Secretariat Soars!

 

Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973 by taking the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. This single photo tells the end-result story of the great horse beyond all words. If you saw it happen in person, or if you were among the millions who watched on TV, you never forgot it, but what's the larger lesson for all of us?.

 

A couple of nights ago, we finally got to see Secretariat, the much ballyhooed movie about the arguably greatest racehorse of all time. It did not disappoint this lifelong sucker for stories about the little guy’s triumphs over adversity, even if the great horse in this instance was no everyday Joe by bloodline. He was born of champions and he ran with a will and apparent awareness of what he was doing that made him seem almost human to those who were closest to him.

Human? Secretariat didn’t have to be human to be great. He was simply the greatest horse in organized racing history. Better than any horse who came before him. Better than any horse who has come after him.

Secretariat didn’t have to believe in himself to be a great horse, but he was still a horse. He needed the help of humans who believed in him – and themselves. Fortunately he found them in the form of his owner, Penny Chenery, and the others she assembled for achieving the same aim, winning the Triple Crown.

For those of you who don’t know, the Triple Crown in horse racing is the consecutive trio of races for three-year horses that run every season from May into June at the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness in Maryland, and the Belmont Stakes in New York. When Secretariat won them all in 1973, he was the first to do so in twenty-five years and the 1948 success of a previous great horse named Citation. Secretariat did it with record-breaking times in the Derby and Preakness, and with that signature 31-length victory photo in the Belmont.

All that being said, there is an even more profound underlying story here in Secretariat the Movie than that wonderful tale of a magnificent horse. It is the story that faces all of us in life, whether we ever wake up to it or not. And it most likely has nothing to do with achieving greatness in the eyes of the world.

It is simply this: Are we going to wake up to the call of living the life we were meant to live, no matter what? Or are we going to quietly bury ourselves in a life that protects us from the possible failure of our most passionate dreams?

In Secretariat, Penny Chenery is living a quiet life In Colorado as a housewife and mom when she receives the news from her childhood home in Kentucky that her mother has died. She goes home to the family horse farm to confront the reality that her mom is gone and that her dad is living fragile in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s and that he is being cheated everyday by the trainer that was hired to take care of things.

Penny makes excuses to stay awhile following the funeral of her mom. She fights off  her brother and husband from a decision to sell the farm and decides to stay and run it herself. She fires the crook who had been planning to sell off the farm’s horses for kickback money and stars thinking like the horse woman she was always groomed to be.

How Penny’s dream got buried in the lifestyle of a housewife wasn’t covered, but it isn’t hard to figure. The movie begins in 1969, the tail end of an era in which women often buried their personal careers by the act of getting married. In the movie, Penny’s husband and kids simply accept Penny’s decision to stay in Kentucky for a while as she begins to put the family horse farm back together.

In short, Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) finds the right horse, the right trainer (John Malkovich as Lucien Lauren), the right jockey (Otto Thorwarth as Ron Turcotte), and the right groomer (Nelsan Ellis as Eddie Sweat) to help her get the job done. She already as strong supportive house director (Margo Martindale as Miss Ham) to cover her back on every emotional-legal front that arises.

As the “team” grooms Secretariat for the 1973 Triple Crown on thin financial ice, Penny reaches a point where she could the guarantee saving the farm by selling the great horse for $7-8 million dollars – or else, risk it all by syndicating the future breeding rights and taking her chances that the horse is great enough to win it all. By this time, her father also has died.

Here comes the lesson.

In a dramatic scene. Chenery evokes the memory of her dad, saying something along the lines that she cannot bear the burden of living with a regret that she had not tried to do the thing she really believed in – and in this case, that meant believing in Secretariat’s ability to win it all. “Daddy always said we could make our peace with failure and poverty, but that we could never live well with the regret that we had not tried to do something we really believed in.”

When Penny makes this little speech to her entire team, they are all resolved to the same end: Believe in Secretariat and go for it! Trainer Lucien even commemorates his resolve by ceremonially burning his collection of famous races he had lost with other horses in the past.

Of course, in this famous example, Secretariat comes through in a manner that absolutely destroys all competition and vindicates the trust his human friends have placed in him, That is the celebration of that famous photo we used at the beginning of this story. Before the Belmont’s third and final jewel in the Triple Crown found its placement, many questioned Secretariat’s stamina for winning the mile and a half run that had had vanquished so many “great” horses before him.

Stamina? All Secretariat did was win the Belmont by 31 lengths over the next nearest horse. In the home stretch at Belmont, Secretariat appeared as though he were simply taking a solitary practice run around the track. His margin of victory defied all credibility.

Still, as I wrote earlier, I really think Secretariat is about something that is far more everyday and ordinary than winning the Triple Crown or World Series, but it does include these great achievements in life. It’s just that, most often, the “Penny Chenery Story” is about waking up to who we really are, being the complete persons we were always intended to be, living with the rise or fall of whatever we undertake from the heart in the name of passion and love, and not creaking into old age with the always growing regret that we never even tried to sing the song of our souls.

We can live in peace with failed effort. We can not rest well with the regret that we never even tried. We all need to find our own inner Secretariat and make our own run, no matter how quiet it may be to the rest of the world. There may not even be a finish line or scoreboard involved in that thing we do.

When we find our mission, we simply do it because we are called upon to do it in the name of love and creativity.

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9 Responses to “Secretariat Soars!”

  1. Kristy Watson Says:

    Bill,
    That was beautiful! I’m going out today to see that movie. I know I will need lots of tissues.

    Kristy “Horseshoe” Watson
    Boerne White Sox Vintage Base Ball

  2. Margery McCurdy Says:

    Words cannot describe how I loved Secretariat or how I loved the article!

    Margery McCurdy

  3. Gene Lockard Says:

    That was truly a wonderful review, Bill – many thanks.

    Secretariat – the horse, not the movie – came along when we were mired in an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam, political controversy was breaking out, and the country seemed to be in a funk. We were so in need of a hero, and when one came along, it didn’t really matter that it had four legs.

    I was stationed at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea at the time. I turned 24 right in the middle of his successful Triple Crown campaign in 1973; the last horse to have won it all was Citation in 1948. So, for anyone my age or younger, a Triple Crown winner was the stuff of history books…and of legends.

    While many of his races were magnificent, it was of course the Belmont Stakes that ensured his name would live on forever. When he won that final leg of the Triple Crown, shattering the old record – and the competition – in the process, I raced down the hall of my barracks shouting that he’d won…Secretariat had won! My fellow airmen quickly joined me in the hall to hear about it. One needn’t have been an avid horse racing fan to catch Secretariat fever, and I had plenty of company in the barracks that day – guys who were caught up not only in what he had done, but also by the grace and ease with which he had done it. Upon returning to the US and to civilian life a month after Belmont, I was gratified to learn that what had so stirred me as I listened to the races on the Armed Forces Radio Network had also stirred so many of my countrymen back in the US, and indeed, around the world. Later, when I had an opportunity to watch replays of his Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont victories, I wept. There was something so noble and untainted about him; he seemed superior not only to other horses, but to most people, too. It probably didn’t hurt that Secretariat was about as handsome as a horse can get. It’s particularly gratifying to learn that Penny Chenery was deserving of so perfect a creature. She, trainer Lucien Lauren and groomsman Eddie Sweat knew he was something before he ever walked up to the starting gate one Saturday afternoon in May. Still, Penny might have taken another path, a safer one. Had she done so, the course of horse racing history would be forever changed. But she stuck to her guns, she held on to her dream…and she shared him with us. A few weeks later, we all knew he was one for the ages. We all owe Penny so much for believing in him, and for following her dreams. Oh, that we were all so courageous.

    Again, thanks for taking us on a great ride, Bill. I have yet to see the movie, but after your review, I wouldn’t miss it!

  4. James &Nadine McClain Says:

    We saw the actual races on TV what a race. We had his picture painted on our RV(still there) by “Letterfly”. This picture was on display at Kentucky Horse Farm. Might still be there.

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  9. geofisica Says:

    Excelente Artículo
    Me encantó la forma en que escribe sobre el tema.

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