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‘Secretariat’ night in Hood River

Big Red, who played Triple Crown winner in Disney movie, charms in his appearance at Jackson Park

The star of Saturday night’s movie show just wanted carrots.

Big Red, the 7-year-old thoroughbred who played Secretariat in the 2010 Disney biopic, entertained at Jackson Park before the Community Education Movies in the Park showing.

Kerri Kent, owner of the Hood River-based apparel maker Kerrits, brought the friendly horse to the park to give people a look at the actual star of the movie they were about to see.

“Big Red walked the red carpet with Diane Lane,” Kent said. The horse, with three white socks and white blaze, was picked for the part because he was a lookalike of the 1973 Triple Crown champion.

Big Red is now retired from movie-making and is doing community service, in keeping with Disney policy. Yet he looked sleek and strong, as if ready for his close-up again.

When not working cows, Big Red is taking kids for rides and appearing at events, such as his trip to Kentucky next month for a Secretariat celebration.

“I think for a lot of kids to touch a horse and get up close; it’s not as easy as it used to be. And he loves the kids so it’s good for them to get up and touch him,” Kent said.

Kent owns property near Whitefish, Mont., and knows Big Red’s trainer, Rusty Hendricks, who lives in nearby Kalispell.

“He asked me if I wanted a great ranch horse, and I had also owned Sea Biscuit. They’re fun because they’re very well trained, and can handle crowds and people,” Kent said. As she spoke, Big Red’s attention was focused on some youngsters hitting a baseball a few feet away at Collins Field.

“He’s a racehorse — bred to run — and he’s fast; he’s an athlete,” Kent said.

“But he has the ability to calm down and work well,” she said. “He’s a lot easier to ride than work on the ground; once someone gets on board he’s rock solid, and he performs well. Because he had never raced (before the movie) they had to train him to break out of the gates.”

Big Red arrived at Jackson Park at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, well ahead of show time, as a way of giving people the chance to meet the star.

“A lot of kids came out to meet him, and he had lots of carrots — I’m sure he has a stomach ache,” Kent said. Big Red had indeed started to look uninterested, but as if he heard her, he immediately accepted a carrot from a visitor, and within a few minutes a new group arrived to meet him and he accepted several more chunks of carrot.

Kent and assistant Mary Cobey showed youngsters how to proffer a morsel on flattened hand. For those who did so in standard fingers-first style, Big Red seemed to know to gently accept the snack without biting.

Big Red’s visit grew out of a casual conversation last winter on the ski slopes between Kent and Community Ed Director John Rust, a fellow ski racing instructor.

“We decided to join forces, that this would be a fun way for people to connect,” Kent said. “We agreed it was just a great opportunity for everyone concerned; a real no-brainer,” Rust said, “to bring the horse down where people can meet him and then show the movie he starred in.”

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Kent said her “business has never been better” for her equestrian apparel business. “We sell to stores all over the U.S. and we just had a big expansion to Australia.” Kent, just returned from watching equestrian competition at the London Olympics.

“There were lots of riders we’re sponsoring, and it was fun to see them in action,” she said, noting that Kerrits wear is everyday apparel, and not what the riders have on in the arena.

“It was fantastic at the Olympics; just the energy was amazing,” she said. Wilsonville’s Rich Fellers, one of the top U.S. Olympians, is a good friend, and Kent got to see him compete and qualify for an individual medal. Then it was back to Hood River for Big Red’s star turn.

“From London to Jackson Park, it’s all good; really happy to be here,” Kent said.

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