The Kentucky Derby is often described as "the most exciting two minutes in sport." And that may be true. But stretched to fill out a 90-minute documentary, it starts to feel like a long slog across a muddy track. First-time filmmakers John and Brad Hennegan set out to chronicle the hype, hoopla, foolishness and escalating tensions leading up to the 2006 contest, but ended up trapped by the race's epic result and tragic aftermath. And, yes, that means Barbaro, the most beloved equine icon since Mr. Ed, whose heroic victory and shocking mortal injury a few weeks later at the Preakness captivated the nation. Yet, the fate of Barbaro casts a long shadow over the movie until the inevitable funeral march to the end.
Since the winner is never in doubt, the film rests on the personalities of the various trainers, their families and hangers-on. Among the latter are New York tough guy Frank Amonte and the intensely driven Dan Hendricks, who sees his recent paralysis from a riding accident as a mere setback. The trouble is that these guys play it pretty close to the vest emotionally, and the directors have too much respect for the people and reverence for the event to probe too deeply. Last year's doc King of Kong drew more drama out of a Donkey Kong contest with much lower stakes. And though we know careers, lifelong dreams and large sums of money are at risk, the tone is ensconced in the luxury boxes, so lofty we never really feel the excitement till it rides by.
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Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].