09/01/2010 9:10PM

Red October

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As a credentialed member of the racing media, I was given the opportunity to preview "Secretariat" at one of several showings over the next few days. The Disney movie, starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich, is scheduled to be released on Oct. 8.

You would think, if only as a public service to my readers, that I would avail myself of the opportunity, grab a king-size box of Raisinettes, and go watch a free flick about a red racehorse. Then, once consumed and digested, I could tell the world what I thought of someone else's work. Take that.

But you know, I just didn't feel like spoiling the surprise, either for myself or for anyone desperate enough to read what I wrote about it. Anyway, I'm deeply conflicted, since two of my most respected colleagues, Dick Jerardi and Jay Privman, supposedly turn up in press conference scenes, playing reporters no less. Talk about method acting.

As far as the movie goes, without viewing a frame I can guarantee the photography will be swell. (When's the last time a Disney movie didn't look terrific?) There will be a parade of red horses with three white stockings and a blaze to represent Secretariat in various states of action and rest. (For a kick, and practice, go back and count the different Phar Laps in the movie of the same name.)

If the racing action in "Secretariat" even approximates the level of reasonable believability achieved by the competition scenes in "Seabiscuit," then the filmmakers will have done their toughest job. Malkovich's Lucien Laurin will be idiosyncratic, probably suggesting a combination of Pierre Trudeau and Mr. Magoo, but who cares? Laurin spent those two years training Secretariat in such a giant shadow that racing fans today would be lucky to pick his photo out of a line-up. Malkovich could play Laurin like an aging Tom Ripley and no one would notice.

As for Diane Lane, as a red-blooded American middle-aged male I am morally obligated to audibly sigh at the mere mention of her name. What she does with the Penny Chenery part is her business. I have been enjoying her droll take on a high-class gun moll this week in "Mad Dog Time" with Richard Dreyfuss on various cable movie channels. Dreyfuss, now there would have been a great Lucien Laurin.

Movies about horses racing have been so consistently disappointing through the years that "Let It Ride" - released in 1989 - has become the default "favorite racing movie" of an entire generation. (Hey, Dreyfuss again!) Do not, however, look for anyone to be stuffing winnings into their shoes during "Secretariat" after Big Red clicks at 3-2 in the Kentucky Derby, or retiring to Siro's right after the Whitney to disembowel the meaning of Onion's upset.

Still, it would not be unreasonable to expect Lane's version of Chenery, channeling Jennifer Tilly, to toy with Laurin's tie back at the barn after the Belmont Stakes, prompting the trainer to deliver, in all sweet homage, "Am I having a great day or what?"

*****

And now, while we await the release of "Secretariat," this space will indulge its occasional craving to dip into mass media for even the slightest references to horse racing in the modern cultural mix.

For instance, the cover of the August edition of "Watchtower" screamed "Is the End Near?" - delivered to my door by two clean young men - which I took to mean there would be an article about the California racing industry inside. But no such luck.

Instead, I would like to share my favorite cartoon strip (now that David Lynch no longer lets "The Angry Dog" leak from his dark soul). It is called "Red Meat," by Max Cannon, and features among its cast of characters one Bug-Eyed Earl, who could probably be found in any corner of any racetrack on any given Thursday afternoon. Here's what ol' Earl was up to the other day: http://www.redmeat.com/redmeat/2010-07-20/index.html. And bless him for showing up.

Marc K. Dion More than 1 year ago
I tend to avoid racing films for many of the same reasons Mr. Hovdey mentions. Regarding "Secretariat," my instincts tell me the movie cannot possibly re-create with any accuracy the staggering magnitude of Big Red's accomplishments and I am ready to bet the ranch that in no part of the film is there any reference to his much maligned performance at stud. To omit this is to release a film without an ending. Will we see any of the vastly mutated genetics in action? Will anyone leave the theater pondering the impact of Secretariat's chromosomes on racing in the late 70's, 80's, 90's or even the most recent ten years? I still hear people say that Secretariat was a disappointment at stud. Well, it is now 2010 and I keep seeing names like D'Accord and Afleet, and gosh - wasn't that horse that fell to his knees and still got up to win a biggie another product? What about all of those lackluster runners like General Assembly, (visually the most spectacular Vosburgh ever run - 5-wide turn in what? 1:20.1?) Chief's Crown, the quarter horse Terlingua...should I keep going? Is it blasphemous to say that had Forever Sparkle not been slightly impaired mentally, he'd have been among the greats? And exactly how will this film depict the single most outrageously suicidal move ever made in horse race? I'm not talking about Secretariat's Belmont, either. Just wondering if his internal fractions on the first turn in the 1973 Preakness will be acknowledged by this film that claims to tell the true story. Surely the director didn't omit one of the greatest quotes ever; "We'll beat him in the Belmont." And his two grass runs surely weren't overlooked, although I suspect that the names of the horses he beat in those two were regarded as unimportant. But then we all know how easy it is for a 3 y.o. colt to humiliate Tentam, one of the great all time turf champions. (ridden out to a five lenghth win in a lazy 2:24.4) No, I'll pass on this movie. Something tells me that watching Mickey Rooney in a horsey flick would be far more satisfying.
Willy More than 1 year ago
Great article Jay. If someone wants a movie review, they can go to Rotten Tomatoes. What you wrote was far more enjoyable to racing fans who are bracing for another schmaltzfest - as well as those who come here seeking the lost art of great humor writing (an article on California racing in the Watchtower....!) BUT - while there were some terrific racing shots in Seabiscuit, who could get past the "phony pony" shots of Tobey Maguire and Gary Stevens on those shag carpet equicizers? Every time I saw those hobby horse heads bobbing up and down I could hear Annette Funicello singing the Talent Roundup song. Penny Chenery herself promised this movie would do better in that regard - if not in factual authenticity. If the racing shots live up to her promise, I can sit through anything - even John Malkovich as Trudeau/Magoo.
Al K More than 1 year ago
Jay, I'm sorry to say this, maybe the next time you should write an article about an upcoming movie on thouroughbred racing, you should do so AFTER seeing it, not imaging what it might be like. This article was pathetic. Avid DRF reader, Al K
jhovdey More than 1 year ago
Al K -- You have a point, and it pains me to have disappointed you. I'm such a movie snob, though, that I figured it was best to get out in front of my own personality defects on this particular film. It will be widely loved, I guarantee. Word has it that they want to use the Santa Anita Park auxiliary gate on the red carpet for the Hollywood premier. That I like.
Don Reed More than 1 year ago
“Welcome to the wacky world of exchange betting, where gamblers can set themselves up as the house…” Given what my annual betting ledger is telling me (annual red ink), this fall, I’m volunteering for the MIT-Harvard Business School experiment wherein I set myself up as “The House” - and still lose money. It’s been done. But it took the industrial upheavals and moral brownouts of corporations and governments to trigger the Chapter 11 (Bankrupt Bingo) landslide. Can a single individual with lots of ill-advised enthusiasm (frayed) and an unerring instinct for losers (unrivaled) also ascend into the Land of Pockets Out? Will he remember to brake in Boston - or end up calling collect from a harness track - “They’re filming The Harness Wives of Bar Harbor!“ - in Bangor?
Del More than 1 year ago
The one thing I would be interested in is whether the movie has an element of handicapping in it, or is it simply a drama about a great race horse? If it incorporates the excitement of betting on what you believe, it might spark an increase in interest among the public for racing and handicapping. Does it help the industry?
jhovdey More than 1 year ago
Del -- I wouldn't hold my breath on any horseplaying angle, unless they have some guy making flat-bet parlays on any Allen Jerkens horses running against Secretariat.
rutledge,stephen c. More than 1 year ago
DRF; He is ahead by 10,20,30,40 lengths he is a big red machine...... One of if not the greatest calls every. Will they ever give him the Preakness record he deserves? One thing I dislike about the movie already and I have not seen it.Is that is a "Disney" movie therefore Diane Lane will keep all her clothes on. I will be there opening week to see the movie.JM and DL are very good actors with or without clothes. Closing Fast, Athena
Marc K. Dion More than 1 year ago
The actual quote was, "He is running like an incredible machine!" Never were the words "big red machine" uttered during that race call. But yes, about the Diane Lane business - I'm sorry, but Penny never looked that good.
Don in Massachusetts More than 1 year ago
I am looking forward to seeing and experiencing this movie although it is under the Disney title. Secretariat remains one of my favorites horses and he is still highly regarded by the general public and racing fans as the "Immortal Secretariat"! There will never be another like him, ever! I wonder if the October 8 release date was selected to honor another Great Champion and Hall of Famer, John Henry, the third anniversary of his death, or just coincidence?
jhovdey More than 1 year ago
Don in Mass -- Purely coincidental I assure you. October 8 is, however, the 37th anniversary of Secretariat's romp over Tentam and Big Spruce in the Man o' War. Ol' John Henry would have had his hands full with Big Red on the grass.
denny More than 1 year ago
Any movie that creates any interest in horse racing what so ever is a good thing. We need all the help we can get to bring people into the sport.
miles g leverett More than 1 year ago
Let's see... How about the "Seabiscuit" movie made in the 40's with {Shirley Temple} Good?..NO! You don't even mention Jeff Bridges and Gary Stevens in the most recent horse movie: Seabiscuit. Or how about "Racing Stripes" with a zebra, dude? It's a Hollywood movie JAY, creative licence and inaccuracy are it's trademarks. How about golf movies...Caddyshack..great CaddyshackII...worst movie ever made about golf. Tin Cup..some laughs. Diane Lane is a good artist and actress. Just talk the movie up and forget about JP.
jhovdey More than 1 year ago
Miles G -- I will absolutely give you "Racing Stripes." I thought the performance of Bruce Greenwood as the trainer of said zebra was terrific. He played it straight, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, and pulled it off. I could have done with less of the rapping, animated insects, but you can't please everyone.