I recently watched Disney’s Secretariat, again. I was very annoyed that the cable guide describes this movie as “Naive woman oversees ailing father’s horse-racing stables and fights adveristy.” Webster defines naive as the state or quality of being inexperienced or unsophisticated, especially in being artless, credulous, or uncritical. The movie’s main character, Helen “Penny” (Chenery) Tweedy, is anything but.

Based on a true story, Secretariat begins in 1969 when a college-educated housewife of four is called home due to the death of her mothers; her father was already suffering from senility or perhaps Alzheimer’s. Raised on a horse-breeding farm, Tweedy stays to settle up her family’s affairs but finds that the farm needs stabilizing in order to sell at a decent price, which is her siblings’ wish. However, unlike her brother (and sister), Penny had some interest in breeding from indirect tutelage of their father and was willing to research and learn. At her husband’s dismay, she stays on a bit longer. Secretariat goes on to be the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 25 years. Today, his record times have not been beaten.

Her sheer business acumen, independence and intuitive knowledge was remarkable. The syndication deal that she brokered was genius. She also served as a great role model for women, especially her own teenaged daughters. Today horse racing is an elite sport of men so you can only imagine what it was then. Of course Disney glosses over much of this to make it family-friendly. We see subleties such as her being referred to as “Missy,” being ignorant of business matters and needing to return to her place in the home. 

Critics complained that it focused too much on Tweedy and not enough on the horse- that didn’t bother me. As with all movies adapted from real life, there are omissions, additions and interpretations made. However, the real-life Tweedy was pleased. Many people overlooked this movie because they assumed it was a Disney feel-good, fluffy movie that kids would enjoy… it is, and much more.

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