Secretariat (A J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 16, 2011 by  

“Secretariat” is an enjoyable, feel-good family film about of one of the greatest moments in American sports and also American culture. “Secretariat” is a wonderful homage to the iconic horse that won the Triple Crown and also to Penny Chenery, the owner/housewife who put everything all on the line to make Secretariat’s success a reality!  Wonderful storyline and cinematography, a film that is definitely recommended on Blu-ray!

Images courtesy of © 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Secretariat


DURATION: 123Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:35:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

RATED: PG (For Brief Mild Language)

RELEASE DATE: January 25, 2011

Based on the book “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion” by William Nack

Directed by Randall Wallace

Written by Mike Rich

Produced by Mark Ciardi, Pete DeStefano, Gordon Gray

Executive Produced by Bill Johnson, Mike Rich

Associate Producer: Jayne Armstrong, Andrew Wallace

Production Executive: Todd Y. Murata

Music by Nick Glennie-Smith

Cinematography by Dean Semler

Edited by John Wright

Casting by Sheila Jaffe

Production Design by Thomas E. Sanders

Art Direction by Sarah Boardman, Naaman Marshall

Set Decoration by Patrick Cassidy

Costume Design by Michael T. Boyd, Julie Weiss


Diane Lane as Penny Chenery

John Malkovich as Lucien Laurin

Dylan Walsh as Jack Tweedy

Margo Martindale as Miss Ham

Nelsan Ellis as Eddie Sweat

Otto Thorwarth as Ronnie Turcotte

Fred Dalton Thompson as Bull Hancock

James Cromwell as Ogden Phipps

Scott Glenn as Chris Chenery

Michael Harding as E.V. Benjamin

Richard Fullerton as Robert Kleburg

Roger D. Smith as Multifarious Stature

Tim Ware as John Galbreath

Nestor Serrano as Pancho Martin

Keith Austin as Laffit Pincay

Kevin Connolly as Bill nack

Eric Lange as Andy Beyer

Drew Roy as Seth Hancock

Carissa Capobianco as Sarah Tweedy

Amanda “AJ” Michalka as Kate Tweedy

Sean Michael Cunningham as Chris Tweedy

Jacob Rhodes as John Tweedy

Dylan Baker as Hollis Chenery

Disney presents an astonishing true story bursting with hope, heart and courage. Diane Lane and John Malkovich lead a celebrated cast in this inspirational motion picture from the producers of Miracle, Invincible and The Rookie.

Behind every legend, lies an impossible dream. Witness the spectacular journey of an incredible horse named Secretariat and the moving story of his unlikely owner, a housewife who risked everything to make him a champion. Out of the gate with never-before-seen bonus features, Secretariat is hours of pulse-pounding entertainment for the whole family!

The early ’70s, a tumultuous time where Americans were fed up with the war, the politics and wanted to see some glimmer of hope.  From the USA losing to USSR in the Olympics in controversial fashion, in 1973, the year proved to be a magical year as many Americans came together to support a race horse named “Secretariat”.

Afterall, it’s been 25-years since a horse has won the U.S. Triple Crown and there was so much hype going into this Triple Crown as owner Penny Chenery, a Colorado Housewife and daughter of a horsetrainer, came to take over the role that her father once had as an owner and breeder for racing horses.  As many men didn’t think she could do it, with the right people, each of them came to put their belief and for Chenery, she gambled everything in hopes that this horse can win that Triple Crown and in fantastic and amazing fashion, she did.

Secretariat was the first horse to win this amazing feat in 25 years and an amazing horse that continues to hold the record at the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.

It has been over 30 years since America has had a Triple Crown winner and many have come close but to lose it at the Belmont Stakes (The final competition of the Triple Crown) and many are still awaiting a new champ, and at times wonder if there will ever be a horse like Secretariat.

But let’s not categorize Secretariat as any normal racing horse, this one was quite special.

Not only because it broke records and because how it gained so much attention from fans to non-fans of the sport, his winning of the Triple Crown was remarkable and memorable as it was televised and the story of Secretariat even continued after his death in 1989 as autopsy has found that his heart was twice the size of a regular horse’s heart and is known as an “x-factor” that only special horses have.  Specifically, the race horse Eclipse who had an enlarged heart from the late 1700’s (80-90% of race horses today have Eclipse in their pedigree) and research has found that Secretariat had traces from a dam-line to the daughter of Eclipse.

The horse was able to read the people around him, he knew when won, he knew when he lost.  This horse had intuition and he loved the attention from photographers (yes, this horse would pose for the cameramen) and had great stature.  Researching this horse, you can’t help but be amazed.

But as the story of “Secretariat” was amazing, the story of its owner and how Secretariat winning the Triple Crown may have not happened if it was not for Penny Chenery Tweedy, the daughter of the late Christopher Chenery who breeded race horses but due to his declining health, was unable to continue his duties at the farm and trusted people to watch over his interests.

Penny who was a married housewife and dedicated her life to her husband four children was thrust into a position as a businesswoman who was determined to continue her father’s legacy and eventually find the right people to train and race this horse.  She left her family behind, going back and forth from the farm in Virginia and back home.  She only had her determination and the belief from those around her that she can truly make a Triple Crown win a reality.

Life was not easy as this housewife from Colorado would have to leave her family over the course of four years off an on to make sure the horse was ready to race and take care of operations of her father’s business and to make things even more challenging, her brother and even her husband wanted her to sell the business and horses, because their farm was so much in debt.

But Penny Chenery was determined in keeping her father’s legacy alive and this is the basis of the movie “Secretariat”, a film adaptation of the book “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion” by William Nack.

The film would feature director Randall Wallace (“Braveheart”, “Pearl Harbor”, “We Were Soldiers”), a screenplay adaptation by Mike Rich (“Finding Forrester”, “The Rookie”), composer Nick Glennie-Smith (“Pirates of the Caribbean” films, “The Rock”, “Con Air”) and cinematography by Dean Semler (“Dances with Wolves”, “2012”, “xXx”, “Apocalypto”).

The film which was budgeted at $35 million, went on to make over $59 million in the box office and now the movie will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 25, 2011.

“Secretariat” is a film that begins with Penny Chenery (played by Diane Lane, “The Unfaithful”, “The Perfect Storm”, “Jumper”, “Untraceable”), a housewife living in Colorado with her husband, John Tweedy, Sr. (played by Dylan Walsh, “Nip/Tuck”, “Congo”, “The Lake House”) and their four children.

Penny receives a call that her mother has died and so the whole family goes back to her home at Meadow Farm in Virginia.

Her father, Christopher Chenery owns a horse breeding/training business but at his old age, he is no longer able to run the business and they are far in debt.  Her brother Hollace (“Revolutionary Road”, “Spider-Man” films) wants to put their father in a nursing home, sell the business and the horses which should pay for their father’s retirement home bills but also benefit the children).

As Penny stays behind to handle the family business and her family returns back to Colorado, she starts to remember the memories that she had with her father, who raised her to love the horses.  And immediately finds out that the farm’s current trainer was trying to sell the horses for lower money which she stops and fires the man.  She also notices that her father had information on the books that he and multi-millionaire Ogden Phipps would have a coin toss to decide who would own one of the two foals of the Hall of fame racehorse Bold Ruler.

Penny Chenery wanted the colt that came from Hasty Matelda but most of all the unborn foal of Somethingroyal. While Phipps won the weanling filly from Somethingroyal and in the coin toss, Phipps got what he wanted (as did Penny Chenery).  And to continue her father’s business and make it successful once again, she would need a trainer and a jockey.

But the adjustment as a trainer would not be easy for the Chenery family as she would have to leave her children with her husband, John who was not happy with his wife not being home.

So, from a tip from a friend, she does all she can to get Lucien Laurin (played by John Malkovich, “Being John Malkovich”, “Dangerous Liasons”, “Con Air”) to become a trainer at the farm and later would hire jockey Ronnie Turcotte (played by Otto Thorwarth).  And to take care of the horse would be Eddie Sweat (played by Nelsan Ellis), who has taken care of the family’s horses for many years.

Immediately, when Somethingroyal gives birth, the horse amazes Lucien and Eddie because it stood on its four legs right after birth, but as the horse grows, they start to learn how special “Big Red” is.

And “Big Red” is then taken into competition and becomes the “Horse of the Year” as it wins nearly every race it has participated in.

But tragedy hits Penny as her father passes away.  And now her brother Hollace, along with her husband John are interested in selling the farm because their father has accumulated over $600,000 in debt  and because of the horse’s success on the track, he would bring in $7 million which would be great for the family to pay off the debt and earn money.

But Penny is staunched against selling her horse and vows to continue her father’s legacy.  This upsets both men in her life but she knows she is taking a risk.  She can lose the farm, the horse but most importantly her husband and her brother but she is willing to throw it all on the table as she and her team prepare to have Secretariat compete in the Triple Crown.

She takes an even higher risk by finding investors who would put a lot of their money into Secretariat in winning the Triple Crown, which has not have happened in 25 years.

Penny Chenery will bet everything on Secretariat winning the U.S. Triple Crown.


“Secretariat” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1).  Colors are absolutely vibrant and for a film that takes place in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the presentation looks very good on Bluray. Detail is quite evident with the paint on the stable, the grime on the jockey’s faces, the dirt lifting off the tracks when the horses are racing and overall, wonderful cinematography from Dean Semler.

But there is crush that does showup from time-to-time and blacks are sometimes muted.  But by no means is this distracting.  The textures are great and I didn’t notice any banding or any artifacting at all.  No sign of DNR and for the most part, this film looks absolutely great on Blu-ray.


“Secretariat” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English DVS2.0 Dolby Digital, French and Spanish Dolby Digital. “Secretariat” is pretty much center and front channel driven for the majority of the dialogue-driven film.  But once the races start, that is when the surround channels are kicked into full gear as the announcer can be heard through the surround channels, the crowd gasping and cheering for Secretariat and you can hear the horse’s hoof’s.

You can hear the ambiance of the film (may it be the crowd, in the stable), you can hear it through the surround channels.  So, there is good use of surround channels in this film.

Also, the film has its share of ’70s music and the music comes quite clear through the front channels.  The music composed by Nick Glennie-Smith (“The Rock”, “Pirates of the Caribbean” films”, “Con Air”) is also dramatic and well-done but if there is one major nitpick I did have about this film, it’s the final music used during the Belmont competition.  I felt it would have been better served to use an instrumental song to capture the mood courtesy of Glennie-Smith than using a ’70s song.  It just didn’t seem right for that moment but that is my opinion.

If there is one thing that I wished, Disney has been moving towards a 7.1 lossless soundtrack lately and so I was hoping that “Secretariat” would have a 7.1 lossless soundtrack.  But for the most part, this lossless soundtrack is very good!

Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.


“Secretariat” features the following special features:

  • Heart Of A Champion – (14:56) This feature is on the DVD of the film and the real life Penny Chenery and the actual people who worked with the original Secretariat plus the cast and crew talk about Secretariat.
  • Choreographing The Races – (6:27) This piece looks at how director Randall Wallace and the filmmakers used innovative tools and technology to accurately and excitingly recreate the Triple Crown races that make the viewer feel like they are standing on the backstretch themselves.  For filmmakers, this featurette was quite intriguing on the rigs that were built and how risky and difficult it was to shoot this footage.
  • A Director’s Inspiration: A Conversation With The Real Penny Chenery – (21:10) Director Randall Wallace sits down with Secretariat owner Penny Chenery to review the movie and some of the key scenes. Penny reflects on what it was like to have been a woman in a male dominated sport and to have been part of horse racing’s most exciting moments in history. Definitely my favorite featurette as Penny Chenery talks about how things were in reality vs. how things were in the film.
  • Audio Commentary By Director Randall Wallace – Optional audio commentary from Director Randall Wallace who talks about working on a movie that deals with horses and trying to make horse racing and racing choreography work for a feature film.  A pretty cool and informative commentary!
  • Deleted Scenes With Optional Audio Commentary By Director Randall Wallace – Featuring seven deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Randall Wallace: Alternate Opening, Introduction, “Are You A Golfer?”, No Time To Rest, Memories, Seth Joins The Team and Too Soon To Celebrate
  • Secretariat Multi-Angle Simulation – Relive Secretariats triumphant 1973 Preakness race by viewing the race from a number of perspectives as well as listening to commentaries from fans, announcers and even the jockey who rode Secretariat to their record finish.  A very cool featurette as one can watch the actual 1973 Preakness race and also change to watch a computer simulation and more.  Featured are jockey Mike Smith (3:43) who talks about life as a jockey, reporter Brad Free (5:08) who talks about the idiosyncrasies of a horse, Dennis Mills, owner of the Preakness (3:35) who talks about the history of the Preakness, spectator Mike Calderon (4:14) who talks about going with his father and brother to watch the 1973 Preakness and also included is the actual Preakness.
  • Music Video – AJ Michalka “It’s Who You Are” – (4:04) Actress/singer AJ Michalka (of 78violet/Aly & AJ) sings “It’s Who You Are”


“Secretariat” comes with a slip case cover and also a DVD featuring the feature film and bonus features.

The DVD is presented in 480i (2:35:1 – Enhanced for 16×9 television), English, French, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital.  Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.

I actually first became interested in “Secretariat” when I started following the Triple Crown back in 1993.  Everyone had dreamed of having another “Triple Crown” winner and one wondered if it would happen again anytime soon. Afterall, people waited 25 years until Secretariat would win in 1973.  And in 1997, it looked like it was going to happen once again nearly 25-years later with Silver Charm but it wasn’t meant to be.

But although I don’t take part in the betting side of horse racing, I do recognize the work that these families who own the horses put into breeding them, training them and preparing them for these competitions.  Knowing the danger for the jockeys, knowing the stress and tear that some of these horses go through in a race, but you wonder if there will be anything close to a “Secretariat” (and I know some of you will respond with a “Zenyatta” comment).

But one has to realize that this horse, Secretariat, was truly phenomenal not just for its time but even impressive when you see these records that were broken and have not yet been beaten today.  Not only was this a horse that knew instinctively how to win, it was like he was born with the magic touch.  This horse wanted to win and those near him would talk about how he was fantastic, not just as a horse should respond or how a horse should race but since birth, he shown a lot of potential and promise.

So, I think that “Secretariat” was seen as an iconic horse back in the early ’70s.  People wanted something to believe with the Vietnam War going nowhere, public moral was literally down and so you look to sports for some excitement of that American spirit.   But in 1972, with the US loss to Russia in the Olympics, needless to say, Americans felt deflated.  So, in 1973, when you had a housewife, but a magnificent business woman taking up ownership and showing us her strength as an owner to one of the best racing horses of all time, putting everything all on the line for  horse in hopes that it would win the Triple Crown and accomplishing this rare and magnificent feat., it’s no surprise that Americans who were fans or non-fans of the sport, tuned in!

“Secretariat” the film was a film that I look forwarded to but at the same time, I wondered how accurately can they portray the Triple Crown in a film?  Are they going to show old clips?  And Diane Lane, how would she do in playing the part of Penny Chenery?  So, many unknown factors with this film and that is where I have to give director Randall Wallace and cinematographer Dean Semler some amazing credit for what they were able to accomplish.

The amount of work, risk and challenge these two had along with their crew and their jockeys in recreating and constantly reshooting the racing sequence is amazing.  One can watch the featurette included on this Blu-ray release of how it was all done but even watching how it was shot and how close that camera was to the horses and the jockey, I’m really impressed!  Those were risky shots but they wanted to capture the feel of riding with those horses, especially feeling the speed of Secretariat.  Once, again…impressive!

Overall, “Secretariat” is a wonderful, feel-good movie.  One shouldn’t expect anything significant as we know the outcome of the race but it relied in making us believe in these underdogs.  Penny Chenery facing the challenge of being away from her family and putting everything on the line in order to continue her father’s legacy is very intriguing.  And sometimes when you have these stories of heroic or iconic athletes, you’re used to the banality of these films and how one faces adversity and wins.  But to not become too banal, that it needs to stick out and go further than any feature film that featured horseracing (the last was the 2003  film “Seabiscuit”).

Randall Wallace was able to successfully create a film that pays the ultimate homage to Secretariat and also getting things right with the story of Penny Chenery, even if he had to take liberties for the sake of entertainment, he didn’t go astray too far and if anything, even the blunt Chenery paid her compliments in the special feature included in the Blu-ray release.

As for the film, I enjoyed it a lot.  Was there anything that I didn’t like?  Possibly the music selection for when Secretariat was about to win the Belmont.  I would have liked to hear a more inspiring instrumental score versus a commercial pop song. It felt out of place.  But that’s my opinion.

But there are not many things I can nitpick of the storyline.  I felt Diane Lane was incredible as Penny Chenery, John Malkovich also felt right playing the part of Lucien and everything else, from the screenplay to the cinematography worked smoothly.  “Secretariat” doesn’t strive to become polemic, nor does it strive to be anything controversial.  This is a positive, spirit-lifting film.

Otherwise, I felt the movie was very good and possibly the best horse racing movie I have seen thus far.  If anything, “Secretariat” is a feel-good, enjoyable family film of one of the greatest moments in American culture.  I may have not been old enough to appreciate Secretariat’s win at the time but watching this film, I do feel it paid a great homage to one of the great racing horses of all time but also giving a positive portrayal of Penny Chenery and the personal risks she took in making Secretariat’s success a reality.  Also, a strong and courageous woman who took on a business which is typically seen as a man’s world and for this Colorado housewife, she proved her detractors wrong and came out successful.

How awesome is that?

“Secretariat” on Blu-ray is recommended!

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