Here’s the outcome of the 1973 Triple Crown of horse racing: Secretariat sweeps the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. When we walk into the movie theatre to see Disney’s latest offering, “Secretariat,” everyone knows what’s going to happen in the races. This isn’t front-page news anymore; no spoiler alert is needed.
The real prize of this excellent, family-oriented movie is what happened behind the scenes to make Secretariat such a great racehorse. It’s a wonderful, mostly true tale (loosely based on the book “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion,” by William Nack) of how a mere housewife turns around her family’s failing horse-breeding farm, which produces a legendary thoroughbred.
Diane Lane as Penny Tweedy, who takes over the farm from her ailing father (Scott Glenn), is the real star. A marvelous actress, she makes believable her character’s transition from passive housewife to her husband and four kids to a respected businesswoman. John Malkovich, who plays eccentric trainer Lucien Lauren, steals the show as he often does. These two make a wonderful team.
I especially liked how the story weaves in and out among the racing scenes, which are wonderful! There’s nothing like the sound of thundering hooves on a dirt track to get your heart a-thumping. Even though we know how each race is going to end, you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat as you will Big Red to beat hapless Sham, who was runner-up in the first two Triple Crown races. Which we cheered, because his owner was portrayed as being obnoxious to the graceful Tweedy.
Knowing the outcome of the Triple Crown races definitely doesn’t diminish the impact of “Secretariat,” where the underdog in both Penny Tweedy and her horse rule the day and, eventually, history. Go see it and don’t forget to take some Kleenex with you.