A “sure thing” in horse racing might be great for gamblers, but not so much for moviegoers.

“Secretariat,” a Disney flick about the thoroughbred that won the Triple Crown in 1973, is saddled with the challenge of dramatizing a sports story in which the ending is a matter of history. The filmmakers try wringing suspense where they can, but ultimately, the result is a bit like beating a dead you-know-what.

Can a well-known sports story make for a good movie? Of course, but that’s where artfulness comes in handy, and “Secretariat,” with its schmaltzy set pieces and wheezy dialogue, barely makes it out of the starting gate.

Diane Lane (“Nights in Rodanthe”) is likable as Penny Chenery Tweedy, a Denver housewife who takes over the family farm in the wake of her ailing father (Scott Glenn, “W.”). Penny’s husband and brother urge her to sell the place, but this spunky gal is determined to make a go of it, especially with the arrival of a an equally spunky colt that Penny names Big Red. That colt grows up to be Secretariat, arguably the greatest racehorse of all time.

But Secretariat gets second billing here. Despite the film’s title, director Randall Wallace (“We Were Soldiers”) and screenwriter Mike Rich (“The Nativity Story”) focus on Penny’s stiff-jawed resoluteness in the face of sexist obstacles.

That’s well and good, except that Penny is a forthright fighter from the get-go. She undergoes no change, and the success of her would-be champion is never in doubt. “”Phil Bacharach


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