'Secretariat' extras relive fashion and glory of 1970s

Joe Cooper had the right sideburns for the 1970s. The wardrobe department of the film Secretariat gave him the right clothes.

"They had me try this on," he said, referring to his gray pin-striped suit, "and then they also had me try on these extremely small '70s running shorts and a T-shirt. So, I'm glad they went with this."

The track shorts and T-shirt might have been desirable at the 1973 Belmont Stakes, where temperatures soared in the 80s. But Tuesday morning, scenes from the historic race where Secretariat claimed his Triple Crown were being staged at Keeneland in autumn's first real chill.

Tuesday was the second day of filming in Lexington for a movie about the legendary Thoroughbred set to be released by Disney sometime next year. Shooting will continue next week at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

"Being able to only be in two locations, Kentucky and Louisiana, we needed to find two tracks," Secretariat producer Mark Ciardi said shortly before filming began Tuesday at Keeneland. "This was a beautiful location with lots of spots to shoot from the paddock out in the track, and through great production design and set design we can certainly have the audience feel it's Belmont. It's actually more beautiful than Belmont."

About 200 extras turned out Tuesday and 700 Monday to participate in filming for the movie, the third cinematic horse tale to shoot at Keene-land this decade — Seabiscuit visited in 2002 and Dreamer in 2004.

Some extras, including a pair in complementary shades of blue polyester suits, had participated in those films. But for others, it was their first time on a movie set.

"All my life, that was my ambition, to be on the stage," said 91-year-old Eliza Rogers of Lexington. "I did get to be a music teacher, and I taught folk dancing, but in every grade, I was in all the plays and all the music that was done.

"So, when I got a chance to do this, I said, 'That's it, it will be the last chance I have to do anything."

Rogers, wearing a Chanel hat, was perched in a grandstand box with her son, Kenneth Blair, 65, who sported a Vietnam War veteran look with a beret. He also looked through a replica of a 1973 Daily Racing Form, distributed by the film's crew.

For some on the set, it was sort of like reliving history. Charlie Davis was an exercise rider for the real Secretariat, and on Tuesday, it sounded as if he was having the biggest time of his life since the Triple Crown run.

"Last night, after we had dinner, I went back to the hotel room, and I got so excited I couldn't sleep," Davis said. "I was so wound up, at 3 o'clock in the morning, I was awake.

"This is once in a lifetime for me."

Davis, who was a judge in the Secretariat look-alike contest at the Bourbon County Secretariat Festival on Saturday, gave the Secretariat look-alikes selected for the movie good reviews, particularly for their demeanor.

He recalled Secretariat as a proud, confident horse. Monday afternoon, he said he was impressed that when the crowd cheered for one of the Secretariats, "he just sort of said, 'hey,'" as if it was no surprise people would be cheering for him.

Davis said he did not know who would be playing him in the movie.

To the right of the crowd at track level was actor John Malkovich, who is playing Secretariat's trainer, Lucien Laurin. He was fending off the chill with a black jacket over his cream-colored suit. The film's big star, Diane Lane, who plays Secretariat's owner, Penny Chenery, was not in evidence Tuesday morning.

The film brought actor Eric Lange, recently seen on TV's Lost playing the suspicious Dharma Initiative engineer named Stuart, close to his home of Hamilton, Ohio.

"That was a big part of the reason for doing this film, to work close to home," said Lange, who plays legendary turf writer Andy Beyer,

Ciardi, the Secretariat producer, confirmed that new tax incentives for filmmakers, approved by the General Assembly in June, were a key to bringing the film's production to the heart of horse country.

"We were given a very hard number for this film to arrive at, and all that money helped," he said. "Coming to Kentucky was really important for us, and the tax credit really helped us get to our final number.

"I think it's going to be the beginning of many more movies coming here."

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