The Movie Secretariat

It was my pleasure to have the opportunity to go to a screening of Disney’s new movie, “Secretariat“. Keeping in mind that I am not at all a fan of horse racing, I have to counter my initial reservations about this film and say that I am thoroughly impressed with how it was presented.

Horse racing movies are not new, even those in which the horse is the primary theme. It is hard to think that an equestrian has not at least heard of if not watched countlessly as a child such movies as “The Black Stallion,” “Black Beauty,” (1994 or 1971) and “National Velvet“. One of the more recent, “Seabiscuit” left me terribly disappointed – not so much with the story line as it was built on the true story of Seabiscuit, but rather with the way it was filmed.

Unlike Seabiscuit which was released by Universal, Disney has really outdone themselves on the filming style of Secretariat, with so many camera advantages that bring you up close and personal you really feel you are a part of the action. The biggest difference between these two movies? Probably that Otto Thorwarth who plays Ronnie Turcotte (Big Red’s jockey) is a real life jockey making his acting debut. Seabiscuit’s jockey was played by the actor Tobey Maguire, limiting how realistic the shots could be of him racing a horse. My good friend and jockey Frankie Lovato, Jr. was involved with the making of Seabiscuit where they employed the use of his Equicizer Mechanical Horse for many of the close up shots (and a big hello to Frankie if he’s reading this). I felt there was an advantage in their casting a genuine jockey for the role, and for making his debut Otto does not disappoint or overact his part.

The overall film reminded me of Disney’s older movies, some of their classics. Actually brought to mind “The Parent Trap” movie for some reason, likely the era that it replicated. It combines a great story line, humor, just enough drama and plenty of action to make for a great family film.

Diane Lane who plays the lead character and Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery Tweedy, found a place in my heart as a talented actress a long time ago and she certainly does not fail me in this role. Many other recognizable faces are found, including the always funny and usually quirky John Malkovich who plays Secretariat’s trainer, Lucien Laurin. If you watch Nip Tuck and True Blood you are certain to recognize a couple familiar faces as Dylan Walsh plays Penny’s husband and Nelsan Ellis as Eddie Sweat, Secretariat’s groom.

I have never really known the story of Secretariat aside from his remarkable feat in winning the Triple Crown by an insurmountable lead at the Belmont Stakes in 1973. This film puts you right into the story and makes it grow on you, almost taking it personal. From the coin toss that determined Penny Chenery Tweedy would get Secretariat over a second foal born by the stallion Bold Ruler that same year, to the finish line at the Belmont, you are pulled in and kept thoroughly entertained.

Unlike many of the horse racing films I have watched, this one didn’t feel as though it was played up merely to entertain the uneducated public. There weren’t glorified scenes of having to calm a crazed animal down or show him who is boss, rather the story line stayed central and that made a big impression on me. I think that for other equestrians watching this movie that may also be a feature that stands out.

Secretariat opens this Friday, October 8th (also my birthday!) in theaters. It is worth watching on the big screen for the great racing scenes and truly is a movie for both kids and adults alike.

by Erica Franz

I've been riding since I was 9, and in love with horses from the day I was born. Living in Washington with my husband Jason, 2 horses and our 4 dogs.


  1. Kristin says

    I actually thought Seabiscuit-unlike almost every other horse movie made-was really well done. The filmmakers did an excellent job, IMO, of capturing what that era was really like, from the hard-drinking, rowdy streets of TJ to the grim reality of depression-era America. I think that the story of Seabiscuit was as much about that time period and the people and circumstances as it was about that incredible little horse. Was it perfect? No, but what movie is these days? Actually, I’m a little nervous that Secretariat will turn out to be too “Disneyfied” and sugarcoated. Nevertheless, it looks like a good movie and I sure hope they do the red horse justice. Great article, and I HIGHLY recommend reading William Nack’s novel, Secretariat. It’s probably one of my favorite books ever :)

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