Secretariat will film in Kentucky

Secretariat races to victory in the 1973 Kentucky Derby. Herald-Leader file photo by E. Martin Jessee.

Secretariat races to victory in the 1973 Kentucky Derby. Herald-Leader file photo by E. Martin Jessee.

Disney officials confirmed Thursday that part of Secretariat, a major motion picture about the horse, will be shot in Kentucky, and the horse’s owner says that’s as it should be.

Penny Chenery. Photo by Matt Goins.

Penny Chenery at the 2008 Bourbon County Secretariat Festival. Photo by Matt Goins.

“It will be real,” said Penny Chenery, owner of the 1973 Triple Crown winner. “Kentucky is the home of thoroughbred racing and breeding, and you can’t fake Central Kentucky.”

Disney officials did not elaborate on filming locations or any other information about what will take place when the production comes here.

Secretariat is the first major motion picture to announce it will film in Kentucky since the General Assembly passed a bill including tax incentives for filmmakers in June.

Leonard Lusky, president of, has been working with the filmmakers and says the incentives were key to getting the film to come to Kentucky.

“They were not planning to come here, but at the 11th hour, the film incentives came through, and that changed everything,” Lusky said.

The Kentucky Film Office confirmed that they have received an incentives application for the film, and it will be on the agenda for the Aug. 18 meeting of the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority.

One of the big questions now is which horse, or more precisely, horses, will play the title character who died in 1989. Like Seabiscuit, which filmed in Central Kentucky in 2002, there will be a half dozen or more horses playing the champion.

“The difference is that Seabiscuit was a fairly standard horse, but Secretariat was the Charles Atlas of thoroughbreds,” Lusky said.

Chenery reflects, “He was red and white and his colors were blue and white. He was all-American and incorruptible.” has been the clearing house for applicants for the role, and Lusky said lead wrangler Rusty Hendrickson has been looking through more than 200 hopefuls.

Lusky said the Secretariat look-alike contest at the second annual Bourbon County Secretariat Festival, Sept. 26 at the Bourbon County Fairgrounds, could play a role in finding a horse for the movie. Chenery said she will attend the festival.

Diane Lane at the 2009 Academy Awards. AP Photo by Matt Sayles.

Diane Lane at the 2009 Academy Awards. AP Photo by Matt Sayles.

Already settled, much to Chenery’s satisfaction, is casting for her role: Emmy- and Oscar-nominated actor Diane Lane.

“She’s a wonderful, intuitive, very intelligent actress,” Chenery said. “The questions that she asks me tell me she gets me.”

Chenery says she’s been impressed by everyone she’s met connected with the film, which will be directed by Randall Wallace, who received an Oscar nomination for writing the screenplay for Braveheart (1995). His previous directing credits are We Were Soldiers (2002) and The Man in the Iron Mask (1998).

Chenery also spent time with screenwriter Mike Rich, whose credits include two successful sports-based films, Radio (2003), about a football coach’s life-changing friendship with a mentally challenged young man, and The Rookie (2002), about a high school baseball coach who fulfills his dream of pitching in the Major Leagues when he is 35.

Like those films, Chenery said Secretariat’s life was a feel-good story.

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