4 STARS – INSPIRING
Knowing the outcome does not lessen the tension or excitement of watching the rise of Secretariat, the fastest horse in history, culminating in his winning the Triple Crown in this film chronicling his accomplishment. A masterful story-teller, director Randall Wallace (Braveheart and Pearl Harbor) takes us on a journey with both “Big Red” and his courageous owner, Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane). Although some of the facts have been altered to intensify the drama and also to make it more approachable, the tale retains the sense of authenticity that catches all the right stuff.
When she married law student Jack Tweedy (Dylan Walsh), Penny left both her father’s farm in Virginia and the horses he raised. She is living in Denver and raising a family of four when Penny is suddenly called home because her mother unexpectedly dies. With her father suffering dementia and unable to manage the farm, her brother Hollis (Dylan Baker) wants to sell the farm and put their father in a nursing home. But Penny is pulled both to her father’s side and to her father’s passion for horse breeding. Remembering her father’s counsel to her as a child to “run her own race”, Penny goes against her brother and husband’s advice and works to keep her father on the farm, the farm solvent, and their horses in the races.
This becomes possible when a creative arrangement her father had made with the owner of Bold Royal results in the conception of Secretariat with his mare Somethingroyal. Recognizing the value of the foal and literally “betting the farm” on his abilities, Penny sets out to win, both on the track and in her own life.
Part of the power behind her accomplishment is Penny’s ability to choose people who have courage equal to her own, but who have also had difficulty in finding the winning combination. That is true of the trainer she hires, Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), and their jockey, Ron Turcotte (Otto Thorwarth). Believing both to have the hearts of winners, they join forces to create something unparalleled in racing history.
The importance of living with confidence and courage a life of integrity, without regrets, and being willing to run one’s own race regardless of what others think or what opposition arises, are valuable lessons. Beginning the film with the words of Job 39, the film extols the God-given nature of courage and fearless strength exemplified in both Secretariat and also in Penny at the beginning and end of the film. Telling the story such that these words come alive, the film asks as God did Job thousands of years ago:
19 “Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane?
20 Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting?
21 He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength, and charges into the fray.
22 He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing; he does not shy away from the sword.
23 The quiver rattles against his side, along with the flashing spear and lance.
24 In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground; he cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. An autopsy performed at Secretariat’s death showed him to have a heart two and a half times larger than that of a normal horse, a condition sometimes found in thoroughbred champions. Do you believe his ability to win the Preakness by 31 lengths was due to the size of his physical heart or his drive to win? Why do you answer as you do?
2. The film creates a connection between Penny and Secretariat. Do you believe such a connection existed? Have you ever had one with an animal with which you shared your life? How did this connection enrich both of your lives, as it did Penny and Secretariat?
3. The marriage that Penny had with Jack suffered because of her drive to win and frequent geographical separations. Although the film implies it but does not reveal it, they divorce the year after Secretariat won the Triple Crown. Do you think Jack should have been more supportive of his wife’s passion or do you think Penny should have placed her marriage first? What choice have you made in your own life?