Secretariat will be back at the Kentucky Derby this year — the movie, that is.
Though the Disney film about the 1973 Triple Crown winner will not be in theaters until Oct. 8, it will have a significant presence at the 136th Run for the Roses in the form of the film's star, subject and advertising.
"Traditionally, this is really early to start promoting a movie," said Leonard Lusky, who runs Secretariat.com and has been a key liaison between Secretariat's owner, Penny Chenery, and the filmmakers and other parties. "But the opportunity is just too good to pass up."
The biggest opportunity for the public to actually get a look at Diane Lane, the film's star who plays Chenery, will be at Thursday's Pegasus Parade in Louisville. Lane and Chenery will serve as grand marshals. Other folks involved in the production, including director Randall Wallace, producer Mark Ciardi and Secretariat's Hall of Fame jockey, Ron Turcotte, and exercise rider, Charlie Davis, will participate in the parade.
Secretariat died in 1989, at age 19.
Stacey Robinson, senior vice president of operations for the Kentucky Derby Festival, which presents the parade, said the presence of the movie at this year's event has heightened interest.
"We're pretty close to selling out seats for the parade," said Robinson, explaining that tickets are sold for reserved seats that guarantee a good view along the parade route.
Lane and Chenery will be followed down the parade route by a Secretariat balloon, specifically designed for the event.
"There's a natural synergy having Penny Chenery, the first lady of American horse racing, and a wonderful actress like Diane Lane being part of the festival," Robinson said. "It's good for the community and for spectators; it may be one of their only chances to see an actress of Diane Lane's caliber up close."
Lane, Chenery and others with the Secretariat crew also will participate in a news conference Thursday morning and invitation-only celebrity luncheon later that day at Churchill Downs. They also will take in the Oaks on Friday and the Derby on Saturday.
"People were telling her, 'You're making a movie about the Derby, but now you've got to come experience it,'" Lusky said of Lane, noting just about everyone with the power to do so invited her to come to the Derby.
Lane is officially a guest of the Kentucky Derby Festival.
Horse films have made themselves known at previous Derbys. In 2003, Seabiscuit producers Kathleen Kennedy and Steven Spielberg, along with director Gary Ross and others involved with the film, bought a share in Derby contender Atswhatimtalknbout and came to the race. (Atswhatimtalknbout finished fourth.)
Hope then, like now, was that the movie and the Derby would have a mutually beneficial relationship. Seabiscuit ended up faring well at the box office and was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture.
"I'm sure they'll get a lot of good press around this, and it will put the movie in everyone's minds again," said Robinson, who said the idea of having Lane and Chenery as the parade's grand marshals started percolating in December.
Lusky said other Secretariat promotions Derby patrons might see, such as trailers and banners, will be unveiled at Thursday's news conference.
"It will be a great chance to tell people who love horse racing about a wonderful horse racing movie," Lusky said. "It's going to be a reunion of Hollywood and the Derby."