Louisville Magazine

APR 2012

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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138 REASONS WE LOVE DERBY Nos. 36-41: Six movies about a sport made for the big screen. I'll admit it: I'm a sucker for horse-racing mov- ies. Fast racehorses, crooked bookies, and the old farm that's down to its last mare, who dies giving birth to a colt who grows up to win the Kentucky Derby — well, those kind of mov- ies are almost as good to me as classics like Casablanca and Hoosiers. And a heckuva lot more interesting than Citizen Kane, who, if I remember correctly, ran dead last in the To- boggan Handicap. Here's a Pick Six of some of the best rac- ing flicks, with a few also-eligibles tacked on. Most of the movies mentioned are available at Louisville's Wild and Woolly Video. LET IT RIDE (1989) Richard Dreyfuss plays hard-luck handicapper Jay Trotter, who knows that somebody wins at the races — it's just not supposed to be him. He and his well-worn gambler buddies have a claim in on bad luck, and trade insults about their plight. (Marty: "Eight's the one; I'd stake my life on it." Trot- ter: "Tey've got a $2 minimum bet.") But underneath the wise-guy argot, Trotter is an optimist, holding out hope that some day Lady Luck will smile on him. Tat day finally ar- rives on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Hia- leah. Maybe. Te movie is chock-full of colorful charac- ters, from ever-loving wife Teri Garr to bomb- shell Jennifer Tilly, the kind of girl who doesn't exist anywhere in real life except at the race- track. Te best scenes come at the $50 win- dow, where Trotter thinks about his lifetime loser's luck, then tells mutuel clerk Robbie Coltrane to "let it ride." KENTUCKY (1938) Loretta Young and her uncle Walter Brennan are down to the farm's last chance with a colt named Blue Grass, who grows up to run in the Kentucky Derby and can save the farm — if he wins. Shot in Tech- nicolor, it was co-produced by Darryl Zanuck and Adm. Gene Markey, who later owned Calumet Farm. Brennan won an Oscar for his portrayal of the irascible Peter Goodwin, a grand old Kentucky hardboot horse trainer. For his first start, Blue Grass is entered in a maiden race at Keeneland, and Brennan, tak- ing no chances with the on-track pari-mutu- els, heads into Lexington to bet his horse at a swank bookie parlor, where young bluebloods call him "grandpa" and tell him the game has passed him by — hooting at the notion that his horse could win a race at Keeneland. But the race call comes crackling over the wire- service speaker and Blue Grass wins — with a big-odds payoff. Now the young sharpies surround Brennan. "How'd you know that horse was going to win today, grandpa?" Says Brennan as he cashes his ticket, "It [20] LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 4.12 took me 81 years to know that horse was go- ing to win today." SEABISCUIT (2003) Seabiscuit was a sensa- tion in his day, and the story of Seabiscuit has been a sensation of recent times, spawned by a best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand that blossomed into a glorious movie starring Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper. Seabiscuit is per- haps the quintessential tale of the turf: a rivet- ing story of a castaway racehorse and the peo- ple around him — many of them castaways themselves. From a desert-night campfire where owner Charles Howard (Bridges) meets trainer Tom Smith (Cooper) to the jam-packed grand- stands of Pimlico and Santa Anita, the choco- late-brown grandson of Man o' War magneti- cally holds everyone around him enthralled. Lush scenery, period settings, a chattering newscaster and rhythmic hoofbeats set the tempo of the tale. But shattering defeats make the story human. SEABISCUIT, THE PBS DOCUMENTARY (2010) Now see Seabiscuit in black and white — the way millions of Americans did, fol- lowing his exploits on newsreel screens and newspaper pages. Amid the hoopla surround- ing the book and movie, PBS created its own "American Experience" documentary version of Seabiscuit, previewed in a special screening at the Kentucky Derby Museum. It begins with a plain-words narration by actor Scott Glenn over archival footage of the real Seabiscuit and Depression-era America: "On New Year's Eve, 1938, columnist Wal- ter Winchell published his annual list of the Top 10 newsmakers. Nine men were named, including Franklin Roosevelt, Neville Cham- berlain and Adolph Hitler. Te 10th spot went to a horse." Te film sparkles with photos and inter- views and sharp newsreel footage. Author Hil- lenbrand explains what was so appealing about Seabiscuit: "He came along in the worst years of the Depression," she says. "Americans were down and out. Tey were poor. Tey were los- ing their jobs and their houses. Tey wanted a hero who was from the wrong side of the tracks, that was beat up, like they were. And for a brief moment in history, a little brown racehorse wasn't just a little brown racehorse. He was the proxy for a nation." SECRETARIAT (2010) Tis movie had a horse even better than Seabiscuit to work with, and proved almost as popular at the box office. Te story centers on the people around the 1973 Triple Crown champion, particularly owner Penny Chenery, played beautifully by Diane Lane. What Secretariat does better than any other horse-racing movie is capture the real life of the sport. In one scene, Secretariat has just begun racing, and everyone is getting the idea he might be a once-in-a-lifetime horse. Trainer Lucien Laurin wants to put leading rider Ron Turcotte on the horse. But Chenery doesn't know Tur- cotte, and before saying yes, she wants to talk with the jockey, a feisty Canadian played by real-life jockey Otto Torworth. Turcotte has been busted up in a serious racetrack spill and arrives on crutches. Chenery eyes the crutches and asks Turcotte if he can . . . well, can he be ready? "Why wouldn't I be?" says the rider. And that's the way it really is. BOOTS MALONE (1952) Long forgotten and almost impossible to find today, it's about a runaway rich kid who is "adopted" by a group of bush-track backsiders. Te central character is a sharp-angles trainer named Boots Malone, played by William Holden. Te horses are real, and so are the hard choices, which might not always be accomplished on the up-and-up. Tere are no Kentucky Derbys in this movie. Te small-time California track where the sto- ry unfolds is miles and miles from Santa Anita. Other horse-racing movies that rate a spot in the starting gate: PHAR LAP (1983) CASEY'S SHADOW (1978) HOME IN INDIANA (1944) APRIL LOVE (1957) LITTLE MISS MARKER (1934) (1980 remake) SORROWFUL JONES (1949) THE CHAMP (1931) (1979 remake) A DAY AT THE RACES (1937) HIDALGO (2004) THE EX-MRS. BRADFORD (1936) NATIONAL VELVET (1944) CHARLIE CHAN AT THE RACETRACK (1936) — Bill Doolittle

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