There are a several inherent problems in making movies about horse racing. The first of these is that it’s hard to simultaneously capture both the euphoric highs of winning, and the reality of the day-to-day. Also, when it comes to anticipated outcomes, Hollywood is much better at keeping the tension going when there’s a knife/gun-wielding invader with evil intent wandering around a dark building, than in a dramatised horse race.
It’s not a successful genre. I’d rather watch the grainy footage on YouTube of Secretariat’s record-setting romp in the Belmont Stakes, than the movie that was made. In fairness, having said all of this, I should go back and re-watch Phar Lap, Sea Biscuit and Secretariat.
This is a long way of getting to the point that Chasing the Win does a great job of showing you what it’s really like to be connected with racehorses. The official summary goes like this:
“Chasing the Win is a feature length documentary film that follows the meteoric rise of a rookie trainer, a long time owner, and their beloved racehorse after an unprecedented victory thrusts them into the global spotlight of horse racing. Success and fame are followed by the hard hitting reality of what it means to survive in the Sport of Kings.”
The driving force behind the excitement of being connected with racehorses is that success is not guaranteed, no matter how much money you spend. Owning a bigger yacht or faster car is a linearly predictable application of cash. Certain highly professional, well-funded outfits often outperform the averages, but success is never guaranteed.
In some cases, the biggest successes are the products of projects that were started decades ago. A case in point is Kirsten Rausing’s 2022 Arc winner, Alpinista. Rausing bought her fourth dam (that’s great-great-grandam) in 1985, channeling childhood learnings from her grandfather.
Competing for the same prizes are people of lesser means, who are driven by the same dreams. It happens more often than you’d think that the horse owned/trained/bred by the ‘small guy’ beats the one representing the elite. I should mention that the Irish loom large in all of this, with their affinity for horses.
Back to Chasing the Win, with its cast of Irishmen, led by the Sheehy brothers from County Kinsale, who have owned horses in the US for many decades, trying to find champions on a shoestring budget. Their horse Kinsale King has not shown any form as a young racehorse, and they turn him over to another Irishman, the struggling small-time trainer Carl O’Callaghan, who sorts out his issues and gets him winning.
The documentary opens with Kinsale King’s famous win the Dubai Golden Shaheen against the world’s top sprinters, following the horse and his people to the world’s top race meetings.
As someone who has owned shares of racehorses for many years, I can vouch for the authenticity of the story. A 1200m race may last just 70 seconds, but there are many hours of preparation and anticipation that go into it.
During the time that our horse Sergeant Hardy was racing, I had equivalent aspirations. He began his career as the underdog, with serious breathing issues, and nevertheless proved himself to be the best sprinter of his crop in South Africa. If African Horse Sickness travel restrictions weren’t an issue, I’d have actively pursued an invitation to the international race meetings in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
The film’s co-director is the owner’s daughter, Laura Sheehy, which may account for the authenticity of the behind-the-scenes stories.