Secretariat Gets You In The Kentucky Derby Mood

Diane Lane, Nelsan Ellis, Otto Thorwarth, and John Malkovich in Secretariat. Courtesy of Disney.

Secretariat is just the film about horse racing to get people in the right mood for the annual running of the Kentucky Derby.

If you want a horse racing film, you certainly could not do wrong with the Oscar-nominated Seabiscuit. Seabiscuit is without a doubt the better of the two films but we’re not here to talk about that film today. No, we’re here to discuss the one set during the three Triple Crown races. And honestly, it’s a film that could make Kentucky natives like me feel homesick after viewing. It’s Derby Week so the homesickness is strong during this time of year.

Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) returns home after her mother’s death. She reunites with Elizabeth Ham (Margo Martindale) and visits with her father, Christopher (Scott Glenn). At her mother’s funeral is where Penny meets  Arthur “Bull” Hancock and Seth Hancock (Drew Roy). The Hancocks own Claiborne Farm and they offer whatever help they can. After learning from Hollis (Dylan Baker) about how their mom had to intervene in a dishonest sale, Penny decides to fire their trainer. This leads her back to the Hancocks where Bull recommends hiring Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich). The rest is history so I do not really need to rehash the plot.

There’s no denying that this film is an inspirational drama. It’s the type of film that I miss coming from Walt Disney Pictures. By which, I mean Disney itself and not their art house labels. But for a film of this nature, the modest box office performance doesn’t mode well because it’s not good for bottom line. That’s why we don’t really see much films like this any more. And who knows what kind of films we’ll be seeing once we get on other side of the pandemic!

Things I love about the film: it’s shot on location in Louisville and Lexington. My old Kentucky home. There’s no better feeling than seeing the Twin Spires during the Run for the Roses. During the Belmont Stakes recreation, one can’t help but be amazed in watching Secretariat pull away and win by 31 record lengths. This is a feat that hasn’t been done ever since and won’t be accomplished again. This is why Secretariat will forever be known as the greatest race horse that ever lived.

It’s been just over ten years since the film came out in theaters. As much as I enjoy the film, it isn’t without some faults. While Secretariat was the biggest name in the Meadow Stable, the film doesn’t even bring Riva Ridge. That horse had a strong factor in saving their stable especially with winning the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in 1972. On top of this, they also make some changes to the Wood Memorial to build up the rivalry with Sham. And again, they get it wrong. Sham did not win the race–Angle Light did! Fun fact: Lucien Laurin also trained Angle Light. But in watching this film, you would never learn this information all! In leaving out the horse, it kind of Disney-fies the drama to raise the stakes.

Secretariat works fine as a film but if you want the real truth behind the narrative, you’re better off reading Bill Nack’s book.

DIRECTOR: Randall Wallace
CAST: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Dylan Walsh, James Cromwell, Kevin Connolly, Nelsan Ellis, Dylan Baker, Margo Martindale, and Scott Glenn

Walt Disney Pictures released Secretariat in theaters on October 8, 2010. The film is currently streaming on Disney+.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.