JC / Railbird


The Double

There are cowboys, a bucking horse, and jockey Calvin Borel playing himself in the trailer for “50-1,” the movie loosely based on Mine That Bird’s improbable victory in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, but the image that arrested me was of Bob Baffert, played by Bruce Wayne Eckelman in a role that’s definitely true to one thing — the trainer’s distinctive hair. I tweeted about what I thought was a wig:

Hold up, @HeadRacingTwit, aka Penelope Miller, tweeted back:

“Gotta tell you,” she said. “I saw the guy at BC and he had the same ‘do. Either it’s not a wig or he’s going Method.” She was right — there was Eckelman looking for all the world like Baffert’s twin — and she wasn’t the only one who remembered the actor causing doubletakes at Santa Anita.

“I think there’s a snippet of him in the @ErnieMunick #BC13 vid come to think of it,” added Superterrific.

There is: Watch Munick’s video and look for “the stunt Baffert.”

Good thing I didn’t have any money on the wig.

“I think the lesson here for us all,” tweeted Jen Montfort to me and Penelope, “is that the direction of the part really is crucial.”

The horse agrees.

Related: Churchill’s Darren Rogers recalled how that fateful call to trainer Chip Woolley went down: “I said, ‘You know you’ve got the earnings, right?’

(All GIFs taken from the “50-1” trailer.)

Notes on “Secretariat”

In a morning matinee at a downtown Boston multiplex, I watched “Secretariat” on Saturday, and as Vic Zast wrote last month in his informal review of the film, “I couldn’t wait for it to end.” I knew, going in, to expect schmaltz and historical inaccuracies. I didn’t expect to be bored.

Plenty has been written elsewhere, so I’ll only make a couple observations:

Several reviewers have noted as inaccurate an early scene in which horses are saddled in the barn area, horse laundry and manure pits in the background. I don’t believe that was an error — for a movie about the well-to-do and the well-bred, in which the final, stirring scene ostensibly takes place at one of America’s grandest tracks (and was actually filmed at one of the prettiest), “Secretariat” goes to great lengths to show Penny Chenery and the rest of the characters in rundown or rough settings when they’re on track. Paddocks are of brick and concrete, backstretches lined with tractors and sheds, tunnels dank. The racetrack visuals in “Secretariat,” minus those of the Churchill Downs clubhouse and Kentucky Derby winner’s circle, overwhelmingly create an impression of the track as primarily a working class milieu, bolstering the film’s portrayal of Chenery as a scrappy everywoman.

I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly wasn’t quite right about the racing scenes — other than the gimmicky angles and strange lack of energy — and think it has something to do with the sense of smallness that pervaded the movie. Everything about the story — the low stakes, the settings, even Secretariat — came off as minor and incidental. Nothing was ever truly at risk.

I did appreciate one touch of authenticity. When Lucien Laurin returns to his car after meeting Chenery for the first time, he pulls from his trunk a book and flips to an ad for The Meadow. He’s looking at the “Blood-Horse Gold Anniversary Edition,” published in 1967; the ad appears on page 488.

Ad for the Meadow from 1966

10/12/10 Addendum: Bill Doolittle nails one thing the movie did well: “The movie isn’t just true to the tale, it’s true to the turf, getting just right the special dynamic that exists between the people of horse racing — the trainers and owners and jockeys and fans — and the horses.”

10/15/10 Addendum: But Steve Davidowitz expresses more of my feeling re: the movie, days after viewing: “At the bottom line, those of us who love racing for the uniqueness of its champion horses and for its beautiful venues and for the sheer pleasure of playing the best game man has ever invented, will have to swallow down hard to go with the flow of this distorted, over hyped waste of a great cinematic opportunity.”

Secretariat Subtexts

Andrew O’Herir enjoyed “Secretariat,” but that:

… doesn’t stop me from believing that in its totality “Secretariat” is a work of creepy, half-hilarious master-race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl, and all the more effective because it presents as a family-friendly yarn about a nice lady and her horse.

His review drew a reply from Roger Ebert, who gave “Secretariat” four stars:

I myself have written insane reviews. It happens.

O’Herir’s political reading is outlandish, Ebert’s lengthy response indignant. And personal? The critic is a great friend of Secretariat biographer Bill Nack.

10/10/10 Update: O’Herir responds. He was being intentionally outrageous!

Taking Liberties

Steve Haskin catalogs the various solecisms of “Secretariat,” including:

Penny, Lucien, and groom Eddie Sweat being in the stall for Secretariat’s birth was way too Hollywood and over the top, and was too far removed from reality for even a Disney movie; as was the jockeys for Secretariat’s first race at (“Aqueduct”) mounting and dismounting their horses in the backstretch (filmed at Evangeline Downs), directly outside the barn. That’s something you’d see in a low budget 1930’s movie. Also, the shot of Penny, Lucien, and Sweat dancing and hip-bumping and Penny washing down Secretariat with no one holding the horse were a bit too much, as was Eddie Sweat standing on the track on the eve of the big race, shouting to the heavens about what the world was about to see.

On the positive side: The “kinetic” racing scenes draw Haskin’s raves.

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