The Cup is the based-on-a-true-story narrative of an Australian jockey who is on his way to stardom–until tragedy strikes. Horse Nation movie critic Amanda Ronan reviews.
The Cup (2011) opens with the very dapper Oliver brothers, Damien and Jason.
Damien has just won the 2002 Jockey of the Year award in Australia. During his acceptance speech, he says that he is riding for the “enemy” in the upcoming Melbourne Cup. The enemy apparently is the Irish. In Ireland, at the stable of Dermot Weld, we are introduced to a chestnut named Media Puzzle.
Puzzle is an underdog contender for the Cup, seeing as how his owner thought he was being sent to the “knacker” after sitting out a whole year with a broken pelvis. He also has a hot temper and tends to scare off the exercise girls. Weld believes in the horse, though, and if nothing else he is taking him as a stable mate for Cup frontrunner Vinny Row.
Back in Australia, we witness the planes, trains, and automobiles lifestyle of the very successful Damien. He trains, he races, he watches rugby, he trains, he plays golf… Idyllic really.
In Ireland, Vinny Row and Media Puzzle get ready for their long transport to Australia. Traveling with them is assistant trainer, Dave Phillips…
Wait. Wait just one second. Is that Tom Burlinson? It is! It’s the Man from Snowy River!
Dave, Damien and Jason begin a full training regime on Puzzle. We are also introduced to the other Cup contenders, such as the British horse who refuses to go anywhere without his pony companion.
Damien and Puzzle cement their entry in the Cup with an unexpected win. But then just seven days before the race, Damien’s brother Jason takes a bad fall.
The horse comes down on him and he is knocked unconscious. As their mother walks through the hospital to be at Jason’s side, it is revealed through flashbacks that their father died in the exact same type of accident 27 years earlier.
After three failed procedures, the doctors tell the Oliver family that Jason can not be helped. Damien says goodbye to his brother. His last words are, “Remember you will ride with me always.”
After a tense argument with his sister-in-law, and a heartfelt confession to his girlfriend that he’s worried he has lost his confidence, Damien reluctantly decides to get back in the saddle… but not on the wild, redhead Puzzle. Damien says the ride “feels surprisingly good” but he still is overcome with doubts. Late one night, restless and unable to sleep, he goes to talk it over with Puzzle.
Even if Damien decides to ride in the Cup, Puzzle’s owner is starting to worry. He wants a new jockey, a winning jockey, who’s not grieving. Weld stands strong, but there is a lot going against Damien and Puzzle.
Will they make it to the Cup? You’ll just have to watch and see!
The Cup, based on a true story, is all about the ‘mental game,’ which any equestrian knows is a huge part of riding. The devastation of losing both a father and a brother to the sport you’ve dedicated your life to is almost inconceivable. But Damien summed it up nicely when he stated plainly, “This is what we do.”
Technically, the movie felt a bit slow and, for me at least, it didn’t have the emotional impact of Ruffian or Phar Lap and it wasn’t the total package of Secretariat and Seabiscuit. As a dedicated “horse girl,” I wanted to know more about Media Puzzle and the movie lacked that. But it was still a good movie and, other than Jason’s tragic accident, a clean movie that the whole family can watch.
And let’s not forget that it had Tom Burlinson in it…
I give The Cup 3 Golden Horseshoes.
Watch the trailer: