Theme Song from "Secretariat."
Sunday, September 19, John Scheinman nabbed tickets for my husband and I to attend a screening of the new Disney film, “Secretariat.” Scheinman is the farsighted writer that the nearsighted Washington Post laid off. He may be their best, last-known horse-racing beat-writer.
Scheinman introduced Randall Wallace, an Oscar-nominated writer of screenplays and a film director who has worked with actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons and Mel Gibson, saying, “Randall knows what to do when he gets his hands on a rousing story.” Wallace surely had one with Secretariat and his feisty owner, Penny Chenery.
Sasscer Hill and Film Director Randall Wallace
I remember 1973 well. There were no women CEO’s in 1973, and Penny Chenery was up against it. Back then, I was the executive secretary for an all male DC aerospace industry association, which means I took the minutes at their meetings and served coffee. None of those men took me seriously, even when they couldn’t understand the monthly financial report, and I had to explain it to them. How could Penny Chenery’s persona in this movie not resonate with me?
Scheinman sat next to me in the theater and was obviously moved by the film. I sniffed my way through it, not because of the sad parts like the death of Penny’s father, but because of this colt’s phenomenal ability to touch human emotion, and because this movie is about themes I cherish -- fighting the odds and following your heart. Wallace brings it all home.
The director totally gets the comradery and competition among horse players, owners, trainers and backstretch workers. He nails the fact that many horses are natural born comedians, and though Scheinman probably identifies with the characters of real-life reporters, William Nack and Andrew Beyer, I suspect he struggled not to howl in the scene where Secretariat hoses Beyer with horse pee.
It’s hard for me, a horse woman, to give an objective review of this film. I’ve experienced a horse, that I both bred and pulled out of his mother, win my first race for me at Pimlico. I know the tension, the hope, and the fear far too well not to be moved by this movie. But here’s the thing, I knew exactly what was going to happen in each of Secretariat’s races, and I was still on the edge of my seat.
My husband, Daniel Filippelli, said he hadn’t been this moved by a film since he watched Kenneth Branagh’s Saint Crispin’s speech in Shakespeare’s “Henry the Fifth.” Could there be a more favorable comment?
When I stepped into the lobby afterwards, I looked at the people around me. They were all pumped, like when I walked out of the first "Star Wars" movie. And many of the people in that theater were not horse people.
Some reviewers get hung up on the absolute accuracy of historical details, but Wallace has not made a documentary. He has produced a great, entertaining film that will allow more people to understand the beauty and power of horse racing.
I think Randall Wallace is about to have a hit on his hands.
William Nack, pictured to the right above with Thomas Foley, is the author of, “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion.” The new movie was based on Nack’s book.
Thomas Foley, center, pictured below with Grant Witacre and Sasscer Hill, landed the role of exercise rider Jim Gaffney. Foley is the author of the soon-to-be-released book, “The Simple Game, An Irish Jockey’s Memoir.” Published by Caballo Press, the book comes with two “Secretariat” movie tickets at Caballopress.com. Grant Whitacre portrays Paul Feliciano, who rode Big Red in his first two career starts as an apprentice, before the connections turned to the more experienced Ron Turcotte.