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HRN Original Blog:
The Gallop Out
Posted Sunday, May 13, 2018

A former film student, Mary Dixon Reynolds, lists her top-rated horse racing films and documentaries.
Movies PHAR LAP

1983


Before there were Winx and Black Caviar, Australians were transfixed by a big chestnut horse named Phar Lap. The horse reigned during the 1930s depression and gave the nation something its pride. Trainer Harry Telford, played beautifully by Martin Vaughan, worked the horse into a winner. As his fame spread, so did nefarious plots against the horse. After winning a race in Mexico, Phar Lap collapsed and died. The film does not explain his death but eludes to a gambling ring poisoning the Champion. The film is based on the book by Michael Wilkinson. The racing segments appear to be authentic, and the love between the connections and the horse realistic. If there is a flawless racing movie, this is it.


SEABISCUIT

2003


With a few exceptions, the film stayed closely with the prize-winning book by Laura Hildebrandt. With the backdrop of the Great Depression, those who could afford to go to the track did and those who could not listened to the races on a radio. The more the legend grew, the more crowds he attracted. They saw themselves in the horse. Seabiscuit had started out losing, and one day, Charles Howard, played by Jeff Bridges, reluctantly purchased the horse which his trainer Tom Smith, played by Chris Cooper, desperately wanted because he saw potential in the plain looking brown horse. They gave Seabiscuit a respite and even put a goat in the stall with him, hoping to calm him down. All of Smith’s work produced a change in the horse. He began working out, and the team was surprised with his fast fractions. They knew they really had something. Seabiscuit would go on to win so many times that he became the nation’s horse. Howard was a bit of a showman. He began his pursuit of getting Mr. Riddle to have his Triple Crown Winner, War Admiral, meet Seabiscuit in a match race. After much debate, the match race materialized at Pimlico Race Course. Now comes the fallacy in the film. War Admiral was not this extremely tall horse. He was actually the same size as Seabiscuit: 15 hands. He was one of the smaller sons of 16.2 hands, Man o’ War. Aside from that inaccuracy, the movie sticks with the book. The racing scenes are mostly realistic and the exhilaration of the people holds true. People of that era had found a winner to latch onto and it helped them forget their problems, if only for a little while. Tobey Mcguire was wonderful as Seabisuit’’s jockey, Red Pollard, and real jockey, Hall of Fame jockey,Gary Stevens, did a magnificent job as jockey George Woolf.This is a movie worth seeing if you love racing.


THE KILLING

1956


Director Stanley Kubrick, this film creates an intricate film noir based around the racetrack. Johnny Clay, played to great effect by Sterling Hayden is the head of this gang who plans on raiding the racetrack, but he makes plans to take everyone’s attention off of what is really going on. First, he gets one of his criminal friends to drive into a parking lot where he’s still able to see the track. He skillfully hides his rifle, and when the 7th race begins, his plan is to shoot the frontrunner, thereby creating confusion. Among the other criminals is George, played by Elisha Cook Jr., who is a betting teller and has keys into the area where the money is. George makes a fatal mistake and tells his restless wife, Sherry (Mary Windsor) that they’re planning on stealing millions from the track. She makes plans for the money of her own that doesn’t include George. This film is so well-made that I studied it in film class at the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill.


KENTUCKY

1938


This is a fictionalized movie that begins during the civil war and then transports the viewer to current time in color. The main reason for my recommendation is the color footage of Man o’ War, Count Fleet and Omaha -- as you’ve never seen them before. It provides a short history of the Bluegrass State and man’s connection to horses before spiraling off into a melodramatic story about getting to the Kentucky Derby.


50 to 1

2014


This is a bio-pic of 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. Of course, his odds were 50-1. The real people involved and the entire story were so improbable that it had to be made into a movie. The only inaccuracies in the movie remains the silly part where the owners did not have a license, so they climbed into an open window, at night, at Churchill Downs. These New Mexico people looked out of place at Churchill Downs with their cowboy hats on and lack of restraint. This is played up. There has to be a villain and this fell to the actor who played Bob Baffert, who began racing quarter horses and used to sport a cowboy hat but this wasn’t relayed in the film. Baffert called them “The Cowboys” and sneered at them being at Churchill Downs. From what I know about him, Baffert would have probably have been the first to have greeted them, but this is a movie. The actor who played trainer Chip Wooley did a fantastic job. He began with angst towards the horse but it quickly turned into love and admiration. Mine That Bird was the 2-year old Champion in Canada but couldn’t run in the top 3-year old races there because he was bred in Kentucky. That’s why he was sold. Another fallacy is the addition of a exercise rider. They drove Mine That Bird from New Mexico to Louisville in a trailer. Wooley even had a broken foot from a motorcycle accident and was on crutches.

When they arrived in Louisville, they retained the services of jockey Calvin Borel, who played himself to perfection in some of the funniest parts of the movie. This is quite an enjoyable film that takes you back to 2009, when miracles could become reality.


BOOTS MALONE

1952


William Holden plays jockey agent Boots Malone. When the film opens, he’s living in the stables and providing his jockeys misinformation so they’ll get beat. Meanwhile, he bets against them. Then, a young, honest kid comes along, turns Malone’s life around and he becomes the person both his protege and Boots, himself, can become proud of. Most of the racing is done on the Fairgrounds level but this does not damper the excitement. *There are other good movies like “Let It Ride.” “Black Beauty” has beautiful cinematography. Why have I not mentioned Secretariat? The best part of the film was when they were watching the real Preakness on television. In other words, there was not enough truth in it. They didn't even include Riva Ridge.


Documentaries


"The First Saturday In May" by The Hennigan Brothers

2007


Saddle up and watch six trainers as they prepare for the 2006 Kentucky Derby. One of them will win it. First, they have to participate in Derby prep races to see if their horses have a chance in the big dance. The camera catches the nerves and what shall go wrong will go wrong. This is the 2006 Kentucky Derby. There are three favorites: Lawyer Ron, Barbaro and Brother Derek. This is once in a lifetime to see how trainers behave when no one’s watching. Barclay Tagg claimed this was the strongest Derby field he has seen. The Hennigan Brothers permit you to have access to normally restricted areas and it’s worth it. They also show Derby preps and the Kentucky Derby. A must see for any racehorse lover. Excellent footage of Barbaro and of the entire 2006 Kentucky Derby.


Charismatic

2011


This is an ESPN film directed by Steven Michael which tells the improbable story of a one-time claimer who not only made it to the Kentucky Derby but went on to win it. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Famer, took a chance on the jockey and picked up the services of Chris Antley who was one of the best riders on the circuit but had been battling his own demons, mainly drugs. He had been to four rehabs and had not been out of the last one for very long but was doing well now and Lukas saw him as the perfect fit for Charismatic. His insight would eventually save the horse. Antley saw this as his big chance and gave it his all. After the Derby, the twosome won the Preakness and the Triple Crown was looming large in everyone’s mind.

But in horse racing, plans fall apart quickly. There are those who are put in places at certain times and Chris Antley was one of these. His quick observation and help on the ground saved the horse for a long life. A long life was not synonymous with Antley, himself. Sometimes a person’s heart is too big.

John Henry: A Steel Driving Racehorse

2010


Open Sky producers Glenn Garland and Christopher Duddy recount the travails of a horse that defied his pedigree and went on to become a multiple champion. Sired by Ole Bob Bowers, later he was purchased by Sam and Dorothy Rubin and trained by Ron McAnally. It’s truly a rags to riches story. Once John Henry got with McAnally, it took some time, but the trainer figured the horse out. He won seven Eclipse Awards, two for Horse of the Year (1981 and 1984). The film includes dignitaries, celebrities, and those who knew the horse. John Henry retired at Kentucky Horse Park in 1985. He died at the age of 32 in 2007, at the Park. Those involved were very happy to reminisce of a Rags to Riches American story.


On The Muscle: Portrait of a Thoroughbred Racing Stable

2005

A no-holds barred look into Richard Mandela's stable from early in the morning until evening and everything in between. This is truly a lesson in horsemanship.

Mandela focuses on 6 horses and what it takes to get them ready to race. Then, he watches their races, and makes improvements, if needed. It shows Lido Palace taking the San Antonio Handicap. But mainly it's a camera following the world class trainer. Watch and learn. This is a golden opportunity.


*A Lot of the older movies can be found on Turner Classic Movies. All others were ordered via Ebay and Amazon. What are your favorite horse racing movies? I’d love to hear which movies and documentaries you all like. 

Posted Saturday, April 14, 2018

“I have thought of Ruffian so often that today she flits around like a ghost in all the mustier rooms of my reveries, a boarder who has had a run of the place,” Bill Nack wrote about the licorice filly that had invaded his heart in his book, “Ruffian: A Racetrack Romance.” His style was that of a sports journalist with the soul of a poet. 

William L. Nack passed away on Friday, April 13, at the age of 77. He began his career at Newsday, writing about politics and sports before joining Sports Illustrated in 1978 as an investigative journalist. Nack later wrote for numerous publications including GQ. He is best known for penning the definitive biography of Secretariat, “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion,” in 1975. 

Nack had gotten to know the Meadow Stable crowd from having covered the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Riva Ridge. Once trainer Lucien Laurin decided to use the New York prep races on Secretariat’s road to the Kentucky Derby, Nack began showing up at Barn 5 at Belmont, scribbling on pads of paper every detail of the day. The big horse had a pigeon feather on his nose the eve of the Preakness. Nack took this feather and put it in his wallet along with a worn photo of one of his favorite horses, Swaps. He would pull it out and tell friends of Secretariat’s Preakness win. 

Throughout those magical days, Nack was there for it all. The morning of Secretariat’s Belmont he saw the big horse become startled as he reared up on his hind legs. During the Belmont, he was yelling,”You’re going too fast,” as he watching the other-worldly performance of the brilliant chestnut horse.

When Secretariat finished racing, Nack traveled on the flight with the horse, owner Penny Chenery, and Laurin to Lexington, Ky., before driving to Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., for this second career at stud. Nack wrote, ”For me, the final walk beneath the grove of trees with the colt slanting like a buck through the autumn gloaming, brought to a melancholy close the richest, grandest, damnedest, most exhilarating time of my life.” 

Whenever Nack was in Louisville, he would drive the hour to Claiborne, to see the thoroughbred that had taken him on the journey of a lifetime. In October 1989, Nack went to the farm and saw Secretariat out grazing, being held by a lead shank. He looked a bit lighter in size. There wasn’t anyone around so Nack went to the office and saw the secretary was crying. She told Nack that Secretariat had laminitis and was quite ill. This shook the journalist. When he was notified of the great horse’s death, he says, he cried for the second time in his life. 

A few months later, Nack took this experience and his time with the great horse and wrote an article for Sports Illustrated. The article is “Pure Heart.” In it, Nack opens up with the death of Secretariat. He describes what was found in the necropsy. “All the vital organs were of normal size except for the heart….I think it told us why he was able to do what he did.”

William Nack also wrote “My Turf: Horses, Boxers, Blood Money, and the Sporting Life,” in 2004. He also served as an advisor for the movie, “Secretariat” and the television movie “Ruffian.”

Posted Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Kentucky Derby dreams can start in all kinds of places, with New Mexico the origin of them in 2009, when 50-1 shot Mine That Bird won the grandest prize in all of thoroughbred horse racing coming out of Sunland Park.

Could it happen again?

Toting Oakley sunglasses, Lucchese cowboy boots and baseball cap, trainer Todd Fincher and an 86-year-old gentleman named Joe Peacock are the current day protagonists of this story. Together, they teamed to back homebred Runaway Ghost in Sunday's Grade 3 Sunland Derby win that included 50 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby.

It marked the first graded stakes win for the participants, and was a long time coming, especially for Peacock. He has bred and owned racehorses since the 1960s, starting with quarter horses before the switch to Thoroughbreds a decade later.

Runaway Ghost’s dam, Rose’s Desert, was also a homebred for Peacock. She retired having amassed $626,035 in earnings with a record of 15:10-5-0. She won multiple stakes with all her races at Sunland and Zia Park.

But almost anyone who owns racehorses dreams of making it to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. When Rose’s Desert was bred to Ghostzapper, unbeknownst to Peacock, he had set the wheels in motion toward just that.

Peacock ultimately offered the then-yearling at the 2016 Keeneland September sale with a reserve of $250,000. Bidding fell short by $10,000,  and despite some offers after the sale which matched what he’d originally sought, Peacock went with his gut and retained the colt. They returned to New Mexico, where Peacock’s trainer, Fincher, worked with Runaway Ghost until April 2017, when he was ready to run.

Fincher said,”We transferred Ghost to trainer Michael Machowsky’s barn at Santa Anita Park for a few races. The plans had always been to return Ghost to Sunland when the Mine That Bird Derby and Sunland Derby arose and to get a prep on that surface beforehand."

A native Texan, Peacock is fond of the New Mexico racetrack where he’d had so much success with Ghost’s dam, Rose’s Desert.

Machowsky entered Runaway Ghost in a maiden special weight event on May 12, 2017, in which he ran a respectable second. A month later, Ghost broke his maiden. But he did not race for five months due to sore shins. Once Machowsky got him back into shape, he entered The Golden Nugget Stakes at Golden Gate Fields. Runaway Ghost won.

Connections then pointed toward the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity. During the race, 'Ghost ran hard for three quarters of the race and practically trotted home the remainder, coming in last. His jockey just couldn’t get him to relax early on. It was his only finish outside of the exacta so far in seven starts.

Back at Sunland Park, Runaway Ghost won the Riley Allison Stakes. Next out, he finished 2 ½ lengths behind Reride, who won the Mind That Bird Derby and will contend in Saturday's Group 2 UAE Derby in the Dubai World Cup undercard.

Facing a full 
Sunland Derby field loomed next. This time, Ghost was able to relax before passing horses and gaining the lead turning for home. He won by 2 ¾ lengths, with runner-up Dream Baby Dream six lengths ahead of the third-placed finisher. 

Fincher, asked if he was going to ship to Kentucky by trailer -- a la Mine That Bird -- replied, "Only an airplane for Ghost!"

Dreams await.

Posted Saturday, February 03, 2018
The latest on Gun Runner, who's settling in at Three Chimneys Farm.
Posted Saturday, January 27, 2018

With Horse of the Year voting nearly unanimous for Gun Runner, much of the credit should go to his jockey, Florent Geroux, who guided the son of Candy Ride to four straight victories entering Saturday's Pegasus World Cup.

And so on the day of Gun Runner's final race, the Pegasus World Cup, I had the chance to chat with Geroux in the Gulfstream Park jockey's room.

As I sat waiting for Florent to appear, I noticed the focal point in the room was a massive scale. Then, a man slim in silks, with a chiseled face, sat beside me and asked if I was the woman who wanted the interview. "Yes, Yes," that's me, I quickly said. As we settled down I asked him what riding Gun Runner had meant to him. "He's by far the best horse I've ridden," Geroux said. "He has such courage and ability to not only compete with the best, but to win."

I asked which was his favorite race, and without hesitation he said The Breeders' Cup Classic. "There he was competing with the best horses in the world, and he put them all away," Geroux said. "This entire year has been a compilation of his best races and he appeared to grow more mentally and physically after each one."

"I cannot wait to see what performance he will put on in the Pegasus. The 10 hole is not ideal, but if anyone can overcome it, Gun Runner can. Whatever happens in the Pegasus, nothing can take away from the legacy he has already created, and I'm just immensely grateful too have been a part of it. I'm going to miss him."

Florent's father was supposed to make the trip with him to Gulfstream Park, but he had a fatal accident which impacted Florent severely. Saturday will not only be the last time Florent rides his favorite horse, he wants this win, in particular for his deceased Father.

Posted Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Mary Dixon Reynolds considers it not just her moment of the year, but of a lifetime.
Posted Tuesday, November 07, 2017
Defeated in the Breeders' Cup, she's set for a return before the end of the year.
Posted Friday, October 20, 2017
Mary Dixon Reynolds analyzes the field for the Nov. 3 race at Del Mar.
Posted Saturday, October 07, 2017

If the best milers make the best stallions, then breeder’s need to look no further than the Breeder’s Cup Vegas Dirt Mile on October 3.


Unfortunately, there were only two “win and you’re in” races and Mor Spirit and Giant Expectations won them, so they have an all expense paid trip to Del Mar for the Vegas Dirt Mile. These two thoroughbreds are well deserved recipients. Particularly, Baffert trainee Mor Spirit. He has $1,658,400 in earnings. By Eskendereya, Mor Spirit, was seen last romping in the Metropolitan Handicap (Gr-1). With his highest speed figure of 129 and a record of 13: 6-5-0. Mor Spirit will probably go off as the favorite on October 3, in Del Mar. He is owned by Michael Peterson.


The Peter Eurton trainee, Giant Expectations is by Frost Giant and owned by Exline-Boarder Racing LLC and Gatto Racing LLC. With earnings of $253,200 and a record of 10: 3-3-1, Great Expectations has been having great workouts but does not have the resume of Mor Spirit.


I’ve spoken to the trainers or assistants of the some of rest of the horses listed and have been assured they are pointing to the Vegas Dirt Mile.


Jerry Hollendorfer is quite high on his trainee, graded stakes winner, Battle of Midway, who we last saw winning the Affirmed and coming in 3rd in the Kentucky Derby.The colt by Smart Strike is owned by Don Alberto Stable(who also owns Unique Bella) and Winstar Farm LLC. The colt has earned $550,000 with a record of 6:3-1-2. Battle of Midway has been working really well and would be one to keep an eye on.  His last race was the Oklahoma Derby where he came in 2nd. Prior to that, he won the Shared Belief Stakes.


When Mark Casse enters a horse in a race, there’s always need to pay attention, as is the case for Awesome Slew. Owned by Live Oak Plantation, The son of Awesome Again has banked $781,420 with a record of 14: 4-3-3. He last won the Ack Ack Stakes and prior to that came in 2nd in the Forego Stakes. Pay close attention to this Casse runner.


Accelerate, a John Sadler trainee is owned by Hronis Racing LLC. He was a total of

$607,480 in earnings with a record of 12: 4-3-5. This son of Lookin At Lucky is best known for beating Arrogate in the San Diego Stakes. After that race, he ran a decent 3rd in the Pacific Classic and is training up to the Dirt Mile. A plus is he likes the Del Mar surface.


I spoke to Chad Brown yesterday and he’s hyped up about his trainee, Practical Joke’s chances in the Dirt Mile. The Into Mischief colt has a total of $1,670,800 in earnings and a record of 10: 3-3-1. The bay colt is owned by Klaravich Stables, INC and William H. Lawrence. His highest speed figure is 112. He won last time out in the H.Allen Jerkens Stakes. This thoroughbred is no joke.


Another horse, Pavel, a Doug O’Neill trainee, who ran in the Jockey’s Club Gold Cup at Belmont came in a credible third. He had been pointing to the Vegas Dirt Mile but is now going into the Classic, according to trainer, O'Neill. Pavel is a half sibling to Cal fan favorite, Caracortado. His sire is Creative Cause. He’s only raced 4 times. He broke his maiden at first try then moved onto The Jim Dandy Stakes where he finished 4th. Doug O’Neill knew something about this gray horse he wasn’t telling anyone else because his next race was the Smarty Jones Stakes (Gr-3) which he resoundingly won. So, keep an eye on this possible wunderkind. He may surprise us all.


Posted Thursday, September 14, 2017
We last saw Unique Bella in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel as she put away future multiple Grade 1 winner Abel Tasman.
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Meet Mary Dixon Reynolds



Mary Dixon Reynolds’ passion for horses began at an early age. She grew up riding, showing, and training Arabians.The great Curlin brought her into horse racing and the celebrated filly, Rachel Alexandra, solidified her love of the sport, with its tradition, steeped in history. An amateur handicapper who had beginner's luck during her first outing to a racetrack, the now defunct, Colonial Downs, near Richmond, Va.


From a small town in the the Tar Heel state, Mary Dixon studied English literature and journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for three years before graduating at Guilford College. She shares a passion for F. Scott Fitzgerald with her favorite writer, William L. Nack, whose books she possesses and are well worn from rereading.


Her love of sports was instilled in her by her physician father as they attended basketball and football games at his alma mater, Wake Forest University. She continues to follow the Wake Forest University Demon Deacons and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels as well as the Carolina Panthers and San Antonio Spurs.


Mary Dixon first appeared on Horse Racing Nation as a guest columnist, writing articles about California Chrome, his fan base and Songbird. She aspires to bring new people into our sport and to promote thoroughbred aftercare, recognizing that for our sport to thrive, we must take care of our athletes after they leave the track

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