09/01/2010 9:10PM

Red October


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.