Kentucky Derby Film Big Hit at Festival

Judging from the enthusiastic reaction of the patrons at the Newark Film Festival in Newark, Del. Sept. 6, the Hennegan Brothers’ award-winning documentary “The First Saturday in May” is destined for great things once the Hennegans get the film distributed in advance of next year’s Run for the Roses.

With Barbaro’s owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson, trainer Michael Matz and his wife D.D., exercise rider Peter Brette, and veterinarian Dean Richardson in attendance, the 97-minute long film received a rousing ovation from the patrons, many of whom were local sponsors and politicians.

“The First Saturday in May” which was filmed, written, and produced by John and Brad Hennegan on a $500,000 budget, finished second of 180 films in the voting for audience favorite at the Tribeca Film Festical in New York City, and has received rave reviews in the Daily Racing Form, Sports Illustrated, New York Post, New York Newsday, Washington Post, and Louisville Courier-Journal, among others.

The film, shot in digital video, follows the trainers of six Kentucky Derby hopefuls – Barbaro, Brother Derek, Lawyer Ron, Sharp Humor, Jazil, and Achilles of Troy – through the joys and heartbreaks of trying to get a horse to the Kentucky Derby. The Hennegan brothers followed Michael Matz, Dan Hendricks, Bob Holthus and groom Chuck Chambers, Dale Romans, Kiaran McLaughlin, and Frank Amonte Jr., and their families, from frigid Aqueduct to the deserts of Dubai, with stops in California, Florida, Arkansas, and Kentucky. Along the way, they captured the excitement, pressure, humor, and despair that are all part of the tapestry of America’s greatest horse race.

The Newark Film Festival was founded three years ago by Barry Schlecker and Lisa Lucas, who jumped at the opportunity to lure the Hennegan Brothers’ film to this year’s festival, scheduled for Sept. 6-9.

“I saw John Hennegan on TV on SportsNite, and as I was passing by I heard the words film and Barbaro,” Schlecker said. “I called the station and got a number for John. I thought it would be a great idea to have the film for the festival, so I cried, begged, and whimpered, and told him it would be a natural for this area, especially with Barbaro’s owners and trainer living so close by.”

“Film festivals like this are a great help to filmmakers like us,” John Hennnegan said. “And to show it in the cradle of horse country makes it even more special.”

The Hennegans, lifelong racetrackers whose father was a longtime placing judge for the New York Racing Association, put out a promotional DVD to be shown to a select few several months ago, but have tweaked it and added footage. The final product, which unfolds like a sweeping novel, is a work of art that will raise Thoroughbred racing to another level and enable those both familiar and unfamiliar with the sport to witness it as they’ve never witnessed it before.

From the laughter and the cheering to the emotional impact of the masterfully-handled death of Barbaro, there is little doubt that “The First Saturday in May” will leave a powerful impression on all those who see it.