made in the near future.

Also, while I have no problem with using "Oh Happy Day" if it is appropriate, I wonder why they don't include John Stewart's "Let the Big Horse Run" or Fogelberg's "Run for the Roses" in the film? What is the rest of the soundtrack like?

20 Sep 2010 12:48 PM

I was fortunate to see a preview of the movie in Raleigh last week and pretty much agree with all you noticed.  The things that bothered me the most were the foaling scene, and John Malkovich (nothing like Lucien Laurin), the way Sham was portrayed, the way the exercise riders were skipped over, and the part Eddie Sweat played.  Sham was a really good horse with a lot of heart, not a villain and where was Riva Ridge in all this, after all he won the Kentucky Derby the year before.  If I remember right, Lucien Laurin wasn't Secretariat's trainer at first, it was his son, so he definitely wouldn't have been in the foaling stall.  Overall, I must say I think it will be good for racing and that's what is needed most.  The general public won't know the difference with most of the things that bothered me, and it did help me remember the feeling I had when he ran those triple crown races.

20 Sep 2010 12:57 PM

Nobody in my immediate family is a horseracing fan but they are planning for all of us to go see the movie because they know of my passion for it. They think that this movie was made for me. Ha! Actually, it seems it was made for THEM. Good! Maybe this film is going to accomplish what I have failed to do for years now: convince them that horseracing is a magnificent sport.

They don't know anything about Secretariat, except that he was a horse. I can't wait to see their reaction to his Belmont win. I won't point out the flaws, I'll just sit there and watch their jaws drop (that is if I can take my eyes off the screen for a second) and grin like a Cheshire Cat. :()

20 Sep 2010 1:00 PM

Like Lynn and Michael, I was able to view the film earlier this month.

The audience was not made up of horse racing fans.  They were mostly older (I'd say the mean age was around 65) so they would have heard of Secretariat, and there were no kids at this event.

The audience applauded at places during the film and applauded after the film.  They laughed at the obvious comic relief (Malkovich) and, from talking to a few afterwards, really enjoyed the movie.

Oh Happy Day didn't bother me.  It is first heard during a low point in the story.  Everything seems hopeless and then you see Eddie Sweat and Secretariat -- a groom and his horse, hope and beauty, plenty to be thankful for.  At least, that's how I took it.  Yes, it's corny.  But it's Disney.

Playing Oh Happy Day during the stretch run of the Belmont, I suppose, was meant to tie it all together and celebrate the victory, the success, and most importantly, the horse.

Being a racing fan and knowing some of the history of Secretariat, I was only bothered by a few things.

The villainization of Sham.  It didn't bother me that they went over the top with the Pancho Martin character and the pre-race press conferences.  After all, it's Hollywood.  But Sham was an awesome horse - one of only three who have run the Derby in under 2 minutes.  That horse deserved some respect for being a fine and worthy adversary.

The implication that Sham won the Wood Memorial will bother anyone who knows that he didn't.  It was not material to the plot for Sham to have won it -- he only had to finish in front of Secretariat, which is what he did.  Disney messed up on that one.

I agree with Lynn and Michael "that if you are going to pick one of the Triple Crown races to show the actual race, why wouldn't it be the race that helped define him, the Belmont Stakes? "  As with others, I still get goosebumps and tears when I watch the replays of that amazing victory and hear the original race call.

And I am also in agreement with Lynn and Michael that people should see the movie.  It's Disney, it's Hollywood, it's a family film.  Get your kids to see it.

Steve, I'm with you for the most part.  And I also wish the film well and hope it helps increase the appreciation of horse racing.

20 Sep 2010 1:14 PM

Oh no. They made a villian out of Sham? Predictable...but OH NO!!!!

20 Sep 2010 1:16 PM
Fran Loszynski

When you go to a race with a champion horse running -it does your heart good to see little kids running up the rail yelling the horse's name. If the movie helps to do that Hurrah!!! Koodos to Disney. It gets boring sometimes to sit and watch the cigar-toting, racing form big guys all the time at the track.  I know they carry the "big time" money, but sometines the heart is greater.

20 Sep 2010 1:22 PM

I have been a Secretariat fan for 38 years, and can't believe that is took so long to make this movie - so I will close my eyes to the flaws and creative license. I too have been waiting to hear a stirring, dramatic score that would enhance the drama of the Belmont - what I have read sounds like that will be a disappointment.

I have told several of my fellow Secretariat fans /friends that Bill Nack's "Pure Heart" would have been a great outline for a Secretariat screenplay - but maybe too sad a way to end the story. In any case, they could have stuck closer to Mr. Nack's book without losing the drama.

I will still go see the movie on opening day, and probably see it more than once - and I have promised myself that I will not bore all my friends with details of the way it really was or how it should hve been portrayed.

20 Sep 2010 1:31 PM

I will see Secretariat, probably on opening day. I know there will be glaring inaccuracies but I don't care. I do think that non racing fans are going to see it and they won't know or care.

All horse movies have inaccuracies. They either screw up about horses in general or they deviate from the book or historical fact.

I saw Dreamer on an airplane and it was so awful that I didn't want to see it again on a real screen.

The Black Stallion had some amazing photography but Kelly Reno was much too young to play Alec Ramsey who was in high school in the book and that costume for the match race was ridiculous.

Tobey Maguire was far too cute to play Red Pollard but I thought Gary Stevens was wonderful and Jeff Bridges always is too. At least the costumes and sets were great. I thought the book was too much about the people rather than the horse myself.

Casey's Shadow is a really good one though. Protrays QH racing at bush tracks rather honestly.

I own Champions and Phar Lap and stuffed them in the back of the cabinet and forgot to watch them. Guess I better get them out. I bought Phar Lap on VHS on eBay. The DVD is available and was reissued recently but it is Pal format and won't play in most US DVD players.

20 Sep 2010 1:33 PM

Oh that we could complain and complain about all the things wrong with the movies about Kincsem, Forego, Sunline, Man o' War, Sceptre, Dr. Fager, Landaluce, Citation, Princess Doreen, Swale, Shuvee, Eclipse, Personal Ensign, Exterminator, Dahlia, Spectacular Bid, Makybe Diva, John Henry, Bayakoa, Kelso, Busher, Jorrocks, Azeri, and on and on and on.

20 Sep 2010 1:41 PM

I have a favor to ask all the horse/race fans that are NOT going to see the movie.  Will you at least go, buy a ticket, and give it to someone?  If this movie makes a gazillion dollars, maybe the people that hold the purse strings, will think about doing more horse movies.

20 Sep 2010 1:45 PM

When Seabiscuit premired We Were thrilled , then when it came to cable about 9 months later we taped it , we watch it every Spring in April without fail.I think it was the BEST horse racing movie to come out till that time and from what Ive read and been told by people who've seen The new movie I think Seabiscuit Will still be the BEST Horse racing movie ever made . And Ive seen every one since Saratoga in 1937 with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow  . And War Admiral WAS 17 Hands !

20 Sep 2010 1:54 PM
Glenn Petty

Steve, go see the movie again. The first time I saw it I was very distracted by the technical "flaws." I then wrote a very similar review on the VTA blog. Yesterday, I saw the movie again and this time I just went along for the enjoyable ride that it is. Director Randall Wallace pulls you in and his version of reality generates a strong emotional response to events for which we all well know the outcome. No small feat. I watched it with non-horse folks and they loved it. Of course, I'm prejudice as both Big Red and the director are Virginia-breds!

20 Sep 2010 1:59 PM

Steve, What is the name of the documentary about John Henry that was released a few months ago,  How and where can I purchase it?

20 Sep 2010 2:02 PM
Soldier Course

"Apollo 13" proved that a remarkable true event can be made into a flawless movie that captures all the authenticity and emotion of the historical moment  I was hoping that the movie about Secretariat would rise to the same standard. Thanks for preparing me for the disappointment ahead.

20 Sep 2010 2:08 PM
Pete Pike

I don't see why the movie should not have a lot of fiction in it.  As far as I am concerned there has been alot of fiction written about this horse for 37 years.  They even have excuss' #'s 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. to cover all of his losses & the bums who beat him.  I like the statement that Alfred G.Vanderbilt's made about Secretariat at the Secretariat Statue unveiling.  Now that was the truth.

20 Sep 2010 2:11 PM
Soldier Course

Laura Linney would have been a better choice for the role of Penny Chenery.

20 Sep 2010 2:14 PM
Soldier Course

I'll say this for the movie "Dreamer": it did a better job than "Seabiscuit" in having a moment when the audience connected with the horse (Popsicle scene), and it made patrons aware of the Breeders' Cup.

20 Sep 2010 2:22 PM
Steve Haskin

Glenn, I definitely plan on seeing it again with those distractions out of the way and a more open mind.

Soldier, it was called "John Henry: The Steel Driving Horse." You can purchase it at Amazon or even on Exclusively Equine at Bloodhorse. I havent seen much marketing done on the film, and who knows where distribution is at right now.

20 Sep 2010 2:44 PM
William Webb

A friend, and highly informed horsewoman, was an extra in the film. She pointed out that the scene with specators swilling juleps in Churchill's paddock was all wrong since drinks are not permitted in the paddock.She was promptly told to mind her own business and get on with her lowly extra functions.

20 Sep 2010 2:58 PM

Vickie @11:46 AM, I just wanted to point out that Tinner’s Way recently moved to Old Friends in Georgetown, Kentucky. I never thought I’d get a chance to see him in person, as his previous home is not exactly in my neighborhood, But I was already planning a trip to Louisville next month. Hopefully he’ll be available for public viewing then.

Here’s the link to the appropriate Blood-Horse article:

20 Sep 2010 3:10 PM
Pam Graham

Accepting the Disney-fication of Secretariat's accomplishments seems quite fitting in the current age of "the horse comes first" spin.  

You know how you get a song stuck in your head and can't stop hearing it for days?  I do that with race calls.  So, no one can accuse me of being opposed to the sport.  But I am in total opposition to the state of denial we're in.

We can't make the cruel aspects of horse racing - from how yearlings are treated at the sales (I just worked for a "world-class" farm at the Keeneland sale, so I have stories) to the continued use of whips, drugs and horrendous training practices - go away overnight, but parroting the lies and glossing over the mistreatment do a disservice to the majority of these wonderful creatures.  

It sounds like the Secretariat movie distorts the Great One's life and accomplishments to a point where those of us in the know will find it laughable.

Less laughable is the distortion inherent in those words we hear so often, "the horse comes first," which only applies to the big, important horses.  For each of those lucky, beautiful equines, there are thousands of lesser runners serving out life sentences in daily fear, pain and loneliness.  Until we face up to that and stop the spin, we don't deserve to fully enjoy the beautiful aspects of this great sport.

Here's sincerely hoping we somehow find a way to clean up our act.

20 Sep 2010 3:15 PM

I was always a Riva Ridge and Sham fan. I respected Secretariat and his power and beauty, but could not believe a horse that pretty could be that tough. A few years ago I spent a few hundred dollars for a painting of him to give to my sister who always loved him. I will miss RR after all he saved the farm, and I still have a hard time watching the Belmont because of what happened to Sham, but I will go because if we don't support movies about our sport we just don't deserve to be successful. If everybody goes to this movie maybe they will make a movie about Kelso, who was a real wonder and had a very interesting female owner and a wonderful trainer as well.

20 Sep 2010 3:21 PM
Bill Daly

I was just trying to think who they could have gotten to play Lucien Lauren. Somebody who looked a little bit like him. Good question.  Years ago there were many character actors in Hollywood who kept busy playing roles like this. George Cleveland, who played Gramps on the original TV show Lassie, would have been a candidate. There aren't many guys in Hollywood now who can play old French-Canadian men convincingly.  Malkovich???  What were they thinking??

20 Sep 2010 3:46 PM

racerdave, War Admiral was quite small, 15.2 or 15.3 H depending on what you read.. Neville Dunn, sports editor for the Lexington Herald, wrote, "A little brown horse that takes after his mammy in size but runs like his daddy..."

20 Sep 2010 4:00 PM
Bet Twice

It usually takes a bestselling book to get a great movie about horse racing.  Without a pre-existing audience, the movie, by necessity, will be geared towards little girls (the biggest admirers of horses.)  Secretariat is tough because the book, while a benchmark in the horse racing community, doesn't have the popularity of a Seabiscuit.

The key, as in Hillenbrand's book, is the human story lines.  Find a great human story - there are hundreds in horse racing - and add the horse.  

Hint hint Steve.

Hoping Milch's HBO pilot, Luck, creates additional interest in horse racing.  Its a much more complex and nuanced look at the business of horse racing and has all of his requisite brilliant characters.

20 Sep 2010 4:03 PM
Soldier Course

Maybe Disney could "colorize" the bay foal into a chestnut before the October 8th premier. What, there were no chestnut foals in Central Kentucky during filming?

20 Sep 2010 4:10 PM
Soldier Course

Bill Daly:

Michael Kitchen would have been an interesting choice for Lucien Laurin.

20 Sep 2010 4:19 PM
Soldier Course

Perhaps Disney will volunteer his "Imagineers" to undertake the restoration of the degraded footage of all of Secretariat's races.

20 Sep 2010 4:24 PM

In case there are interested readers of the Secretariat tale out there, a couple years ago Laurence Scanlan published, "The Horse God Built," an account of Secretariat's life that focuses on the special relationship between Secretariat and his groom Eddie Sweat.

20 Sep 2010 4:28 PM

There is a wonderful YouTube video which puts disney's trailer to shame - done by "racehorseforlife" - it's terrific and the music is perfect - majestic and dramatic - it does justice to this magnificent horse - wish Disney had chosen music with a similar gravitas - gave me goosebumps!  I urge everyone to watch it.

20 Sep 2010 4:33 PM

Bill Daly:  although technically-speaking he's not right (he's not from Quebec), Gerrard Depardieu might have worked if he lost some weight.  At least he speaks French.  And some years ago, it seemed that Mr. Depardieu was in EVERY French movie and many English ones.  

Too bad Mickey Rooney doesn't speak French.  (it would have been a sort of nice tie-in to one of my favourites: The Black Stallion)

20 Sep 2010 4:38 PM

HRTV has done some nice segments of the stories of our Champions including Swale and Cigar.  They devoted several episodes to a segment entitled "31 Lengths" with some featuring the owners, one on the jockey, and another on the horse, and I believe they're probably available on you tube under HRTV.  I really hate to see any sour grapes surface on a beautiful blog trilogy of Secretariat.  It's Hollywood folks...liberties have been taken.  What's most important is that a new generation will just be discovering the legend that was Secretariat.

20 Sep 2010 4:41 PM

I hope that seeing the movie will make new fans want to go out and research the real Secretariat story.

They could come to this site and read your articles, Steve, and look at your fabulous pictures from those times and watch the replays of the actual races.  Hopefully that excitement will make them want to come out to the tracks near them and stand at that wire and feel the excitement for themselves.

20 Sep 2010 4:44 PM

Ruffianruns has a good point about those not wanting to see the film to buy tickets anyway!  Hadn't thought of it from that angle.  Good idea.  

Some others mentioned that the casting could have been better too and the Laura Linney suggestion was spot on. She would have nailed Ms Chenery. I often feel Malkovich is miscast and - to be honest - a French Canadian accent isn't much of a stretch... with all hockey players as a point of reference... this is a no-brainer to pull off. He was cast as an older version of one of the survivors of the Andes plane crash (the Uraguyan rugby team =  "Alive") and here he was supposed to be a South American native who spoke spanish and he did nothing whatsoever to convey this. As a narrator in that movie there was zero connection to the real person he was portraying. But enough of that.... there are some good character actors out there that could have given a greater hint of Lucien Lauren but perhaps they simply weren't interested.

Maybe I'll reconsider the movie but I'm just too sensitive on the truth versus creative license aspects.  From what I've read in yet another of my Secretariat books, his dam was an experienced mother who foaled rather quickly and routinely and there were the bare minimum of humans present at his birth. They could have easily shown the key figures huddled around the stall the next morning but I guess the idea was to convey that moment of "we all knew we had a champ the second he slid from his momma's womb"

If this film is a success and I hope it is! maybe Disney will incorporate a ride at the park where one can simulate the Belmont experience -- I may pay for that!

20 Sep 2010 5:04 PM

I've had mixed reviews on actually seeing this movie. As a HUGE fan, and seeing the short clips and previews, I think I would just be upset by this. I would just be sitting there thinking 'what? no! huh!? that's not right!' That is no way to watch a movie. It is strange being so personally hurt by this, but I really feel insulted. Thank you very much for your honesty. I will catch it when it comes out on dvd, that way I can at least stop watching it if it prooves to be more then I can handle.

20 Sep 2010 5:18 PM

I understand taking artistic license in order to make it more entertaining for the general public...but some of those flaws that Mr. Haskin pointed out were just Obscene, and I just don't understand why Hollywood doesn't attempt to do justice sometimes.

20 Sep 2010 5:18 PM

Shamfan49, I knew about Tinner's Way. Call me silly, but I called Old Friends as soon as it was announced and told them how wonderful it was that he was there, the lady that answered the phone was very nice and understanding--she has probably talked to crazy race fans before--and I asked  that when he was well settled, to give him a big hug from me--she giggled a bit, but promised to do it. Riva's Way is there as well. Enjoy your trip, colour me green!

20 Sep 2010 5:34 PM
Steve Haskin

Slew, your merry-go-round comment was pure poetry.

Christine, just clear your head and go see it. It's Disney. If it doesnt bother you that the bears at The Country Bear Jamboree play musical instruments, maybe this wont bother you either. Hey, I'm trying my best :).

20 Sep 2010 6:00 PM

Thanks for the review, Steve. I hope to see the film on the first day of its release and will try to keep an open mind. I can be critical to, but I'm sure I'll enjoy it anyway.

Despite its flaws, if the movie can get more people seriously interested in Thoroughbred racing, or at least have them come away with a better appreciation for the sport, then the film will have done its job. Or perhaps some individuals will just want to learn more about Secretariat, which they'll be able to do from  completely accurate sources.

20 Sep 2010 6:04 PM

Thank you for your review.  I was a touch ambivalent about seeing the movie in the theaters to begin with and suspect I'll pass and catch it on DVD.  

I did have the thought that surely it will better than the made for TV Ruffian movie.

20 Sep 2010 6:38 PM


The triology was great and the critique of the film was much appreciated.  I guess I'm one of those people that does not care about the flaws in the film. I've been waiting to see this for a long time.  I want to sit back and totally immerse myself in all of the facts and fantasy. I want to feel the power, emotion, and energy of this movie. You say you got goose bumps on the Belmont stretch run scene? I can only imagine what I will feel. The tension of the starting gate zoom-in scenes that you describe is the kind of thing that Hollywood is good at. Thank you for giving us all a review of this film.  Can't wait to see it.

20 Sep 2010 6:44 PM
Steve Haskin

Mike, that is the perfect mindset. You will enjoy the movie and will be, as you said, immersed in it.

20 Sep 2010 6:52 PM
Ida Lee

I cannot wait to see the film if for nothing else for the memories of that wild time when this gloriously beautiful creature took me on the ride of my life. I watched the Belmont the other day again and it never ceases to amaze me no matter how many time I've seen it. WOW and WOW again... We'll never see another Secretariat, not even close.

20 Sep 2010 6:58 PM

I just ordered John Henry:A Steel Driving Horse from  They take PayPal!

I hope that everyone goes to see Secretariat and takes their kids. It should be a great way to help create the next generation of race goers.

Many, many years ago, my own fascination with the sport came as I read the Black Stallion books. Yes, they were fantasy. And now, 40 years after his birth, Secretariat is in the realm of fantasy. "The Black is moving like a house on fire," = "He is moving like a tremendous machine!"  My personal Black Stallion turned out to be a sun-burnished chestnut with 3 white stockings. Hopefully, the new movie will likewise inspire youngsters to love our sport and seek out their own real "Red Stallion."

20 Sep 2010 7:25 PM

There is a great documentary I believe one can buy on the site. It includes great interviews and all of Secretariat's races. I have a copy and I enjoy watching it a couple times a year! :-)

20 Sep 2010 7:26 PM

As a movie buff and horse lover, my all time favorite movie is Seabiscuit.  I have watched it so many times I should know it by heart.  I looked forward to seeing Dreamer, and while it was a "good" movie, it sure didn't come anywhere close to Seabiscuit, which should have taken home at least three Oscars.  I have been really excited and looking forward to seeing Secretariat.  After reading Steve Haskins review I will be prepared to be disappointed.  Thanks for getting me prepared in advance.

20 Sep 2010 7:38 PM
Paula Higgins

Rachel your comments about Sham were simply wonderful and beautifully written. Shamfan49, ITA. Sham was a magnificent horse. He had the misfortune to go up against either the greatest horse of the 20th century or the second greatest, depending upon your point of view. But Rachel, as you and Steve said, horses are also judged by their comeptiton and in Sham, you had a first rate horse. He apparently had a truly large heart, literally and figuratively.

ITA with all those that think it will be good for the sport. It will be.

20 Sep 2010 7:56 PM
joe c.

Yes Rachel;  sounds like Phar Lap remains the best and the most true to the story t'bred movie.  From goose pimply to gut wrenching; I treasure the VHS.  

20 Sep 2010 7:57 PM
needler in Virginia

There's a terrific character actor named Burt Young, who has the age, the size, the grumpiness factor, the look, and the talent to play Laurin. And, YES, I know he's not famous for his French-Canadian accent, but I think he has the ability to manage it. Truly, though......John Malkovich??? He's talented, can scare the hell out of you, or make you fall on the floor laughing, but as Lucien Laurin?? NO WAY....this really isn't a story that requires any comic relief; the laughter and the tears get all mixed up anyway as the big horse "moves like a tremendous machine" down the Belmont stretch.

Cheers and safe trips.

20 Sep 2010 8:13 PM

to Rachel - I was so sad when I read your comments about the great Sham and his "broken teeth and blood"..I am not familiar with any of this - can you give me more information?  Secretariat's overwhelming story has clearly overshadowed Shams' great courage (as well as sweet Riva Ridge's story) - the downside to an other wise perfect story. What happened to Sham after the Belmont Stakes?.

20 Sep 2010 8:23 PM
My Juliet

    Merrywriter said it well, "almost any horseracing movie is better than none at all.." It is a shame such inaccuracies are there. The drinks in the paddock, when that person spoke up @ it being wrong, why that went ignored. I realize movies cost millions to make, and certain scenes might add to the story the way the director wants it, to maybe 'move people' in a certain way. When a story is told it is mentn'd 'based on a true story' not 'a true story'. I do look forward to the inspiration of it most, and to be 'taken away' for a few hrs by the Greatest Racehorse in history.

'Seabiscuit' definitely helped people's interest in horseracing, and it sounds like this movie has already.    

20 Sep 2010 8:48 PM
Robin from Maryland

Like everyone else, I will see the movie and TRY to dismiss all the imperfections.  If this movie can bring all fans (racing and non-racing) together, than so be it.  Secretariat is and will always be the Greatest.

20 Sep 2010 8:52 PM

My husband and I spent three (cold!) days filming the Belmont scenes at Keeneland, and it was fascinating.  Horse people are always the most critical of horse movies, and rightly so.  I mean I loved that they made the movie "Sylvester" about eventing, but I won't even start on the things wrong with that movie.

 I am at least glad they used real jockeys and there will be no 'mechanical horse' scenes (at least not supposed to be.)

We cannot wait to see it, I've already caught a glimpse of myself behind Diane Lane in the Belmont. :)

20 Sep 2010 9:23 PM
Paula Higgins

The movie SEABISCUIT was a lost opportunity. It was more about the people than the horse. While his connections were certainly fascinating, the horse was more so. I think the PBS documentary was much better, with personal observations from Red Pollard's daughter, Nora.

20 Sep 2010 9:59 PM

Wow! Pete Pike, you must be a big Sham fan. What didn't you like about Secretariat. Was it his Sub 2 minute Was it his Preakness Oh, maybe it was his Belmont Stakes drubbing... not!

Pete Pike? About your post- Really?Really? Pete Pike..Really??????

20 Sep 2010 10:40 PM
Bill Daly

Soldier Course - Michael Kitchen would have been a much better choice.  MZ - Depardieu, while a very good actor, is way too big for Laurin.  Now, Mickey Rooney...hmmm, that is interesting. He would have to turn his personality inside out to do Laurin. As boisterous as Rooney is, Laurin was just as taciturn.  Very interesting.  Maybe Rooney could have pulled it off.  He is a very underrated actor.  I remember interviews that Laurin gave during the '73 Triple Crown.  He didn't say a whole lot.  

20 Sep 2010 10:50 PM


The combination of your wit and sarcasm applied while describing the prodction flaws cracked me up...good job.

20 Sep 2010 11:42 PM

This Secretariat Trilogy has really affected me.  The wonderful photographs, knowing that Steve actually touched Secretariat, the wonderful stories and memories and the sad regrets.

I've never traveled out of town to see a horse race, but I'm going to HP to see Zenyatta.  I would love to meet up with some of you folks - we can share the defibrillator I'll have with me!  If meeting up won't work, I would still love to pick your brain about the best way to do this.

If you have info on where I might stay - a friend just emailed me saying that the track is in a "dangerous" area so don't stay near it - I know nothing about HP or the area.  What tickets should I buy?  Pros and cons of General Admission versus something better?  I will always fail the Turf Club dress code, so I can't go that route.  How do I go about visiting Zenny the day before or after or the morning of the race?  Anyhow, ANY info would be appreciated.  I don't want to tie up this blog, so please email me at:  pics.cec at

Thanks for everything.

21 Sep 2010 12:45 AM

I cannot wait to see the movie. The promos are playing everyday on TV. The movie I am sure will offer the younger generation a chance to see how special and great Big Red was. I hope the film Secretariat brings new attention to the great sport of horseracing. My 12 year old nephew is excited to see the movie with me.

21 Sep 2010 1:39 AM


21 Sep 2010 1:49 AM


21 Sep 2010 2:06 AM

Hey Slew!  I can't believe you actually thought of the same song!  Must be an omen!

21 Sep 2010 2:29 AM
Dawn in MN

I'll watch the movie on DVD.  I was so looking forward to this movie too.  The fact that Disney casts Sham and Frank "Pancho" Martin as the bad guys really bums me out.

Emryn...Sham never raced again after the Belmont.  He was eventually retired to stud.  Sham set a track record in the Santa Anita derby that year, and probably would have been the horse we remembered, but he had the misfortune of being a three-year-old the same year as Secretariat.  Sham was a great horse.  If you'd like to read a good book about Sham get a copy of the book "Sham: In the Shadow of a Superhorse," by Mary Walsh, published by Aventine Press, copyright 2007.  The photos in the book are great, used by permission of Bill Mochon Photography.

21 Sep 2010 5:57 AM
Secrectariat Fan

I have not seen the movie yet but keep a open mind when you see the movie...on youtube you have the press conference about the movie held at Churchhill Downs on May 1, 2010....Penny Chenery was at the press conference...they did mention to Penny before she saw the movie say she stated at the press conference its a Disney movie and not a documentary...she loved the movie and she feels everyone should love it too.

21 Sep 2010 6:52 AM

It's always bad that a movie depicts real events untruthfully and will cause harm to real people's reputations (and poor innocent Sham) and that will become the permanent "new reality" of events, such as some things in Seabiscuit, e.g. War Admiral 17 or 18 H, a bad horse, etc.

It's like the movie "Hidalgo"...where the real life Lady Ann Blunt was such a gracious and skilled horsewoman and was so admired by the Arabs that they knew they could trust their beloved Arabians to her & that's how the breed came to England and eventually USA and she's shown in the movie as the ultimate "B"...the Arabs loved & respected Hidalgo, movie shows them as evil haters trying to hurt him...

Lies are always lies.

21 Sep 2010 7:16 AM


Sham was retired to stud after the Belmont.

21 Sep 2010 7:36 AM

Thanks for the review. I plan on going to see the movie. You'd think if they were going to play music at the Belmont Stakes race, the least Disney could have done for Secretariat is compose an appropriate song for the moment instead of Oh Happy Day.

21 Sep 2010 7:41 AM

Every racing movie like this needs someone to play the wise track veteran who goes after the story behind the scenes. I could reluctantly accept no Morgan Freeman voice-overs but no Steve Haskin...what were they thinking?

21 Sep 2010 8:01 AM

Thank you Steve.  I do consider that high praise coming from such an inspiring master of the phrase.  I appreciate your kind words.

It's a terrible chuckle from the gods that we have to wait until we are advancing in age to totally appreciate the ironies that ruled our entire lives.  While we hobbled from one everyday crisis to another, we never had the time to enjoy and appreciate those special moments we witnessed because we never realized then how singular they were.  31 lengths!  Who knew there would never be another horse equal to the task?  If I even had an inkling, my toddlers would have been dragged to the track that day...diaper bags and all.  But back then, I don't think I even realized every day people could go to the track anytime.  (strange how your mind works when you're busy wiping runny noses, and trying to lasso two imps determined to create as much havoc as possible.)

21 Sep 2010 8:50 AM
needler in Virginia

I just had an epiphany!! There's no way you can have a feature length movie about a horse with little or no reference to that horse's human connections. NO WAY! If there were no Chenery story, the Big Red One would have been just another horse in a pasture. Of course if there had been no Chenery story, there would never have been a coin toss! So as long as horses don't talk we gotta tolerate those icky folks that hang around racetracks and foaling barns. Oh, well; we must live with disappointment. The focus on the people is NOT my problem with a movie about an iconic horse from 37 years ago. Actually, that's the only way we'll get the real magic of how Secretariat got to be Secretariat, and if you don't think that was a moment when the stars aligned, you probably don't believe in much of anything. No, my problem STILL centers around getting the facts wrong; I won't ever understand why the real results of a real race run by real horses make this story less fascinating. But then I am NOT a scriptwriter, as you can guess why.

NOW, to those snarky nay-sayers on this blog about Big Red, AND those blogs wherein Rachel vs Zenyatta is argued to the point of migraine headaches. Let me say one really snarky thing in reply: GET OVER YOURSELVES. Secretariat really DID win the 1973 Triple Crown, he really DID win the Derby in the fastest time ever, he really DID win the Belmont by so many lengths that most kids can't count that do we know this?? WE ALL SAW IT. At that time, on those tracks, in those splits, surrounded by those people, that horse made magic by the gallon. He gave us a hero when they were pretty thin on the ground. He gave us a very large point of light that we could follow across the heavens, and if I'm waxing poetic, GET OVER IT. If you didn't live that period of time, you have no clue how he lifted us up. The gods got together and sent us a thunderbolt, and I thank the horse and his connections for making life a lot better for those magical years. Secretariat is our history; so is Man O' War, so is Seabiscuit, so is Ruffian, so is John Henry, Kelso,  Dr Fager, The Bid, Cigar, Rachel AND SO IS ZENYATTA. They make us remember the magic for a moment. Arguing about who was the best horse from years ago is time wasting and pointless. Enjoy them ALL, she cried....even if you lost a couple of bucks betting on another horse.

Rant over; get on with it, and thanks to Steve for letting me chip in with my two cents' worth. You are a gentleman and a scholar, Mr Haskin, and I thank you for sharing your words with us for all  these years.

Cheers and safe trips.

21 Sep 2010 9:23 AM

Pam Graham - I agree with you about the "lesser runners," I worry about them, but I don't know what to do.  I guess I'll try doing some research.

Emryn - Sham ripped two teeth loose in the Derby and was bleeding.  I found this snippet in the American Heritage article "The Derby" by Laura Hillenbrand:  "...on May 5, 1973, a sleek black colt named Sham leaned out of the final turn in the lead in the ninety-ninth Kentucky Derby. The front-runners were finished, and though he had blood spraying from his chin after ripping two teeth loose in the starting gate, Sham was staging an epic performance. When he hit the wire seconds later, he would register a time fast enough to win every Derby in history with ease.  But Sham lost."

Paula - I really liked the PBS doc on Seabiscuit too.

Gladiator - So you seem to know what Pete Pike was saying.  Pete Pike wrote:  "I like the statement that Alfred G. Vanderbilt's made about Secretariat at the Secretariat Statue unveiling.  Now that was the truth."  What did Vanderbilt say?  I can't find it online.

21 Sep 2010 9:24 AM
John Scheinman


I agree with the nitpicking and the Wood Memorial part was very confusing. No Riva Ridge. No Angle Light. I understand they had to mold it and hone it -- but mold it and hone it they did into something riveting, with the best Disney hallmarks -- humans growing through relationships with animals, confronting the loss of loved ones, learning important lessons about self-reliance.

One disagreement with your review: I went up on the roof of Churchill Downs with Kent Desormeaux and his kids and friend the day after Big Brown took the Derby and they howled like madmen at those Twin Spires. Eddie yelling at the track was certainly believable for me.



21 Sep 2010 9:47 AM

Steve, Thanks for the info regarding the Secretariat DVD, The Life & Times of Secretariat. (The true story) which is available through I just ordered my copy :) I think Amazing Grace would have been a better song rather than Happy Days, for the Disney Movie!    

21 Sep 2010 9:55 AM
Richard Patrick

I join in being a huge Secretariat fan, and even was lucky enough to take a special vacation to Claiborne and pet him six weeks before he died.

But I'm not understanding the angst being felt here. This is a MOVIE!  Go, enjoy it, remember those great moments you shared with Secretariat (even if the movie has them a little wrong). I've never been interested in the Penny Chenery story; I was always more interested in the horse.  But movies are about people and conflict, just as current telecasts of racing focus more on the people than the animals.

Maybe Secretariat (as protrayed in the movie) can give us some hope in these troubled times -- just as the real Secretariat did in 1973!

21 Sep 2010 10:11 AM

Actually, if anyone would like to answer Ruffianruns' questions about Hollywood Park here, I am interested in the answers, too, particularly about seating.  Their website is singularly unhelpful on this topic.  

21 Sep 2010 10:34 AM
Bill Daly

Rachel makes a good point about historical accuracy. The movie will become the new "reality" and people that weren't alive when Secretariat lived will get a skewed view of the people surrounding the horse as well as the events that took place.  I am bothered by that.

21 Sep 2010 10:35 AM
Steve Haskin

Thanks, John. It's not so much a disagreement as realying someone else's emotions in the same setting. I mentioned it because Eddie didn't seem the like the kind of guy who would do something that demonstrative, and it was done strictly for effect and drama. As I also mentioned right after that, I gave Disney creative licence on that scene, along with Penny's spiritual realtionship with the horse, so my critique wasn't that strong.

Giddyup, yeah, I was thinking the same thing :).

Well said, again, Slew. We do have priorities and there are no bigger priorities. Your sacrifice was well worth it.

Needler, you can rant all you want.

Richard Patrick, very well put.

21 Sep 2010 10:59 AM

Emryn - Sham was found to have a hairline fracture, I think in July, and was retired to stud...he was pretty succesful and is still in the statistics as a good broodmare sire...he died from a heart attack when he was in his middle-early twenties (?) maybe someone else knows his exact age. It seems by all I am able to find out that he was well loved and cared for, so that's good. (don't anybody tell me different)

Sham had great heart...I remember reading about 15 years ago an article that said after running lights out in the Belmont with unreal fractions for a 1 1/2 Mile race that his big heart went with it and he was never the same...anectdotal to be sure, but considering he smacked his head and broke teeth in the Derby, whacked his shoulder on the rail in the Preakness and laid his heart on the line in the was last year I watched the Belmont for the first time since 1973...seriously...I made myself watch it a few times, so I could truly love Secretariat's great run without my heart breaking for Sham.

21 Sep 2010 11:02 AM

I LOVED Needler's rant!

21 Sep 2010 11:11 AM


Thank you for the trilogy and the review of the movie. Of all the writers in the horse racing world I enjoy you the most.

As an avid horse racing fan I knew that Disney would make mistakes and take liberties with this film as they do all other

films. And in most films that is probably required to captivate the audience and make it a success at the box office.I get

that. But those of us who love racing and know the truth about what happened in 1973 know that the story didn't have to be

altered in any way for it to captivate the imagination of any audience. The truth alone is all that is ever needed to

experience the majesty and awe of Secretariat.

Some of the oversights and freedoms that Disney took with this film I will overlook in effort to enjoy the much overdue movie

of the greatest creature that ever stepped on a race track. Do I wish they told the entire truth? Sure! But that is unforunately

unrealistic and as already pointed out, this is a movie, not a documentary. Nonetheless, if Disney is going to take liberties

with the film, do it with the things that most people can overlook. But the things they HAVE to get right are the races! All

of them! You mentioned that in the Wood Memorial they show Sham losing by a neck to Angle Light which is correct. But then 5

minutes later the trainer of Sham jumps for joy as if they won taking away the fact that it was Secretariat's stablemate

that actually won the race! You said it best, "right race, wrong result". But that mistake is simply a consequence of an

even bigger mistake in the movie; making Sham a villain!

A villain is supposed to be played by a character who is evil and has bad intentions. Sham was anything BUT evil and showed

incredible courage and heart to push the Great Secretariat to unequalled ground! While Secretariat was born for greatness

and simply would not be denied, without Sham his records may not be nearly as impressive.Sham was the ONLY horse capable

and courageous enough to attempt to run with him in the much as he could anyway. Remember, "a warriors greatness is

measured by the courage of his opponents". In my opinion, Disney should have revealed the truth about Sham and how great

of a race horse he truly was and it was beceause of that truth that the measure of Secretariats greatness could be revealed.

Sham had the second largest heart in recorded history of Thoroubred horses, second only to Big Red! He proved that on the

track as well and could have easily won the TC in any other year! While many believe it was unfortunate for Sham to be born

in the same year, I believe it was designed that way to reveal how great Big Red truly was!  

In conclusion, I realize that it is impossible for any film to do justice for Secretariat. To have any expectation of

that would be setting yourself up for disappointment. In my opinion his Triple Crown races was God showing us perfection

and it simply cannot be recreated! I can only hope that the film scratches the surface of the greatness that was Secretariat!

One more thing...the stretch run at Belmont should have been played with the theme music shown in this Youtube Video of his

triple crown races! Tell me what you think! Here is the link:



21 Sep 2010 11:35 AM
Dr Drunkinbum

They can't handle the truth!!!!!! It's absurd for movie makers to think they have to change reality to make a great movie. Secretariat was the Greatest Show On Earth !!!! As is.

21 Sep 2010 11:37 AM
Will W

About the only positive development for thoroughbred horse racing that will come from this movie is, as you mentioned, Steve, the shot in the arm it's giving to the sale of the two books on Secretariat, particularly the latest one by Penny Chenery's daughter. These like your columns, Steve, make for engaging reading. As for the Disney movie, Disney is about nonsense and ridiculousness and your description of the movie demonstrates that. They might as well have done this in animation. To expect any lasting benefits to come to thoroughbred horse racing from this overly-dramatized, sickeningly sentimentalized cinema that takes endless liberties with historical truth is an exercise in futility. Put me in Penny's camp in her criticisms of movies like this and Seabiscuit. In her comments to you at the Palace theater in my Louisville, Ky birthplace seven years ago she had a clear grasp on reality and obviously did not the expect any benefit to racing to come from such Hollywood-based nonsense. Instead of this Disney fiasco, how about a 3-4 hour documentary on Secretariat produced by you, Steve,  who had such intimate first-hand knowledge of the horse, his career, and his entourage done in connection with other turf writers free from the influence of any Disney-like tendencies. Now that I'd pay a pretty penny to see and so would Penny Chenery.

21 Sep 2010 11:56 AM

I will cry during this movie, just as I did on 9 June 1973, this time I won't be on my knees in the middle of my parents living room, I will be in a dark theater, and for the most part, surrounded by people who have no clue to the true majesty of Secretariat. As Needler said, if you weren't there, didn't live during that time, didn't see that stride, the way the muscles rippled like water as he moved, if your heart didn't soar when he flashed under the wire in the Derby, if it didn't stop when he was last in the Preakness, and burst through your chest when he PASSED the whole field, with tears streaming down your face, if you din't hyperventalte while he and Sham ran together in the turn and  backstretch, fall to your knees calling--Come on Red Come on MOVE MOVE--and then scream like a banshee when he took the lead, then you won't and can't understand the magic and majesty that was and is BIG RED.

21 Sep 2010 12:07 PM

Thank you for the heads up and review Steve.  I'm going to watch the movie, and although I know I'm going to be bothered by the inaccuracies, and especially the portrayal of Lucin Laurin, I'm going to enjoy the race footing and hope the general public falls in love with it.  I was 10 when Secretariat stormed into the public eye, and I will be a forever fan.  Thank goodness we can watch the old race footage and coverage of the triple crown races on You Tube.  Thank you again!

21 Sep 2010 12:19 PM
Steve Haskin

Dr. D., if there is one story that doesn't need to change reality to make a good movie it is the one that will appear on here this evening -- Seattle Slew. That story can be told just as it happened and it will be compelling enough even for a movie.

21 Sep 2010 12:46 PM


Thanks for the heads up. It only makes sense that those of us who are fans and/or got to see Big Red will be watching with a different perspective. Nevertheless the key word in your story to me was the "goosebumps". I'll never forget that stretch run either because you saw these hard core New York horse players with their eyes tearing up and jumping up off their seats and punching their fists in the air and going crazy.

As has been stated before, you are right up there with Mr. Nack in telling it like it is.

21 Sep 2010 1:00 PM
Dr Drunkinbum


   I can't wait !!!!!!! How much is it to get in? Is there a discount if we get there early? How much are the BonBons? I think I'm going to go get in line. This is the best of times. Secretariat, then Seattle Slew, then Ruffian. It's like when the Beatles came out with hit after hit. Even the usher is a great guy.

21 Sep 2010 1:04 PM

i disagree with the notion that this movie will benefit horse racing, despite it's complete disrespect for the sport, by garnering positive attention and perception of the game. sure, it will inspire a few children, and add another topic to the ever shifting common dialogue. our problem is that the majority of individuals comprising the masses that will flock to get "disney"ed where the sun doesnt shine will accept this version as fact and carry this wretched misinformation through the pop culture lexicon to the office water coolers, the school classrooms, and on and on until they end up standing next to one of us at the paddock of our favorite track, belching their "knowledge" of secretariat and horse racing in general. ughhhh!....maybe i am a bit cynical...

21 Sep 2010 1:06 PM
The Deacon

It is absolutely absurd the way Disney takes liberties with history. Secretariat was the Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods of horse racing, leave the story alone, it is so aggravating the way movies are re-written to make a buck. What did Sham ever do to Disney is my question? He was such a nice horse, always gave his best. He basically broke trying to beat a legend. Also, using Keeneland as the back drop for the Belmont Stakes is deplorable. The 1973 Belmont Stakes is one of the top 3 races of the 20th Century and Disney can't even get that right. My question is, how could Penny Tweedy or the connections sign off on this?

21 Sep 2010 1:24 PM
B Weaver

Steve, you should collaborate with Penny on making a movie about Riva Ridge since he sounds like a horse that had a very sweet spirit and, after all, he was the horse that saved the farm at first!!! I would love to see a movie about him!! He sounded like a great horse and, I admit, I don't know that much about him!

21 Sep 2010 1:26 PM

I get frustrated with Hollywood and it's "you can't handle the truth" attitude, but allow me to add:

When I went to see "Jaws", I knew that sharks were big fish and that's about all. But the movie inspired me to find out about sharks, now I am fascinated by them. If one young person watches "Secretariat" and then delves further into learning about racing, or Secretariat, or horses in general, then the movie has done its job.

The REAL story should have been told, it needs no glossing over. But this is Hollywood, and I'm just glad they recognized that there was an important story to be told, to generations of people who didn't know him, to realize how such a magnificent animal and his people can capture the hearts of the world.

21 Sep 2010 2:09 PM

Travis, the movie trailer on youtube (you provided the link) is fantastic!  Talk about goosebumps!  Movie theaters should be prepared to provide sweaters!

21 Sep 2010 2:13 PM
Linda in Texas

Rachel - Sham was foaled in April 1970 and died in April 1993.

During his autopsy, it was learned that his heart was twice the size of a normal horses heart, it weighed 18 pounds.

And Sham is buried at Walmac Farm.

I read a lengthy story about him 3 nights ago. Then i read Kelso's and i am crazy about both of them though they are long departed. Kelso was something else and to be respected. His owner was Mrs. Du Pont of Chesapeake City, Maryland and he also was well cared for and was Mrs. Du Pont's horse of choice when she went Fox Hunting.

As Zookeeper said to Peggy, you learn about 1 then soon you are drawn in to learn about as many as you can to satisfy your hunger for just knowing them and what made/makes them tick.  

21 Sep 2010 2:47 PM
Fran Loszynski

Vickie, what a great fan you are. Secretariat was lucky to have you. Don't cry too hard, just think you got to see one of the most beautiful racehorses race. Memories may fade but the love for a racehorse never dies. He's breezing next to new foals and teaching them his stuff! Enjoy the movie, you wonderful fan you.

21 Sep 2010 2:59 PM

Barthart, that's really powerful testimony of Secretariat considering your love for Citation!  Thank you for that incite!!!

21 Sep 2010 3:14 PM

My sincere hope is that when my kids see the "Secretariat" movie, they will follow through and ask me about him, because they know I saw that miracle of a horse myself.

That is my hope, since the memory of Secretariat still lies smoldering in the hearts of those who experienced him, and we're still here to share him.

And since we spent so much time re-casting the part of Lucien Laurin, I finally landed on the perfect actor.  For those who saw the "Transporter" movies with Jason Statham, consider the French actor Francois Berleand who so capabably portrayed Inspector Tarconi in each, I, 2, and 3.  Ah well-too late, but it was a thought.

21 Sep 2010 3:43 PM

I stumbled across this story by Bill Nack today.  Good stuff!

21 Sep 2010 3:57 PM
2$ window

I am anxious to see the movie pre-opening in Lexington. Being an old-timer, I know of no people that could be found to fill the shoes of my friends that actually 'lived' with 'Big Red.'The movie will make us proud of our industry which is greatly needed just now.

21 Sep 2010 10:30 PM

Wassa matter, Pete Pike? Bet against him one day?

22 Sep 2010 7:04 AM

Pete Pike,

Are you suggesting that because Secretariat lost 3 races (Wood,Whitney,Woodward) that people should disregard his other-wordly records that he set in the Triple Crown? Because he was beaten by what you call "bums" we should forget that he still OWNS track records in the Derby which may never be broken and one in the Belmont that WILL NEVER be broken? Or maybe you're suggesting that his  competition was just always inferior and that is why he won by so many lengths? Even though Sham broke the Derby record as well that day and is still one of three horses to be under 2 minutes. Or maybe you just believe that all of it is fiction and that it was staged? My guess is that you are either completely delusional or just hurt because you lost some money on Big Red somewhere along the way. Poor Petey Pike, I'm sorry that you can't accept the truth that Secretariat not only dominated the triple crown but is without question one of the greatest thoroughbreds to ever grace a racetrack. In my opinion, the greatest ever. Until another horse wins the triple crown, breaks all three track records, and wins by 31 lengths in the Belmont in under 2:24 you're gonna have to come to grips with the fact that he will always be considered the greatest of all time!

22 Sep 2010 10:32 AM

In 1949, Warner Brothers released the Shirley Temple/Barry Fitzgerald movie "THE STORY OF SEABISCUIT" which, for 61 years, was considered the worst Horse Racing movie ever made..............until now.

22 Sep 2010 11:07 AM
Kat- Big Red's Biggest Fan

The Impossible True Story!

Wouldn't you know!

It would be impossible for Hollywood/Disney to deliver the true story!

No one would want and expect a documentary but But BUT...why can't Hollywood 'get it'  and get it right?....Tthere is so much dramatic material in the truth of the story, why oh why couldn't they just deliver it to us.....

Everything! from Riva's getting the pressure off Penny to sell out the farm,  to Big Red's arrival and Penny's early resentment of his Looks+Talent threatening the eminence of Riva who had a special place in her heart..... to her getting over that and enjoying Red's accomplishments.... but doubting whether he could stand the rigors and deliver upon everyone's expectations of him as she felt that his pounding style of running would likely jeopardize his career....

What more drama could there be!!

I wish these screenwriters would consult with me.

They keep ruining my favorites.

I am no big fan of all the changes made by Jackson in Lord of the Rings....

It was a travesty what was done in the movie to The Black Stallion. They totally trivialized that.....

I will go see the movie for all the positives.... I am prepared for the cringing disappointment I will feel at time with the silly and unnecessary changes made by these movie folks who think they know all there is to know about drama and telling a good story.

As an example of what was done RIGHT for a book!

All Creatures Great and Small!

Truth to the stories and supreme casting! Superb adaptation to the screen! Kudos!

But that was done by the Brits and NOT Hollywood!

22 Sep 2010 4:26 PM
Dwight New

As a long time fan and collector of Secretariat memorabilia, I was fortunate and quite excited to be an extra in the Secretariat movie. I was in two Lafayette, LA., resturant scenes, walking on the side walk in my 1977 leisure suit which I was married in during that year.

It was very enlightening for me to be on a movie set and to see what all goes into the directing and filming.

This year was mt 39th consecutive Kentucky Derby attendance; my first was with Riva Ridge in 1972, so of course, I was there for Big Red in '73. I hope his 1:59 2/5 record is never broken. The amazment of his running each quarter faster than the previous was unblieveable.

Secretariat will always be my hero.

I hope the movie does well.

22 Sep 2010 6:20 PM
Marianna Haun

You know Steve, I've read through all these comments and your nitpicking seems to have taken the fun out of going to this movie for a lot of people. And to what purpose? Why rain on Penny and Secretariat's parade? Penny loved the movie and it is her story. She was there. Sure, she is sorry that Riva was left out, but she understood it was for the good of the narrative and because of time and money constraints. She knew it was a movie and not a documentary. And, why complain that Lexington was used for Belmont? They used to do these kind of movies on backlots. Kentucky worked hard to come up with tax incentives to lure the movie company here. At the time of filming, NYRA was facing bankruptcy and offering no such deals. This is the real world in a time of great economic stress and you can't afford everything you want. I'm sure the director would have loved to be able to drag the cast and crew to all the different tracks and states. But there wasn't time or money for that. I think the director did an amazing job of telling Penny and Secretariat's story. Watching it, Penny was transported back to a glorious time and told me she found herself tearing up several times during the movie. After  viewing the film last weekend in Denver, several young girls came up to her and thanked her for inspiring them to be what they could be. Penny told me, "That made it all worth while." Isn't it a journalist responsibility to let the reader make up his own mind? I plan to be at the Lexington opening on Oct. 3 and I am going to enjoy the movie experience and get swept back to a glorious time in racing history. That's what great movies do, they sweep you along allowing you to relive the drams, joy and emotions of a time that are the best parts of life's memories.

22 Sep 2010 8:14 PM
needler in Virginia

One brief comment, Ms Haun: there is absolutely no reason the Disney mob can give that would explain purposeful inaccuracies....NONE. Never mind the Keeneland for Belmont thing, never mind the demonizing of a lovely horse so that Sham became the devil on four legs, because (as we ALL know) Disney needs a devil to balance the angel. There is NO good reason in the form of time or dollar constraints that the Disney bunch could give as an excuse for patent, blatant, obvious, misleading and ultimately cruel inaccuracies in this film. To put it bluntly, there are TOO DAMNED MANY PEOPLE ALIVE WHO KNOW THE REAL STORY OF THAT MAGICAL YEAR, and this is NOT it.

Cheers and safe trips to most.

23 Sep 2010 12:33 AM
Bet Twice


If you are writing the check, my guess is it will be done to your liking.  Any chance you have an extra 30-50 million lying around?  

If you hated the Black Stallion, which was an absolutely stunning movie (accuracy not withstanding - of course it was fiction) Secretariat has no shot.

My advice, don't go see movies with horses in them.  All Creatures was made thirty years ago and by all means, watch it over and over on DVD (I recommend Netflix).  It was magical for its era.    Perhaps you could persuade the BBC to resurrect it.  Oh wait, they like reality just as much as the U.S does.

Sorry... Time has gone by.  No one is lining up to see the intrigue surrounding Riva Ridge - no matter how much you wish they were.  

I'm totally sympathetic to wishing they were better, but if you hated the Black Stallion, really????????? I don't think Hollywood now, a hundred years away from front page making triple crown winners, is ever going to make anything better.

23 Sep 2010 4:06 AM
Jim C.

ruffianruns and Cleone:

The seating at Hollywood Park is pretty good, in terms of sight lines, in my opinion.  General admission is all open seating, and you can get seats fairly close to the finish line if you arrive early enough.  it's also a fairly quick walk from the paddock to your seats.  

23 Sep 2010 4:45 AM
Jim C.

Sham being cast as an equine villain?  Good grief. Leave it to Disney to botch history.  

37 years from now, the Zenyatta movie by Disney will come out.  A key part of the film will be Zenyatta's 3 match ups in 2009 against the villainous Life is Sweet in the Milady, Clement L. Hirsch, and Lady's Secret.  Life is Sweet will be depicted as being an East Coast horse, trained by Steve Asmussen, and owned by Bernie Madoff.

Drama will then be built around Life is Sweet "ducking" the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic, and instead entering the Ladies Classic, which she wins.  (At least that part will be accurate).  Zenyatta will win the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic, winning by a length over Rachel Alexandra, her stablemate, who is also trained by John Shirreffs.  (Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, Shirreffs'' fillies, both running ahead of the boys in the Classic will be the subject of a lot of melodrama).

In the next scene, John Shirreffs will be shown having breakfast, and then opening the Daily Racing Form to learn to his amazement that that Life is Sweet, who "ducked" Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic,  and whom Zenyatta beat 3 time during the year, was voted the 2009 Horse of the Year.  (It turns out that all of the East Coast turf writers who voted also were customers of Life is Sweet's owner, Bernie Madoff).  And to rub it in more: another headline, off to the side, shows that Steve Asmussen, Life is Sweet's trainer, won the Eclipse Award for best trainer.  (Partially true).

Then Disney will depict 2010 as follows: Zenyatta and Life is Sweet are both committed to the Apple Blossom in April, but Life is Sweet is upset in her prep race by Zenyatta's other stablemate, Blind Luck (who actually is blind in one eye; her blindness is another key subplot of the movie).  

Disney then fast forwards to the 2010 Vanity, which is a match race between Life is Sweet and Zenyatta.  Life is Sweet's trainer, Steve Asmussen (who looks a lot like Pancho Martin) taunts John Shirreffs before the race that "Zenyatta is going down!."  In the race, Life is Sweet is leading by 19 lengths in the final stretch, but then suddenly loses one of her shoes, while Zenyatta hits the afterburners to win by a half length at the wire.   After the race, Steve Asmussen announces Life is Sweet is through for 2010.

To be continued...

23 Sep 2010 5:38 AM

This is in response to both Ms. Haun and Needler's debate. First, to Ms. Haun: Mr. Haskin is simply giving his critique of the film. You have to understand, Mr. Haskin was there, up close and personal to the situation. He knows more about what really happened than anyone responding to this blog. He also is aware that any inaccuracies in the film can and most likely will be received as the truth from those who don't know what really happened. And if I were as close to the situation as he was, I'd simply want as few inaccuracies as possible. Because the true story of Secretariat and that year in 1973 is amazing enough on it's own, without any fabrications. Finally, Mr. Haskin isn't trying to discredit the film or ruin viewers experience. He is simply pointing out the inaccuracies that he noticed given how close he was to the truth. We should all be appreciative that we still have people like him who are willing to tell us exactly what happened. We can still enjoy the film!

To Needler: I couldn't agree more that "demonizing" Sham is flat out wrong and probably the biggest mistake of the film. They are horses - they aren't evil and they don't have bad intentions. EVER! Humans ask them to race each other and to portray any horse in such a negative light is just silly and pathetic of the directors. Sham should have instead been portrayed as one of the most courageous and amazing race horses and the only horse at the time who could truly push Big Red into legendary status.  Because that is the truth! And Secretariat NEVER needed an "evil foe" to conquer to be a hero as the film seems to convey.

23 Sep 2010 9:54 AM

Jim C.,

That is hilarious.  I really enjoyed reading it.  All I could add would be some race scenes with Mike Smith hanging on for dear life as some other jockey or evil horse tries to knock him out of the saddle.  If you really want to stretch the truth in the Zenyatta story, cast Calvin Borel as the jockey everybody hates because he's mean and lazy.

Did you work at a racing publication?  I think we were there at the same time.

23 Sep 2010 12:03 PM

Jim C.

Are you sure that you're not Dr. D in disguise?  What a hoot your Zenyatta movie was!

Thanks for the information about Hollywood Park.  Cleone, Ruffian, and I will be going to see Z race and none of us have ever been there before.

Look for us if you're there (3 women: 1 Chicana, 1 Asian, and Cleone).  I said women, not girls.

23 Sep 2010 12:14 PM

If the horse parts are good I will be grateful.  One of my pet peeves in horse movies is the sex change.  I watched and own the movie from ESPN about Ruffian, and for most of the movie you get a beautiful horse that resembles her, however in the scene where she is in the barn and they discover she is off on one leg, it looks like she is a old black quarter horse or very fat thoroughbred, and guess what, you can easily tell that she is a "he" being used for the part.  Very tacky.  So, when I heard they were making this movie, I just hoped they would use boy horses that look like they could run even if they weren't race horses.  Great review.  Thank you.  

23 Sep 2010 12:38 PM
needler in Virginia

Thanks, Travis. You said it far better than I could have. It all comes down to why on Earth make this most fascinating and gripping of stories into something trivial, demeaning and untrue?? Isn't it good enough as it stands there?? Sham and his connections bad guys? NEVER! AND NOTHING DISNEY CAN PUT ON FILM WILL MAKE ME BELIEVE OTHERWISE. Since "poor" has become Sham's first name (as in "Poor Sham"), clearly, those who were around as this story played out knew that Sham was simply born in the wrong year, and not one of those observers ever called him "Nasty Sham" or "Evil Sham".

'Nuff said on this; those who don't want the real story will LOVE the movie as they LOVED "Dreamer" (urck). Those who would rather see the real deal will go to the movie, gripe, and then go home to watch their dvd's of The Big Red One and the class of 1970.

My fingers are now officially in overload, so I won't type anymore. I'd bet there is more than one of you who is thrilled at that announcement!! Please alert the media...........

Cheers and safe trips.

23 Sep 2010 12:52 PM
Kat- Big Red's Biggest Fan

My beef about the Black Stallion is Why change a perfect and classic story?

They recast Alec a young kid? instead of the boy on the threshold of manhood and his coming of age?

Why take away all the Pathos of The Race? with the injured stallion running and Alec trying to stop him.... and the drama at the end of the race with Alec's only concern being the stallion's well being above and beyond the outcome of the race.... and the hushed crowds waiting to see if the horse was ok and then the triumphant procession and with the grand reunion of Both his parents being there (his father was Not killed on board the ship when it sank- he was not there at all) and then horse expert (reminding me of Hatton upon first seeing Secretariat) remarking  that no greater horse existed....

They so trivialized the story! with that child as the protagonist .... and wearing that silly helmet instead of a proper jockey's cap ..... and showing no concern about his horse being hurt...

What was beautiful about the movie was the cinematography and the island scenes and the spectacular horse they found to portray The Black...

but that part was all they did well.... They didn't lack excellent material, they chose to ignore it and tell their own version which was not an improvement at all .... does that make any kind of sense?? Should one accept such without protest?

The call of the Match Race in the book is of the same caliber of stirring drama as Chick Anderson's call of the Belmont! I get goosebumps over both.

The Black! is coming on like a house on fire!

Secretariat! He is moving like a tremendous machine!

Bless them all.

and I get tears in my eyes when Seattle Slew's owner tells the story of meeting Walter Farley (author of the Black Stallion) and is told by Mr Farley that all his life he has been looking for the Black Stallion and that Seattle Slew is his Black Stallion... so does he... and his voice quivers in telling story ...

upon seeing Secretariat win the TC in 1973- he was MY black stallion :-)

23 Sep 2010 6:20 PM

I would like to point out, just because some of us weren't around to see Secretariat race (shoot, I was only two by the time he died) doesn't mean we can't appreciate how amazing he was. It doesn't mean we think of Sham in a negative light either - I think it's pretty clear that had Secretariat not been around, Sham would have won at least the Derby and probably the Triple Crown. He was a great horse in his own right, he just suffered the same fate as Alydar - he was up against a horse who, at least on race day, was a bit better. Seems like some of the "old timers" have an attitude of "you can't possibly appreciate how great he was if you didn't see him in person or live on TV." (oh really? And how did you feel about Eclipse?)

I'm going to go see it opening weekend, and I'm taking my twelve-year-old sister (doing my best to indoctrinate her in the ways of the racetrack - she already got to see Zenyatta and Super Saver in person when we went to Oaklawn in April so I think I've hooked her). I'm sure she'll love the movie, just like I'm equally sure I'll be sitting there flinching and biting my lip every time I see something I know is incorrect. But, need I remind you of the tragedy involving Eight Belles that garnered so much attention? The sport needs any positive publicity it can get - and if that is a movie made by Disney dramatizing one of our biggest stars, well, maybe it's not ideal, but it's still positive publicity.

24 Sep 2010 12:54 AM

I will go see this movie despite the flaws, however I find making Sham a villian to be despicable. Sham was magnificent and in any other year his brilliance would have stood alone. My love of Secretariat will drive me to see it, even though in the trailers I can see the horses playing him are at a disadvantage, they don't  come close. I don't really want the movie to promote horse racing interest however. Back in Secretariat's day the horses were made of hardier stock than today, where bloodlines are so watered down there are horses being bred with weak bones, they are still pushed too hard as youngsters and the breeders have to know it. This is why Eight Belles broke down. I don't watch racing anymore because of this and the abuse that goes on. However back when I was young Secretariat and Ruffian were something special to me and always will be. Secretariat's greatness will always speak for itself and I have the documentary too. A movie, even if it is not entirely accurate will bring a new generation to learn about and love this amazing horse, who should never be forgotten.

25 Sep 2010 12:01 AM

I watched Big Red in 1973. I wept when he died. I still weep watching the Belmont.  I'll weep watching this probably somewhat silly movie, because it will remind me of the perfection of Secretariat and of what he meant to so many.

Note: "O Happy Day"?  Umm-- didn't anyone at Disney listen to the second line of the lyric? "When Jesus walked"?  When Red ran, maybe.  What an idiot choice. Silence would better convey the moment.

25 Sep 2010 9:19 AM

In re other films mentioned above: "Champions" about Aldaniti and the eponymous "Phar Lap" are genuinely good, maybe the two best, racing movies.

25 Sep 2010 9:22 AM
needler in Virginia

Tracey, sad to say horses have been breaking down ever since horses became horses. Most of the breakdowns in racing, all the way back to the Godolphin Barb, et al, happened, the horse was destroyed and then dragged off the track. The public awareness of breakdowns came about mostly because of Ruffian, I THINK. Someone please correct my timeline here. TV has been the prime mover in letting the public see the last strides and then the fall. Breakdowns are NOT going to stop happening; horses break down in the pasture chasing other horses, they take bad steps going to the barn, they step on THEMSELVES and tear hooves half off. This happens; it's just TV that puts it in your face. That said,  we should try to make racing safer. I'll say that again.......WE SHOULD TRY TO MAKE RACING SAFER. But the breakdowns will still be with us. It's the physics of a 1,000 pound horse walking around on matchsticks. We could always introduce draft horses into the gene pool, but I'd bet the result would NOT be another Secretariat. And regarding the gene pool being "watered down", actually, the gene pool has had no water added in years and what we are seeing is the result of several hundred years of what amounts to inbreeding. All these horses are, supposedly, the offspring of three foundation stallions.....THREE. Taking into account all the outside mares that helped create this breed, add in when the stud books were closed, all the years and the foals, and you are narrowing to the tip of a pretty big pyramid. We're gonna see more genetic problems rather than less. Maybe we should "water down" the gene pool a bit, but the handicappers would all implode at that possibility...

Nah, we've got what we've got; it's our responsibility to make horse AND rider safe, tracks safer, training methods safer, DO AWAY WITH TWO YEAR OLDS IN TRAINING SALES, drop drugs out of the mix altogether, and then maybe........... At the end of the day, though, there will still be horses that break down. I WISH it were otherwise, but I've spent too many years looking at genetics. You can't close a gene pool and expect any other result.

Cheers and safe trips.

25 Sep 2010 11:11 AM

great post at 11:11 AM, needler.

25 Sep 2010 1:00 PM
needler in Virginia

Thanks, Sherpa. It's really rotten, it stinks, and I wish the basics could be changed, but a closed gene pool is what it is, and the ultimate result will always be the same. Talk about losing on an instant replay! Just as a starting point we could examine the number of foals born in 1970 (which really isn't THAT long ago), the number of starters and the percentages of those that raced longer than one or two years; then compare those numbers to those of 2008.......the differences might be enlightening. The horses did seem stronger then, but maybe they weren't.....maybe it's our perception through time OR we just got to see the tougher ones who could stay the course. The only options we have right now are to try to make everything better and safer. That's about it. BOY have I become a doom and gloomer. APOLOGIES to all.

Cheers and safe trips.

25 Sep 2010 3:52 PM

That's really an interesting, thought provoking concept, Needler.  Because I'm well aware that it's almost like every horse is born with a death wish and they are expert at finding ways to mangle themselves without our help, it makes me wonder if other species who share a similar kind of build - large body on tiny legs have the same regularity of breaking down.  The creatures I'm thinking of would be the gazelles and antelopes who have such tiny legs and hooves in relation to their body size, but it's not something I've ever pondered before.  I agree, we need to work to do all we can to make racing safer for the horses and the riders and to keep the horses from hurting themselves.  Well, good luck with that last one.

25 Sep 2010 7:50 PM
needler in Virginia

Amen, and yu are SO right on the last thought, txhorsefan. Our oldest Morgan once ran through a four board oak fence for no discernible reason, while the other Morgan and the Sicilian donkey stood there and watched. NO problem with them, at all. Deke just had a brain fart and shattered the fence, as well as poking several good sized holes in his chest. Blood everywhere and him standing there with a "WHUT???" look on his face. The younger Morgan figured out how to slice off a quarter of his hoof from the cornet down to the ground and I saw the blood spurting from 50 yards THAT was a day I don't wanna repeat EVER! Hoof pasted, superglued, duct taped and booted back together ........ then ages waiting for it to come back in crumbly and soft. Never held a shoe solidly again, but he wore bar shoes with loads of epoxy.  Read the chapter in Jim Squires' Monarchos book about horses, their physics, their propensity for trying to commit suicide and you get a good idea of how fragile they really are. Not all that encouraging, is it??? Sometimes I feel like we're trying to save them from themselves; sometimes I think we're trying to save them from US..........

Cheers and safe trips to ALL.

25 Sep 2010 9:20 PM

I think they should have used that great classic " Wipe Out" for the Belmont stretch.  Now that piece speaks!

I'll go see the movie because Secretariat was  A Chosen.  And I watched those three races on live TV.

Plus I remember Sham's great heart.  

27 Sep 2010 11:09 PM

I re-read Bill Nack's book every few years and I went to the movie with mixed emotions. We went to the preview showing last weekend. I was surprised and pleased that the theatre was packed and people clapped after each Triple Crown race. I was a bit horrified at some of the liberties taken. Can anyone imagine Penny Tweedy picking up a sponge and actually bathing Secretariat? I will buy the DVD when it comes out--and hope they include documentary pieces about the real Secretariat. I remember following Secretariat on TV and in the newspapers as a teenager. The day of the Belmont Stakes I had to work (I had just started my first job). I worked in a department store. That day I asked to combine my breaks near the end of the day. I hurried through the store and bolted up the escalator to the major appliance/TV department. At the top of the escalator were a crowd of people watching the TV and Secretariat was alone on the screen. I was confused and asked if he was warming up. Someone said, "No, this is the race". I asked where were the other horses? Then the camera panned back to show the others. The crowd of people standing there in Gately's department store cheered the end of the race. It is one of my fondest memories.

08 Oct 2010 11:23 AM

To quote Mr. Haskin: It has brought back into public consciousness a legendary athlete that transcended his sport and sports in general, weaving himself into the fabric of American culture. And it tells the story of one woman’s dogged determination in a world she was born into, but had long since left behind.

*************** best review I've read yet.  Forgive the deficiencies and be thrilled non-racing fans will love this movie.

08 Oct 2010 12:35 PM

Wasn't the coin toss scenario slightly different in real life as well? I saw the midnight showing of the movie last night, and always remembered the coin toss being for Secretariat and his full sister, The Bride, not between the two different mare's Bold Ruler foals.

08 Oct 2010 9:06 PM

I was born the year "Big Red" won the Triple Crown but oh, how I wish I could have seen him run. I will be there to see his movie though. Doesn't matter if it's made by Disney or Oliver Stone, no one could do his greatness the justice it deserves.

The public love horse racing movies. Even though we know who wins the race we all still hang off the edges of our seats. Having seen Seabiscuit and Pharlap which both took poetic licence with the truth but have remained popular since being released. Does it really matter whether they are entirely factual or not?

This is entertainment and great publicity for the sport, especially with the Breeders Cup and Zenyattas record breaking attempt coming up.

If Secretariat puts bums on seats both at the movie theater and the track then it's good for Hollywood, and good for racing.

09 Oct 2010 7:11 AM

You're too gracious Steve. Seabiscuit took Hollywood liberties too - but they did their homework (or rather Hildebrandt did) and Gary Ross was a true storyteller in both script and cinematography.  

This movie was a missed opportunity to tell a true story of jaw dropping superlatives - opting instead for done-to-death life lessons, embarassing stereotypes and hackneyed cliches.

(Don't even get me started on the music)

09 Oct 2010 7:23 AM

Sorry Laura, I meant Hillenbrand...

09 Oct 2010 10:13 AM

When exactly do we get to see a film about Man O' War? And why do people always seem to forget him?

11 Oct 2010 1:48 AM
Prove Out

"Oh Happy Day" was a baffling choice. It was an incredibly disappointing climax to anyone who was anticipating the most inspirational of all moments in the history of sport recreated with all the glitz and glam of hollywood.

I found myself thinking "am I so jaded that I couldn't be moved by a truly inspirational scene? Did everyone else see it differently?"

I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one.  

12 Oct 2010 4:22 PM
Dave S.

There's Really No Doubt Who The Movie Was Made For, And Yes It's A 100% Feel Good Movie (IE..Flicka Comes To Mind Amoung Others). Disney Made A Movie For The Public And They Made It Their Way. Steve Your Review Was Right On (No Doubt About That) And Again Your Correct About Being To Close To The "REAL" Horse. Disney However Isn't To Concerned About Real Facts, Just Feel Good Stories And Considering The Shape Of The Economy Right Now A "Feel Good Story" May Be What We Need. (By The Way Your 100% Correct Again Gospel Music For Horse Racing Is Way Over The Top).


14 Oct 2010 8:52 PM

Most telling is that despite all the flaws in the film, the audiences applaud at the end.  The power of the animal and his stunning Belmont run remain stirring to this day.  I was 12 when these races took place, and in my 7th grade yearbook a friend wrote, "Too bad about Sham!" I've never known how to pick a winner! ^_^

17 Oct 2010 9:23 AM
Boat Doc

As a sports fan I'm old enough to remember Secretariat winning the Triple Crown, but most of what I know about Big Red comes from the documentary ESPN put together when Secretariat was placed on the list of 100 Greatest Athletes at #34, ahead of Mickey Mantle (and 65 other greats.)

All of the Triple Crown races were amazing to watch from the come-from-last Kentucky Derby to the last-to-first charge in a furlong of the Preakness, but watching the footage of the Belmont is transcendent, and the film is almost pedestrian compared to the actual footage.  Chic Anderson’s call is recreated poorly, only making effective use of the “Secretariat is moving like a TREMENDOUS machine!” Watching the actual race with Chic’s actual call gives a much better feeling for what we are watching – Secretariat, already vastly favored in the race, ran a race that amazed viewers to tears, all but taking flight into our collective sport consciousness.  Perhaps the filmmakers felt obliged to edit Anderson’s call to reflect the actual 31-length margin of victory, but in the actual call you can hear his disbelief as he estimates the margin at 25 lengths.  The real Secretariat was greater than our amazement.

The film gives us only a shadow of the actual greatness of Big Red.

18 Oct 2010 2:25 AM
j.c. martin

Has anyone commented on the Tucson, Arizona, resident sister, Margaret Carmichael being written out of the script entirely?

21 Oct 2010 11:42 AM

Get over yourselves! If you are in racing-- any part of it--, you should be begging for the worldwide audience Disney provides. And if they reach the world's heart like they know how to do, what part of you has the audacity to be critical? Beggars aren't choosers. And in this case, the beggars are those in Thoroughbred racing, begging for a breakthrough in a sadly flaggling sport. The best thing you can do-- and the first thing you should do-- is wholeheartedly support Disney bringing an audience to your feet for the next decade. This positive result goes so deep that it dissolves any trivial complaint one can conjure up. Please be horse people that see the larger world than the tiny one they're in.

03 Nov 2010 12:00 AM

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