The day of miracles started when Chenery loses a coin toss and was given an unborn foal that no one wanted, Big Red who became the superhero of racing history, Secretariat.
The movie spoke of the troubles a woman in the 70s encountered time after time again. Men in the business did not believe she could make it as an owner of a racehorse, yet aspiring and pushing forward she worked to prove them wrong. Every strike at her, she handled it with ease and professionalism. She rose above all the petty slander and attacks at her being a ‘woman’ in a man’s profession. She never dreamed little when it came to the red horse. The movie teaches lessons for all ages to keep dreaming big and never give up. The emotion between the actors was heart felt, and it was as if you were living the same pain and agony Chenery was enduring as she battled uphill. With strength, courage and support from those around, they kept pushing onward against all odds.
The movie was quite historically correct minus a few technical sides for those who have followed the story of Big Red. A minor oversight I could overlook was the horrible use of horse makeup. Animals casted for these movies have more than just one animal since these roles are grueling on them. To make sure they are consistent in appearance, make up is used; in this case Disney did not pay much attention in some of the close up shots of the face of the star horse. For the trained eye, it was unnerving but I digress on a small technical mishap.
The biggest concern that diminished the movie in my eye was the horses selected. Four horses matching the markings of Secretariat were used – one being another breed of race horse, a Quarter Horse (for speed scenes), an actual descendant of Big Red and two other horses. Yet, what the horse wrangler (Seabiscuit) failed to find was an authentic representation of his mammoth size. The horses used were twiggy and about half the size of what the real deal was. The horse had a girth of 75 inches, which is gargantuan by any means. Any equipment used had to be special ordered. To gain a better understanding of the size of this horse’s stomach region – picture those famous Budweiser Clydesdales. If anyone has seen a draft horse, you note how colossal the stomachs are. Since that gives you a rough estimate, now imagine it about 10 inches larger in diameter. It was saddening to see runt horses walking around when Secretariat was a freak of nature.
Throughout the movie, the script that was penned was side-splitting and very well written. It could not bring any more emotion if it tried. It kept the theater on its toes waiting for the next laugh-out-loud moment. Timing was perfect even during the intense race scenes. Lane and Malkovich nailed each line with a driving force. Powerful to say the least. The cast was perfect even down to the extras.
The camerawork was phenomenal. In each race, they did not use the cliché rider on the back of a pogo stick but real life jockeys (and actors to boot) to film these 38 mph sequences. The cinematographer (Dancing with Wolves and We Were Soldiers) used for the project maximized the effects. Using a new technique, small cameras managed to get into areas that normally could not be filmed. Race scenes were exciting and thrilling because they were able to capture the dirt flying, the dirt stained faces of the jockey to even by the running hooves and under the belly of the horse. You were there, entrapped in the scene and feeling the dangerous rigor of being on a powerhouse racing machine at full speed. There was even a mention of the real life Chenery on set as they filmed – there was a moment that the horse was not being pushed as hard towards the end of the race as they would during a real race. Reasons were because the jockey/actor was concerned about outrunning the camera truck.
The moments shared between rivals were heavy. Talk during the 70s was Secretariat versus the seal brown (almost black) rival, Sham. Secretariat emphasized that rivalry between Chenery and Sham’s trainer, Pancho Martin. Not only was that extremely highlighted – Chenery exemplary behavior and quick, quiet wit gave her the upper hand. Moments in the movie between Secretariat and Sham were encapsulated the day they met for their first race. The look in the horses’ eyes spoke as if they knew what was at stake. Every step, every camera angle told the tale of two larger than life horses about to fight for what every trainer and horse owner wants – the Triple Crown. Disney pushed it even further as the jockeys’ disdain for each other in the starting gates just made those moments more real.
I give two thumbs up. It is a movie for all ages even though I saw more adults who lived during the time of Secretariat then any children. It is everything a Disney movie should embody and much, much more. I can say I have not seen a Disney movie that maintained such accuracy as they possibly could (considering resources). Few things could have been tweaked but every key point was effectively highlighted as appropriate. For a small spoiler, the real Penny Chenery was stashed cleverly in the audience during the momentous Belmont Race. Talk about a nice surprise!
Secretariat was a horse that none could touch. He was a Cinderella story, a horse abnormally so. What made him great was his will to run and it didn’t hurt his heart was three times the size of an average horse’s heart (22 pounds). None will ever compare to majestic strides (at 25 feet plus) and his desire on the track. There will only be one Secretariat.