This is an exciting weekend for horse racing—not just because of the back-to-back-to-back days of live ESPN coverage from Keeneland starting Friday. Not just because of the slew of Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” races at Keeneland, Belmont and Oak Tree at Hollywood Park this weekend. But because the eagerly anticipated Disney movie “Secretariat” opens nationwide on Friday. Click here to find a Secretariat movie time and theatre near you.
Unlike seemingly so many others in our industry, I still haven’t seen the movie. I’m waiting to see it with the family in what I hope is a packed movie theatre. But if Diane Lane comes anywhere close to capturing the real Penny Chenery, I know I will enjoy it immensely.
I must confess that in 1973, I was pretty young and clueless about horse racing, even despite my Kentucky roots. My interest developed shortly thereafter, but I always felt a little disappointed that I wasn’t fully plugged in to Secretariat’s exploits while they were taking place. This regret made it doubly thrilling for me when, early in my career with Churchill Downs, I got the opportunity to meet Penny Chenery.
She is the real deal, and I took an immediate liking to her no-nonsense, down-to-earth way—both in business and especially in dealing with people. She was very kind to me and interested in my views, even when I was far too new to the business to merit such respect. Never condescending or high-handed in any way despite such a monumental achievement with Secretariat, Penny has served as a role model for me and many others who know her.
In addition to the direct effect she has had on people like me, Penny has also been the consummate ambassador for our industry ever since she became such a public figure. I have read a few early commentaries mentioning that the movie is as much about Penny as it is about Secretariat, but in some ways, that is how it should be. There is no question that Secretariat was the horse of a lifetime—or maybe several lifetimes. But Penny was a perfect human counterpart, making Secretariat’s amazing career a possibility when others might have wimped out or sold out. How the film treats Penny is the stick by which I will measure it.
Tell me where you were in 1973, and how Secretariat impacted you as a horse racing fan? And by all means, let me know what you think of the movie.