The First Saturday In May

2008, Movie, NR, 96 mins


Siblings John and Brad Hennegan's documentary builds up to the "most exciting two minutes in sports," the one-and-a-quarter mile Kentucky Derby, by profiling six trainers and the two-year-old Thoroughbreds they hope will meet the race's exacting standards. The contenders include crowd-pleaser Barbaro, who died after breaking a leg while running the Preakness Stakes, two weeks after his 2006 Derby win.

Forty-thousand Thoroughbred foals are born every year, says one trainer, and only 20 three-year-olds make it to the Kentucky Derby. Faced with those formidable odds, breeders, trainers, jockeys, hot walkers and groomers nonetheless live for the hope that one day, one of theirs may be a "Derby horse." The Hennegans profile horses trainers in New York, Florida, Arkansas and even Dubai, where Kiaran McLaughlin, who has Multiple Sclerosis, moved in 1994 on a whim – he didn't even know where it was, but he knew there were a lot of people there willing to put a lot of money into raising and raising top-flight horses. Dan Hendricks, who's training a horse named Brother Derek, was paralyzed from the chest down in a freak dirt-bike accident, but refuses to give up working with horses. Michael Matz, an Olympic equestrian, discovered he wasn't cut out to give riding classes and switched to training: He staked his hopes on Barbaro. The Hennegans, whose father was a Belmont Park racing official, don't downplay the harsh aspects of professional flat racing: One horse they follow broke down during a qualifying race and was withdrawn from further competition, and Barbaro's story speaks for itself. But their focus is the bond between horses and the men and women who devote their lives to working with them, from hands-on owners to 61-year-old groom Chuck Chambers, who compares Thoroughbreds to top-flight basketball players: You do everything you can to keep them happy and hope your horse turns out to be Michael Jordan with hooves.

Horse lovers and racing enthusiasts are this likable film's obvious audience, but you don't have to care about the Derby to get caught up in the stories of the people and the horses behind the two minutes of glory. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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The First Saturday In May
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