Monday, October 25, 2010


Yesterday I took my daughter to see the movie Secretariat for the second time. In fact, if I'd had my way, it would have been National Take Your Daughter to See Secretariat Day.

For those of you who missed the movie (and there are a few of you), or those of you who don't know the Triple Crown from a triple bypass (almost as many), Secretariat was American horse racing's golden boy. A big, gorgeous chestnut to make young girls swoon, he completed his 1973 Triple Crown sweep with a record-setting 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes that, in my opinion, stands as one of the single greatest athletic achievements of all time, human or equine. As a tween, I had a crush on Secretariat so geeky and all-consuming, only a juggernaut force like puberty could break it.

So yeah, I was looking forward to introducing my eight-year-old daughter to Big Red. But I didn't realize I'd be treating her to an even rarer sight: a genuine cinematic heroine, driving the action not by sexual conquest or adorable ditziness or blood-and-guts ass-kickery, but with dignity, perseverance, humor, and the courage of conviction. And even a couple of crow's feet.

Not that I'd forgotten the story of Secretariat's owner, played here with steely charm by Diane Lane. Penny Tweedy's famous coin flip with Ogden Phipps, giving her ownership of the then-unborn champion, is the stuff of Thoroughbred legend. But it never occurred to me what a struggle it must have been, balancing the needs of her family (like me, she had four children) back home in Colorado with the thrill and challenge of developing her promising young colt into a superhorse, all the while facing possible bankruptcy from the taxes on her father's estate. That she juggled all this amid the condescending sneers of the testosterone-laden 1973 horse world (the Jockey Club only began admitting women in 1983, and Penny herself was one of the three who joined that year) gives her achievements even greater luster.

Women complain loudly and justly about the dearth of meaty, multi-dimensional female characters coming out of Hollywood. (Sorry, folks, but after Sex and the City 2, Carrie Bradshaw no longer qualifies.) If you're one of them, stop reading now and stagger off to your local cineplex as fast as your stilettos can carry you, before the big red horse and his heroic owner find themselves replaced by Saw 3D.

Better yet, borrow your nearest 8-year-old girl and bring her along with you.

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