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Doug & the Movies: 'Secretariat'

Posted - Oct. 8, 2010 at 1:36 p.m.



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Out in theaters this weekend -- the inspirational story of Secretariat. Against all odds, housewife and mother Penny Chenery navigates the male-dominated horseracing business, ultimately taking Secretariat on a spectacular journey to become perhaps the greatest racehorse of all time.

Based on the true story, the Disney Studios have delivered a film with real heart. Diane Lane stars as Penny Chenery, who is compelled to step into the family business of horse breeding and racing upon the death of her mother, complicated by her father's battle with Alzheimer's.

Penny is a Denver housewife who has been distanced from the farm for years and doesn't exactly have the full support of her husband or her brother -- both would like to simply wrap up the estate and liquidate. But Penny is determined to at least get the estate back on its feet before liquidation, especially since two prized mares are about to drop foals with incredible pedigree.

Tradition holds that each year, just before the foals arrival, the owner of the sire -- who happens to be the richest man in America, Ogden Phipps, played by James Cromwell -- and a representative from the Chenery family gather for a coin toss to see who gets first pick of the foals.

Even though Penny technically loses the toss, she gets the horse she wants and names him Big Red. The farms newly-hired, eccentric trainer, Lucien Laurin -- played by John Malkovich -- recognizes immediately that this horse is something very special. But in order to continue, Penny has to raise millions to pay estate taxes.

She decides to syndicate the horse, selling breeding rights at an unprecedented price. Nobody buys until she convinces Phipps, who by now realizes he chose poorly at the coin toss, to be the first investor but only after offering a performance guarantee that her horse will win the Triple Crown.

This is Diane Lane's movie. She delivers the perfect portrayal of woman navigating a male-dominated world in the 1970s. Even though results of these legendary races are in the history books, each depiction is a white-knuckle, breath-holding experience. "Secretariat" is wonderful. It gets four stars and is rated PG.

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