Helen “Penny” Chenery is an intelligent and determined woman, graduating from Smith College and studying business at Columbia, then in mid life persevering against long odds to achieve a dream. These traits come across in the movie Secretariat, owing to the superb performance of Diane Lane.

Penny Chenery Tweedy was a stay-at-home mom in Colorado when she took over the running of her father’s Virginia farm and stable after her mother passed away and her father (Christopher Chenery) was suffering from dementia. But she had the educational background and the resolve to do the incredible things portrayed in the movie. It all started when she lost a coin toss to Ogden Phipps–refereed by Bull Hancock–but won a legend in the process.

One can point out some minor inaccuracies and omissions in the movie, but it is not a documentary. Mention could have been made, for instance, of the fact that the Chenery family’s Riva Ridge nearly won the Triple Crown in 1972, a year before Secretariat accomplished the feat. Also, was Pancho Martin, Sham’s trainer, really as menacing as he was depicted? Man o’ War and Citation fans would debate the film’s unequivocal assertion that Secretariat was the greatest racehorse ever.

Sham, a victim of unfortunate timing, would have been hailed as a sensational racehorse had he not come along in the same year as Secretariat. He would have won the Kentucky Derby (in record time), the Preakness, and quite possibly the Belmont had Secretariat not been in the race to bury him in a speed duel.

Despite its title, this movie really has two focal points—Penny Chenery and Secretariat. The film does a terrific job of conveying the interlocking story of both. Moreover, the supporting actors in the roles of Lucien Laurin, Ogden Phipps, Bull Hancock, Seth Hancock, Eddie Sweat, Ron Turcotte, Christopher Chenery’s longtime secretary, and the Tweedy family are believable. Fred Thompson has the visage of Bull Hancock and Diane Lane resembles a 51-year-old Penny Chenery Tweedy.

The racing scenes are better than those in Seabiscuit and truer to what actually transpired. The action is enhanced by poignant music and scenes that take the viewer right into the race. Secretariat’s Belmont performance is stressful, even knowing how it turned out.

This past weekend had Secretariat in third place at the box office. Like Secretariat himself, this movie may be a stretch runner, showing up well in rentals after its run at the theaters. The movie did strongest among adult females, which is not surprising.

People of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy this flick, even folks who have never been to a racetrack and were not alive when the improbable story took place.

Of the main characters, Penny Chenery and Ron Turcotte are still alive. It is gratifying that they are around 37 years after the fact to enjoy and savor their historically significant accomplishment.

Thanks for the memories.

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business


  1. Sally in Indy says

    LOVED the film! So did the movie-goers I saw it with – so great to see and hear an audience cheer and applaud the action on the screen!

  2. Marianna Haun says

    Thanks for a great review that mrrored what I felt when I watched the movie. I don’t know what’s wrong with some critics. When did it become a crime to produce a good movie that has you cheering at the end? I’ve had enough of dysfunctional…

  3. I loved the movie & I’m going to go see it again!! Thank you Penny for standing up to the boys!! You are a TRUE Hero for women to look up to. God Bless You and your family.