There's also been some simplification. The real reason Penny Tweedy was so upset when Secretariat lost the Wood Memorial was that Lucien Laurin trained Angle Light, the winner of that race, for another owner, and she felt he had spent too much time with Angle Light and not enough with Secretariat. (The film does show an unlikable Tweedy screaming at her trainer and rider for losing — but then it's discovered that Secretariat lost because he had an abscess in his mouth, and all is forgiven.) Owner and trainer worry us, over and over, with the fear that Secretariat won't be able to get the Belmont's mile and half because his daddy, Bold Ruler, wasn't a true distance horse; no one mentions that Bold Ruler's full brother, Independence, won the three-mile American Grand National Steeplechase. Worst of all, when Secretariat wins the Derby, his owner jumps up and down in such virginal glee, you'd hardly guess she won that race (and the Belmont) the year before with Riva Ridge.
At least Diane Lane doesn't sugarcoat Penny Tweedy — the lady could be sour and snippy, and Lane is. Malkovich's Lucien Laurin covers up the pain of past failures with snappy outfits ("he dresses like Superfly") and wisecracks; inside, however, he's a teddy bear, as are ever-cheerful housekeeper Miss Ham (Margo Martindale) and ever-optimistic groom Eddie (Nelsan Ellis). And there are reminders that racing used to be the sport of gentlemen from Scott Glenn as Penny's father, Fred Dalton Thompson as a genial Bull Hancock, and James Cromwell as a hard-as-nails Ogden Phipps. Director Randall Wallace frames his film with quotes from Job ("He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength. . . . He cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds") and celebrates Secretariat's triumph with a recording of "Oh Happy Day." Secretariat isn't as gritty as it should have been, but it sure is happy.