Alan Grossbard knows what he’s writing about. The writer and co-producer of the independent feature film "And They’re Off," about a down-on-his-luck Thoroughbred trainer, has been part of several racing partnerships over the past decade, and the comedy that opens in limited release nationwide Oct. 28, draws heavily on his experiences.
"I love horse racing and the camaraderie of being with people at the track," said Grossbard, a veteran comedy writer in Hollywood. "But the more I got into it, the more I realized we were all crazy—the trainers, the owners, everyone. I’ve heard trainers say a gazillion times, ‘He’s ready to run’ or ‘He looks great,’ and we’ve all seen what happens next.
"This is a world of dreams, because in the end, these are 1,200-pound animals coming out of a gate, and none of us know how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking."
Grossbard began going to Del Mar during his high school and college years and immediately liked the sport. When he was introduced to bloodstock agent Bob Feld in 2000, he joined the Class Racing syndicate and bought a piece of two horses.
When Feld left Class Racing to form Bongo Racing, Grossbard went with him, and has a 5% or 10% share of five horses in that syndicate. He is also involved in other partnerships as well, and has a stake in Central Intelligence, a 3-year-old allowance winner. Grossbard also owns a couple of mares to breed to The Pamplemousse, in whom he bought a small percentage.
"Buying into a syndicate, it’s not as painful when the horses don’t do well, but it’s equally thrilling when they win," Grossbard said.
Grossbard noted that the more time he spent at the races, the more he felt the track could provide a colorful backdrop for a story about extreme characters.
"It just felt like a ripe world to bring crazy people together who love what they do and are passionate, but may not necessarily be very good at their job," he said. "We have an owner who is a guy who made a lot of money in the dried fruit infomercial business, and because of that he believes he knows a lot about owning horses.
"How many times have you seen that in the real world? Guys think they know what they’re doing when they buy a sports team, and they don’t. I’m the same way when I’m handicapping. If I win, I think I’m really good at it.
"When people take themselves too seriously, it’s funny. And I think we’ve learned from the economic crises the last few years that there are no geniuses. We’re all just doing the best we can."
"And They’re Off" stars Sean Astin as the hapless trainer and Cheri Oteri as his ex-girlfriend and jockey. It also features cameo appearances by trainers Bob Baffert, Doug O’Neill, and John Sadler. Martin Mull and Kevin Nealon co-star.
"Baffert and O’Neill are natural hams," Grossbard said.
The writer went out of his way to make sure the language of racing was well-explained to what he hopes will be a large, mainstream audience.
"You have to explain things like the concept of claiming horses or you can lose people in a hurry," Grossbard said. "We employed a mockumentary style, along the lines of 'Spinal Tap' and 'Modern Family' that helps explain things, and is also easy on our budget.
"We tested the film in front of an audience that didn’t know racing. I wanted to make sure it is a movie about some crazy people who happened to be in the world of horse racing rather than making it a horse racing movie."
"And They’re Off" will open in limited release in markets such as Los Angeles, New York, and Louisville and Lexington in Kentucky.