Ron Turcotte, who visited Remington Park this weekend as part of the festivities surrounding Sunday's Oklahoma Derby, acknowledged the filmmakers took some poetic license with the tale but said he "thought it was a very good movie."
"Secretariat, he had the looks, he had the charm, he had it all," said the 69-year-old Turcotte, who saw the film for the first time last week in Lexington, Ky.
The film, starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich as Secretariat's owner, Penny Chenery, and trainer, Lucien Laurin, respectively, was released nationally this weekend and finished third at the box office, taking in $12.6 million, according to studio estimates released Sunday.
Horse racing industry leaders hope "Secretariat" spurs interest in the sport among the general public like "Seabiscuit" did when it was released in 2003. Alex Waldrop, the president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, sent an e-mail to racing fans on Friday reminding them of the movie's impending release.
"I'll be taking my family to see it, and I hope you will do the same," Waldrop wrote. "If you feel, as I do, that even more movies should be made about great horses like Secretariat and his unforgettable owner Penny Chenery, then seeing the movie this weekend would be an excellent way to convey that message to Hollywood, which puts a lot of stock in the opening week performance of its releases."
Remington Park vice president and general manager Scott Wells said track officials had planned all along to use the movie as a promotional tool. But they received a pleasant surprise upon learning the film's release date was the same weekend as the track's biggest thoroughbred race - when Turcotte and Otto Thorwarth, who portrayed Turcotte in "Secretariat," would be visiting.
"You couldn't have planned it any better," Wells said.
Thorwarth, a former jockey who once rode regularly at Remington Park, Oaklawn Park, River Downs, Turfway Park and other tracks, answered a casting call at the encouragement of a friend and didn't think anything would come of it.
"I've never acted a day in my life, other than in front of the (track) stewards," he said, laughing.
Director Randall Wallace chose him for the part, though. Thorwarth said he only met Turcotte once before attempting to portray the jockey.
"I could tell real quick he was a straight-to-the-point, confident person," Thorwarth said.
Turcotte, who said he wasn't consulted on the film, said Thorwarth "did a real good job" capturing the jockey's personality, even if some of the scenes featuring Turcotte's character in the film didn't quite happen as filmmakers portrayed.
Also, he said, Laurin "was actually a conservative dresser. He was a man that loved fishing. I don't think he ever golfed once in his life." In the film, Laurin is portrayed as a flashy dresser who tries to take up golf.
Horse racing aficionados will notice other holes in the movie. For example, in the film, Secretariat's rival, Sham, is portrayed as having won the Wood Memorial - a Kentucky Derby prep race - with Secretariat finishing third. In fact, Sham finished second behind another horse, Angle Light, in that race.
Secretariat's famed 31-length win in the Belmont Stakes clinched the Triple Crown. But the movie re-creation wasn't filmed at Belmont Park in New York, it was shot at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.
But the movie does use television footage from the 1973 Preakness Stakes and part of announcer Chic Anderson's call of the Belmont, including his famous line, "He is moving like a tremendous machine," as Secretariat pulled away from the field.
Turcotte recalls those two races vividly.
"The greatest race was the Preakness," he said. "I could have won by 15 lengths if I'd wanted to." Secretariat beat Sham by 2½ lengths in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
In the Belmont, "he had such a nice, rhythmic stride. He was just covering ground. He was doing it so easy," Turcotte said, adding that he looked back "one time, at the 5/16ths pole when he called me 20 lengths in front. I could see the crowd and hear the roar."
Turcotte was paralyzed in a riding accident in 1978. Thirty-seven years after Secretariat's Triple Crown, he said he continues to receive "tons of mail" concerning the horse, who died in 1989 in Kentucky after a bout with laminitis.
"People have been learning about Secretariat since he ran," he said. "It's just what Secretariat did. He was such a great horse - I really believe the greatest horse that ever lived. I'm not the only one who believes that."