‘Secretariat’: Fact or fiction
“Secretariat” is a great movie. It features exciting racing action, great acting, expert filming and an inspiring story that will touch your heart.
The Disney movie, directed by Randall Wallace, is billed as “based on the true story” of the 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, as written by William Nack.
It is not the true story.
When I saw the movie this past weekend, I noticed a few discrepancies. Being a true Thoroughbred horse-racing fan who has attended the Kentucky Derby, I know “My Old Kentucky Home” is not sung until the first horse steps onto the racetrack. Until that scene, I was a true believer in some authenticity of the movie.
Then I questioned the nonexistence of Riva Ridge, the 1972 winner of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. This horse was also owned by Meadow Stud, raced by Penny Chenery, ridden by Ron Turcotte, and trained by Lucien Laurin.
Disney describes the “Secretariat” movie in the following words: “Housewife and mother, Penny Chenery (Diane Lane), agrees to take over her ailing father’s Virginia-based Meadow Stables, despite her lack of horse-racing knowledge. Against all odds, Chenery – with the help of veteran trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) – manages to navigate the male-dominated business, ultimately fostering the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years and what may be the greatest racehorse of all time.”
I agree. Secretariat is probably the greatest racehorse of all time.
As far as Chenery’s “lack of horse-racing knowledge” and “against all odds,” I totally disagree.
Chenery ran Meadow Stud, official racing name for Meadow Farms, while her father was hospitalized from 1968 through January 1973. She was the one who decided on the breeding that resulted in Secretariat, 1969, and his full sister The Bride, 1968. Chenery credited her father with the breeding decision, but she was in control of the farm operations at the time.
Secretariat was named Horse of the Year in 1972, over his stablemate Riva Ridge. He had only been defeated twice before the Triple Crown races – Kentucky Derby, The Preakness and Belmont Stakes – so his victory was not “against all odds.”
Chenery running the horse farm and racing stable was, however, against all odds. She was a true horsewoman and went on to become the first woman member of the American Jockey Club.
Secretariat went on to win 16 of 21 races in his two-year racing career and was also Horse of the Year in 1973. He finished second three times; his worse finish was third in the 1972 Wood Memorial.
This film was a wonderful tribute to Big Red’s memory.