Jim McKay’s MD Million and “Secretariat” the movie

September 25, 2010 | Gary Quill

Next Saturday, October 2nd, is Maryland’s Day At The Races. Better known as Jim McKay’s Maryland Million, it’s the one racing day of the year in Maryland where owners of runners either bred in Maryland or their sire was state bred, qualify to run on this great day of celebrating thoroughbred horse racing in Maryland. The Laurel Park racing office announced this morning that a total of 180 pre-entries (156 horses as 24 were cross-entered) were named to the 11 races for the 25th running of this event. First post is 12:35 p.m.


2010 Maryland Million logo


One such horse that will run is Sumacha’hot, who will look to become the first horse since Docent (2002-03) to win the Maryland Million Classic in back-to-back years. Owned and trained by Butch Cave, the 5-year-old is two-for-five this year, including a pair of victories at Penn National in June. His regular rider, Grant Whitacre, is on the cusp of stardom… not only for being an up and coming top jockey on the MD circuit, but Grant played a part in the movie “Secretariat”, which opens in theatres Friday, October 8th.


Secretariat the movie


Grant, a former Atholton High School baseball player battled injuries during the first three years as a jockey, but 2009 was his breakout year winning the Maryland Million Classic abroad Sumacha’hot and landed a part in the movie, portraying apprentice jockey Paul Felicano, who rode Secretariat in his first two career starts, before the connections turned to the more experienced Ron Turcotte.


Whitacre spent a week in Louisiana last October for filming. “I am probably in the movie for about five minutes,” Whitacre said. “It is a little different seeing myself on the big screen but it is pretty cool.”


A Walt Disney Pictures film, “Secretariat” tells the story of Penny Chenery, portrayed by Diane Lane, and her superstar colt who captured the nation by becoming the first horse in 25 years to earn the Triple Crown by winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes during a six-week period as a 3-year-old. John Malkovich plays the role of trainer Lucien Laurin.


“I never dreamed this would happen,” added Whitacre, the grandson of jockey Jesse Davidson, son of former rider Gordon Whitacre and the younger brother of Charles Town-based rider Brandon Whitacre. “The last couple weeks they have been playing the trailer and during the Cowboys-Redskins game on the opening of the NFL season a bunch of my friends saw me in it and called. That was pretty neat. I am hoping everyone checks it out. It is getting some positive reviews.”


Feliciano, then a contract rider for Laurin, was aboard the son of Bold Ruler when he made his debut at Aqueduct on July 4, 1972. The duo had a troubled trip and finished fourth, the only time Secretariat would finish off the board in 21 career starts. Laurin wheeled his star back 11 days later and this time it was an easy six-length maiden victory.


However, Disney did not let facts get in the way of a good story and had Turcotte, not Feliciano, break Secretariat’s maiden. “Obviously I would have liked them showing me winning on the horse but the movie is about Secretariat’s relationship with Penny and isn’t 100 percent accurate,” Whitacre said. “But I love the movie. It is a feel good story for the entire family.”


The change from reality did lead to a big scene between Whitacre and Malkovich. “Without giving too much of the story away, his character gets upset with mine and he definitely lets me know,” said Whitacre, who will have watched three advanced screenings before attending a premier in Lexington, KY on Oct. 3.


Feliciano is the younger brother of Whitacre’s agent Ben Feliciano Sr., who rode Torsion against Secretariat in the Preakness. “Benny wasn’t even my agent last summer but recommended me to the producers for the Ron Turcotte role,” Whitacre said.


For my selections at Laurel Park and other thoroughbred horse racing tracks across the country, go to… GQ’s No Chalk Zone


Enjoy the weekend and the upcoming week as we look forward to Jim McKay’s Maryland Million on Saturday, October 2nd. Good Luck!