The Stars Come Out in Lexington: Disney’s Secretariat Premiere Rolls Out a Red Carpet Fit for a Triple Crown Champion

On a Sunday afternoon when the rest of the horse world was still at the Kentucky Horse Park cheering the medal winners in the three-day eventing, I slipped away and zipped off down a back road toward downtown Lexington. As much as I would have liked to have cheered for the winners, I had to beat the traffic and I had to claim my space on th edge of a very special red carpet. Even in the car I was beginning to question how cold it might be among the tall buildings.

I was headed to the Lexington premiere of the new Disney film Secretariat, which opens nationwide in theaters on October 8. I couldn’t believe my good fortune in being invited to the premiere. Fellow journalist Erin Gilmore and I had been working on this night for weeks. Finally, just the day before, we had received word from the studio publicists that we were “on the list”–we were in!

By 5:30, the spotlights came on, the grand old Lexington Theater marquee was starting to glow in the fading light and I was so cold I had lost all feeling in my fingers, but I thought I could see limousines in the distance. Soon people were sauntering down the aisle.

As the procession went on, the faces became more and more familiar, and the most familiar were led up to me for photographs (such as my fingers could manage) and interviews. Nick Nicholson of Keeneland, one of the evening’s sponsors, stopped nearby, as did Anne Buchanan and Kim Brown of the International Equestrian Festival, who also sponsored the event. The Scandinavian equestrian clothing company Horze supplied a lineup of models in cool euro riding gear (they looked very warm in down vests and tall winter boots).

Celebrity jockeys included Steve Cauthen, who rode Affirmed, the most recent Triple Crown winner. Along came Pat Day and finally Calvin Borel and fiance Lisa Funk, who were both happy to pose in front of the marquee.

There were politicians and film executives, and finally, the central core of the film. Secretariat’s exercise rider Charlie Davis was resplendent in a lavender suit as he pushed Secretariat’s jockey, Ron Turcotte, in his wheelchair. Director Randall Wallace stopped to chat, as did Governor and Mrs Beshear.

Then, we were down to actress Diane Lane, who not only stopped to talk, but stayed because of the “reporter” next to me. She represented Scholastic Publications, and was an eighth grader having the absolute time of her life on a dream assignment from the student-run magazine. Diane Lane took extra time with her, which was very endearing.

The guest of honor was the subject of the film, Mrs Penny Chenery. I had seen her on television the night before; she’d been in the winner’s circle at Hollywood Park with Zenyatta when the supermare had won the Lady’s Secret for the third time, and chalked up her 19th straight victory. Mrs. Chenery looked terrific.

Once inside the beautiful old theater, a few speeches by the Disney executive in charge of production, the mayor of Lexington, the governor, Diane Lane and Randall Wallace went by in quick succession. Then there was a blowing of the horn, the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” and the film began to roll.

You can take it from there, because you must see this film when it comes out in theaters later this week. I won’t tell you anything about it except to say that the staid crowd sitting around me clapped and cheered for the big red colt as if he was running for the first time…and as if they didn’t know the outcome of each and every race.

Of course we all know that Secretariat won the Triple Crown but this film is more about the people who rode the trail with him, and there are many details here that will leave us wondering whether they were manufactured by Hollywood or if they actually happened.

I’m sure that Penny Chenery is a much more complex person than the script allowed Diane Lane to explore but I was also relieved that Mrs Chenery’s privacy was respected. She comes out of the movie looking just as much a champion as her beloved horse.

And I think that’s something that Hollywood didn’t embellish; I believe that is the truth, and one more reason to cheer for Secretariat.

 All photos ?? Fran Jurga. No copying or use allowed by any method. Don’t forget to leave comments on this blog. Log into your account (at top left of every screen) and you should be able to leave comments.

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