Secretariat Film In the Works

A movie about the life and times of Secretariat, with the backing of Walt Disney Studios, is in the works. Filming for the major motion picture could begin as soon as the end of the year according to principles tied to the project.

Writer Mike Rich and producers Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray were on a tour of the backstretch at Churchill Downs the morning of May 2. They had spent the evening before with Penny Chenery, owner of the 1973 Triple Crown winner.

“We’re kind of conceptualizing the project and working on the rights right now,” Gray said.

Rich is developing the script with the help of award-winning writer Bill Nack, who wrote the definitive book on Big Red: “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion” and who conducted the backstretch tour. Rich said “Nack is going to be invaluable to us. The great thing about Bill is that I can reference any workout, any fraction…he’s like a human Internet.”

Rich, Ciardi, and Gray collaborated on the Disney film “The Rookie.” Rich has also written screenplays for “Finding Forrester” and “Radio.” Ciardi and Gray have also been involved with Disney films “Miracle,” and “Invincible.” They’ve just wrapped up a film called “The Game Plan” with the “Rock” Johnson that is due for release this fall.

Ciardi and Gray noted the project has the backing of Dick Cook, the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, who also happens to be a big fan of Secretariat.

Location has yet to be determined. Ciardi said it probably would take place in one of three states of the Triple Crown races. That would be Kentucky, Maryland, or New York.

“Part of that is maximizing production dollars,” Gray said. “So we’ll go to a state that allows us to put the money on the screen.”

“We’re still in the research process,” Rich said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re here, visiting with Mrs. Chenery and soaking up the Derby atmosphere. Obviously that’s an important chapter in the film.

“Most scripts take about three months to write. We’d love to be moving by the end of this year on the project. Whether that means we’ll be filming the latter part of this year or early next year, we don’t know.”

A 14 year old kid growing up in Oregon during the spring 1973, Rich shares a common bond with many of his age group. “I share a story that a lot of people have of watching those few weeks in 1973,” he said. “That sparked my interest in Thoroughbred horse racing. This is a project that I’ve had in my heart for a long, long time. I really consider it a privilege to write this story.

“A lot of people know the events: they know the Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont,” he said. “They know the surface story. My job is to pull back the curtain a little bit so you can see who these people are.”