Follow TV Tropes


Film / Secretariat

Go To

"In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground..."

Secretariat is a 2010 Disney film about the eponymous chestnut racehorse (by Bold Ruler out of Somethingroyal), who rose out of the ashes of a fallen-from-grace racing stable to bring home the first Triple Crown trophy in twenty-five years with a thirty-one length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes and destroyed every relevant race and track record on the books as he did so.

The reason for this is one woman: his owner Penny Chenery, daughter of the aging, frail owner of Meadow Stables. Along with trainer Lucien Laurin, groom Eddie Sweat, and jockey Ron Turcotte, Chenery guided Secretariat through his two- and three-year-old seasons and produced arguably the greatest American racehorse to ever live.

The film, directed by Randall Wallace, stars Diane Lane as Penny Chenery and John Malkovich as Lucien Laurin.

This movie contains examples of:

  • All Girls Like Ponies: Diane Lane, who portrays Penny in the movie, admitted in an interview that this was part of why she took the part.
  • Always Someone Better: Sham's owners point out his own accomplishments are nothing to sneeze at, and racing enthusiasts indeed consider that he could well have won the Triple Crown himself and be regarded among the greatest horses ever if not for the bad luck of competing alongside a legend.
  • Artistic License:
    • There is absolutely no mention of Riva Ridge, winner of the 1972 Derby and Belmont and Secretariat's stablemate, who saved Meadow Stables the year before Secretariat made his Triple Crown bid. This is because it's more exciting with everything riding on Secretariat's success.
    • Lucien Laurin, a former jockey, was slightly shorter than Penny Chenery and did not golf.
    • The film omits Penny and Hollis's middle sibling Margaret.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The movie opens with a rather relevant quote from the book of Job.
  • Automaton Horse: Actually, invoked by announcer Chic Anderson's immortal line: "He is moving like a TREMENDOUS machine!" Also Truth in Television, as after his death in 1989 the head of the autopsy team described them all staring at his gigantic, flawless heart in Stunned Silence.
  • Based On The Impossible True Story: While dramatic license was taken with some elements, including leaving out Chenery's sister Margaret and Secretariat's stablemate Riva Ridge, this film sharply averts this trope. Racing fans will check and the filmmakers knew this, right down to recreating Secretariat's famous star-and-stripe markings.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Do not tell Penny Chenery to keep her nose out of racing because it's "none of [her] business," and don't tell her to Stay in the Kitchen. She will do neither, and then she will have her horse beat the pants off yours.
    • Do not imply that Secretariat is anything less than perfection around Ron Turcotte. Ever.
  • Big Eater: At one point the comment is made that there are pregnant mares who don't eat as much as Secretariat does.
  • Cool Horse: In racing, it doesn't get much cooler.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Belmont, obviously. He set a record of 2:24 flat for the mile-and-a-half on dirt; to this day no horse has broken 2:25, anywhere, ever. His 31-length victory was the largest winning margin in the history of American thoroughbred racing until 2014, and remains the largest winning margin in the history of Grade I stakes racing.note 
  • Determinator: Penny Chenery.
    Reporter: The only thing she hates worse than talking about herself is backing down.
  • Failure Montage: The when Penny and her crew are trying to get commitments to breeding rights for Secretariat, with phone call after phone call, sending Ron to talk to other owners, and ending with a paper with the "No" column completely filled, because no one is willing to invest $100,000 in an as-of-yet unproven horse.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We all know precisely how things turn out. That this film can still have us white-knuckled on the edge of our seats is a true testament to the filmmakers and actors alike.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The owners and jockey of Sham.
  • Large Ham: Secretariat always seems to know when the cameras are on him, and does he ever like to give them a show.
  • Miracle Rally: Averted. Secretariat was the odds-on favorite going into the Belmont. (If you'd bet $10 on Secretariat to win, you'd have walked away only $1 richer.) What nobody expected, of course, was just how thoroughly he would dominate the field. Seriously — nobody saw that coming. In fact, as seen in the film, most people were worried that Sham was pushing Secretariat too fast too early — the quarter-mile speeds for that Belmont are among the fastest on record. Turcotte made the counterintuitive but brilliant decision to stop holding Secretariat back, and as soon as he did, Secretariat left Sham in the dust.
    • Although it looks like it's played straight in the races themselves, with Red's habit of hanging out in the rear for the first two-thirds of the race.note 
    Penny: Let him run, Ronnie! Let him run!
  • Obviously Evil: Sham's owner.
  • Oh, Crap!: The expression on Sham's owner's face as Secretariat decides to stop cruising and really run can only be described as this.
    Pancho Martin: That's impossible!
    • Many of the reporters had this feeling when they saw the pace Secretariat was setting from the beginning of the Belmont.
  • Orange/Blue Contrast: Though not as bad as some action movies, the blues in this movie are very blue, and the oranges are very orange.
  • Oscar Bait: Someone just give Diane Lane the nomination already, okay?
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: The Kentucky Derby.
    Ronnie Turcotte: I'm sick of this dirt. Let's get rollin'!
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Quite a few things are tweaked, but Secretariat's Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes are done full justice.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: The rest of Lucien Laurin's outfit is screaming loud as well.
  • Real-Person Cameo: The real-life Penny Chenery, still alive and kicking at 86 (at the time of filming; she stayed around until 2017, dying at 95), is in the crowd at the Belmont, right next to the film versions of Secretariat's team.
  • Rearing Horse: Played for dramatic effect in the trailer, although the horse is not actually Secretariat.
  • Shown Their Work
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Penny naturally turns this into You Go, Girl!.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Beating Sham by 1 or 2 lengths in the Belmont Stakes would have been sufficient, and 10 would have been incredible. Secretariat defeated him by an overwhelming thirty-one lengths, and never stopped accelerating until the race was well and truly over, to the point where he set a track record for the mile and five-eighths while coasting out from under the wire which still stands to this day, with no horse since coming anywhere near close.
    • Slightly different from the real 1973 Belmont—while Secretariat indeed won by 31 lengths, the second-place horse was Twice a Prince. Sham finished last in the five-horse field, another 14 lengths farther back.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: There's hints that Laurin has — well, possibly more-than-friendly feelings for Penny Chenery; particularly implied in the scene at the Belmont Ball.
  • Worthy Opponent: In real life, Sham was this; the film chose to play up his owner and rider as jerks instead.