10/19/2005 11:00PM

'Dreamer' doesn't rate with true tale


NEW YORK - If you buy a ticket for the new horse-racing movie "Dreamer" before next Saturday at a Loews theater, your stub will get you free admission to Belmont Park for the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 29. With movie tickets retailing for around $8 these days, and grandstand admission for the Cup going for $10, this may sound like a foolproof plan to save two bucks.

Alas, there is a pitfall: Having bought the ticket, you might actually watch "Dreamer," something no one over the age of 11 should have to do. This is a movie that may delight some children but will bore the daylights out of any grownup and exasperate horse-racing fans.

The full title of the film, which opened Friday, is "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story," a tip-off to its tenuous connection to reality. The inspiration was provided by Mariah's Storm, who broke her leg as a promising 2-year-old filly but made it back to the races, winning three stakes at Arlington and beating Serena's Song at Turfway before finishing ninth in the 1995 Breeders' Cup Distaff. She is perhaps even better known for her first foal, a Storm Cat colt named Giant's Causeway.

That's a very good story. but not the one that "Dreamer" tells. This is pure Shirley Temple fantasy territory, with an adorably toothy little girl (Dakota Fanning), her crusty horse-training father (Kurt Russell), and crustier horse-training grandfather (Kris Kristofferson). Russell trains the filly for an evil Arab prince, and when she breaks her leg the prince's even eviler racing manager fires Russell and sells him the filly for $3,000 to settle a training bill. If you wonder whether an undefeated favorite for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies might perhaps be worth a bit more than that, you are thinking way too hard for this movie.

Fanning then appears to nurse the filly back to health solely by sneaking her cherry popsicles while simultaneously healing her fractured family by smiling at them and being feisty. Finally, with the benefit of only a third-place finish in a $15,000 claiming race as a prep, the little girl enters her in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Why she would run in the Classic instead of the Distaff, considering that the family has to make a deal with the prince's slightly less-evil brother to raise the $120,000 in entry fees, is never quite explained.

If there is any doubt in your mind as to how the big race turns out, I would like to sell you some stallion shares in Funny Cide.

The racing footage is similarly preposterous, only slightly less so than the climactic meeting of the Breeders' Cup Selection Committee. In "Dreamer"-world, owners appear before a fussy panel of bow-tied snobs like petitioners at a royal court, pleading their cases for starting berths. In yet another shocker, little Dakota melts their frozen hearts with her spunk and pluck.

There's also a scene shot in the stallion barn at Ashford/Coolmore, where you get glimpses of Fusaichi Pegasus, Giant's Causeway, Grand Slam, and Johannesburg. This comes amid a brief subplot where the farm offers to discount Grand Slam's stud fee from $200,000 to $15,000 to help out our heroes because they are good people. Perhaps they would do the same for you if you called and asked nicely.

DreamWorks Pictures is trying to promote the movie not only as a family outing but also as the centerpiece of "Taking a Stand for Family," which it calls a "grass-roots campaign" focused on "the importance of family values in today's society." This pandering to social conservatives seems especially empty, because there are no values of any kind at this movie's core. No one makes any commendable choices, the horse heals up in the absence of any hard work or expertise, and the only moral seems to be that you should go through life blindly following the uninformed convictions of little girls and betting the farm on hopeless 80-1 shots in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

It is especially depressing that Hollywood manufactures and distributes this kind of film while "Laffit: All About Winning," an entirely truthful and largely praiseworthy documentary, has to rely on racetrack giveaways and mail-order sales to receive any attention at all. "Laffit" is produced and directed by Academy Award winner Jim Wilson ("Dancing With Wolves") and narrated by Kevin Costner. Ordering the clip-laden movie for $19.95 from www.laffit.net won't get you into the Breeders' Cup for free, but it will get you into the mood for the Breeders' Cup in a hurry.