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Sunday, October 17, 2010


I know this isn’t Disney history per se, but Secretariat is a Disney movie so…

Anyone who knows me, know that I have diss’d the movie Titanic a bit.  Big unsinkable ship set sail on its maiden voyage, big unsinkable ship hit iceberg.  Guess what, big unsinkable ship is not unsinkable, and many perish.  In the process, someone tells stories that may or may not be true.  Yeah, I don’t normally go into for movies of which I already know the end, no matter how stylized.

Secretariat is different.  I’ve been a horse nut since I was a young boy.  My Mom loves to tell the story of me being place on the back of a steed in front of her at the age of 18 months old, me in my finest cowboy chaps and hat.  Sitting there with my Mother hat in hand, slapping the horse neck yelling, “Go DADDY, GO!”  I have ridden regularly since that time, though, in recent years, not nearly as often as I would like.  Each year the in my house, the Triple Crown races have become as big an event as any other sporting endeavor.  Those three races are, in my opinion, the most exciting 6 minutes of the year

In 1973 I remember this big red horse named Secretariat racing in the Kentucky Derby.  Out of the gate dead last and not given much hope, even though he’d been name “Horse of the Year” in 1972.  Suddenly, he surges and starts to make up positions on the field, finishing as the winner of the “Run for the Rose” by a couple of lengths, the first leg of the Triple Crown.  Oh yes, and a record time that stands to this day.   Two weeks later, the same result:  Secretariat wins the Preakness Stakes by a couple of lengths in another spectacular come from behind win, completing the second leg of Triple Crown.  Finally three weeks later, in the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat successfully completed his bid to become the first Triple Crown since Citation in 1948, in the most amazing race I have ever witness.  Secretariat broke to the rail and battled Sham for the lead for about half the race, after switch Big Red ran away from Sham and a distance field to win the Belmont in record time and by 31 lengths.  A feat that may well never be repeated again!

Secretariat is, in my mind, the greatest thoroughbred to ever live or race.  While hopeful for a great retelling of the story of a great horse, I was, of course, prepared for the movie to be another one of those stylized movies which relied on a rehash of his racing career to provide the excitement and impetus of the movie.   I was pleased to find an experience that not only exceeded my expectations, but also my hopes.  Secretariat, while definitely a story about the horse, is the amazing back story about how he became the super horse I remember fondly from my youth, and people who made it happen.   As with any story of greatness, there are points along the road where events of chance could have changed the outcome the narrative.  The chronicle of Secretariat is no different, and those chance events started before the foal is even born. Because of the breeding deal struck by Meadow Stud, Inc., the breeding arm of Meadow Farm Stables, Meadow Farms Stable had two broodmares carrying foal from Bold Ruler.  The deal struck was that the winner of a coin toss would be granted the right to choose which of the two foals would go to winner.  Bold Ruler’s owner, the Phipps Family, won the toss and selected the foal from the younger Meadow Farms broodmare.  Secretariat, not yet born or even named, went to Meadow Farms.  The real story, in my view, is about Penny Tweety, her belief in this “Big Red” horse’s chances to be a great horse, and her efforts and action to give Big Red that chance.  That was the part of the story I did not know, and what I think makes the movie Secretariat so good.  It is the archetypical story of struggle, belief, and ultimately the success that can be had by “Running at life.”

As I write this piece, I’ve been doing a little online research to verify some of my fact and figures, so I know that the movie’s producers have taken some creative license in the story telling.  That is to be expected as this is a story that covers 5 year period.  I am by no mean a movie making expert, but I understand that movies telling an historical story must often distill several events in one over arching event which provides the essence of those multiple activities.  This method use to bother me, as I thought of it as being unfaithful to intend of the story being told.  But in recent years with my endeavors to understand Walt Disney, and developing some friendship with individual involved in the entertainment industry, I have come to understand that the medium of film has finite amount of time to tell a story without risking losing the interest of the audience.  Also the story really needs to be told in a manner that will appeal to the broadest audience possible while trying to maintain as much faith to the storyline as possible.  Some do it better than others.  Now for the Disney hook; this is something I think Walt Disney understood, and it was probably the lead contributor to his success.  As for my final comments on Secretariat; I come away from this movie with an even great respect and appreciation of a horse of whom I was already a great fan know more about how he became the super horse.  While he had to have the seeds of greatness within him, without the right nurturing of those seeds, his greatness may never have been realized.  That is an idea that to translates to all of us.  Must all of us have those seeds within us; it is how they are nurtured that will determine how strong they become.  And finally, my favorite moment in the movie;  As Big Red wins the Belmont, the camera pans up to Penny Tweety (Diane Lane) in the stands celebrating this spectacular event with her family and friend, the camera pauses momentarily on a older woman just over Penny’s shoulder a couple of row up in the stands behind her.  I leaned over to my wife and whispered, “I think that is the real Penny Tweety.”  The final scenes were of the pictures of the actual key characters in story with a brief comment about them today.  When Penny Tweety came up, it was with that shot from the movie. A magnificent end to what is, in my opinion, a magnificent movie, and a tribute to the Triumph of Spirit.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

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