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Friday Flicks: ‘The Derby Stallion’

Starring Zach Efron, it’s got everything you could want from a bad horse movie: clueless dialogue, pitiful riding and a glorious big finish. Amanda Ronan watches it so you don’t have to.

From Amanda:

Every possible minute I can spare I am riding horses, or thinking about riding horses, or reading about riding horses, or watching other people ride horses in movies. I recently happened
across this list where the author, Michelle, is attempting to compile a list of every single horse-related TV show or movie ever made. And now I’m going to watch them… ALL.

Up first, #44 on the list: The Derby Stallion

I recently saw a preview for a new movie called The Lucky One. It’s based on a novel of the same name by Nicholas Sparks. The head hunk of the flick looks like this…

Any man who clearly is unloading bags of horse feed is alright in my book.

So through this whole movie trailer I keep thinking… this guy looks vaguely familiar? And then it comes to me… this hot, sweaty hunk is none other than High School Musical’s own Zac Efron.

What!? Apparently he was some kind of teen mania sensation, but I never noticed him until now.

A quick IMDb search on his name led me to the movie called The Derby Stallion made in 2005, directed by Craig Clyde.

The plot starts out textbook… craggy, old, washed-up trainer, Houston, meets ambitious kid, Patrick. Patrick, played by Efron, admits to Houston that he skipped out on baseball practice to come reminisce about horses. Point One for Patrick. In comes the antagonist, rich kid Randy Adams, a mailbox trashing, four-wheeler riding vigilante, who claims that he is the “fastest horse rider in the state.”

Back home, Patrick is ridiculed by his parents for spending time with “that old man.” His dad goes straight for the bad cop routine with harsh words and eating utensil banging, while Mom goes more for the good cop explaining that Houston is an alcoholic. Patrick’s little sisters FINALLY get the truth out of Patrick. He talks to Houston because he loves horses. Point Two for Patrick. But his horse addiction is a secret.

In a montage of images similar to a Vidal Sassoon commercial we discover Patrick’s other love.

I can only assume she is the nefarious Randy’s girlfriend. Distracted by this rare beauty, Patrick gets whacked in the head with a baseball. Oops.

Meanwhile, the diabolical Randy introduces himself to Blondie, turns out they weren’t already dating, where he proclaims “I’m the number one steeplechaser in the state.”

“Is that horses?” Blondie asks.

Is that horses? Honestly Blondie? She is SO not worth it, Patrick, so not worth it. But nonetheless, Patrick is “distracted.” Patrick ends up back at Houston’s discussing love, and by the end of this visit Patrick has convinced the cagey old man to train him for the steeplechase.

Only one thing stands in his way… parents.

Dad: “It’s too expensive and I’ll be darned if my son wears tight pants!”

Patrick: “What about baseball pants?”

Dad: Blank face. “It’s too expensive!”

Mom: “Isn’t steeplechase dangerous?”

Patrick: “Not any more dangerous than getting hit in the head with a baseball.”

I don’t know, Patrick. Since when did baseballs weigh 1,200 pounds? Anyway… his parents give him a two-month probationary period to try out the “horse thing.” Patrick runs straight to
Houston’s house to tell him the good news only to be met with a surprise. Houston has bought a $5,000 horse for Patrick! What!?! Where do I find a trainer like this? One that buys me a horse and guarantees I’ll go from green as grass to steeplechase champion in two months!

So begins the musical montage of Mister Miagi-like training… but wait… it’s not all glory and ribbons. Patrick realizes that he has to muck stalls as well.

I can’t wait for him to realize what sheath cleaning means.

Later on, Randy gives Patrick and Blondie a jumping demonstration, which so far is the only horse riding we’ve seen in this horse riding movie. Blondie then asks Patrick if he thinks he can beat Randy.

Patrick: “I don’t know.”

Blondie: “Well, he’s trained.”

Patrick shrugs. Training is so overrated, right?

Because who needs training when you have a mystical bond, explains Houston. “That boy and that horse, that’s a union that happens once in a lifetime.” Didn’t he just meet the horse and
muck out his stall once? Let’s continue with the training, which is coming along very slowly.

While Randy is jumping 3 ft. square oxers, Patrick is lunging at the trot.

“Wouldn’t I learn better if I was on him?” asks Patrick.

Believe it or not Patrick, there’s a whole franchise of horsemanship… I can’t name names but it starts with “P” and rhymes with Fratelli… that hopes you never really ask that question.

Apparently Houston prefers this non-riding form of horsemanship to train for steeplechase.

But don’t worry… because the person jumping those square oxers wasn’t actually Randy. It was his stunt double. This is Randy… with his hands in driving position attempting to post a trot.

Does poor horsemanship in horse movies drive anyone else completely BONKERS!?!

One long hour in to the film… and to the sound effect of a bugle call… Patrick mounts his trusty steed for the first time! And then is summarily unhorsed, and unhorsed, and unhorsed again.

But through perseverance and a tough backside, Patrick manages to trot in a circle and go over a crossrail a full 3 inches off the ground.

I have to hand it to Zac Efron though, his two point ain’t half bad!

And then tragedy strikes. One, the filmmakers start using a fish-eye lens and stop using a Steadicam which makes the movie look like a whacked out home video. Two, Houston has
a heart attack but refuses medical treatment. So with little ado, we head to the track where Patrick is unhorsed again. But he gets back on and blazes around the track qualifying himself for the Derby with his trainer and family watching from the sidelines.

After his run his Dad says, “I think baseball’s overrated.” Point Three for Patrick.

And then Houston dies and Patrick cries. I’m sure it would have been a very emotional scene, but unfortunately I could see the actor breathing. Patrick has a serious bout of “I
don’t think I can go ons.” Blondie, reeling from the death of a man she barely knew, creepily begins going through Houston’s belongings. Turns out sweet old Houston was not only
a stalker but an avid scrapbooker as well. He had a full album chronicling Patrick’s entire life.

Nice.

Blondie also found a gift for Patrick amongst the shrine; racing silks, a handwritten love letter from Houston, and a carved horse. After reading the letter, Patrick decides that he must
continue on with his plans to compete in the Derby… which is in one hour. Plenty of time.

The truck won’t start…

The cellphone battery is dead…

Blondie needs a ham sandwich…

What will they do?!?

Someone pulled the plugs off the distributor cap… and on purpose! That dastardly Randy Adams! Fortunately Dad saves the day and they make it to the Derby with 30 seconds to spare.

…and Blondie plants one on him! Now Patrick’s ready.

Patrick and Randy exchange not-so-pleasantries at the start line and the Derby begins…

Of course I’m not going to tell you the ending, but I will say it was just as predictable as the rest of the movie. All in all, I have to appreciate any plot line where the underdog rallies against the spoiled brat. For that, and Zac Efron’s two-point position, I give it 2 Golden Horseshoes

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