Sure, "Secretariat" is drawn from real life, the success story of a red beauty who in 1973 created a sensation for having been the winner of the Triple Crown, and, sure, there had to be a history behind it, beginning with the daughter of a horse breeder (Diane Lane) bravely, doggedly taking on the normally male role of responsibility. Then despite all signs the horse will be a loser, year after year he improves with the aid of a supposedly faithful trainer - the least likely actor portrayal (heaven help us, John Malkovich - more picturesquely elitist French-Canadian than down-home Mickey Rooney in "Black Stallion" - in bad taste sporty attire only seen beyond the training role, spouting French when irritated). There is also the faithful groom, Eddie (Nelsan Ellis) - a sensitive, loving devotee who seems to be making up for the trainer's absences.
And there's a faithful, sensitive side-kick secretary (Margo Martindale) to provide comradeship when Penny needs it .
And there are the wins, a loss, near bankruptcy with a competitor's offer - a pile of cash for Secretariat - rejected.
And one race after another leading to the three final races that comprise the Triple Crown, and, voila! Guess who wins - by 31 laps past the competitor's horse! Quelle supris!
Based on a true situation is the most serious drag on suspense, since we all know beforehand who will win, with Mike Rich's script lazily settling on the usual clichés drags the suspense still further down. All we have left to give the film some leverage is some gorgeous photography by Dean Semler, who dresses up the races with speed variations, plenty of hoof-level shots, and John Wright's careful back/forth editing of faces during the most suspenseful moments. Randall Wallace settles for use of the expected clichés - technically perfect yet uninspired - permitting the most embarrassingly weak impov before the race: "It's a big day, a very big day," "He's not just a race horse, he's Secretariat!" etc. etc.
The 70s costumes (plaids & fedoras) & décor, nicely designed by Michael T. Boyd & Julie Weiss, at least give some verisimilitude to the story, but, hey, is that enough to make this a good drama? Nah. It's 125-minutes of been there, done that. (Grade: C-)