Although the subtitle tells us this was ‘inspired by a true story’ (a plucky mid-’90s filly called Mariah’s Storm), the basic ingredients make up a well-tried recipe: horses, a child star, parental disapproval, sudden injury and a climactic big race. It’s not exactly a challenge to imagine how those particular dots might be joined together but, to give writer and first-time director John Gatins some credit, he does at least try to root these excitements in the daily lives of Kentucky breeding folk. His stud farm nearing bankruptcy, Kurt Russell is reduced to working as a consultant for rich horse-owners, bringing him into conflict with the likes of David Morse, whose arrogance far outweighs care for the animals. When a promising steed named Sonyador – ‘dreamer’ in Spanish – goes down with a fracture in mid-race, Russell accepts the stricken horse as severance payment from this ruthless master, so beginning a healing process which might also repair this over-worked father’s relationship with daughter Dakota Fanning.The question, of course, is whether Sonyador will ever run again to win the prize money that’ll save the day but, in a movie targeted at younger viewers, the over-actressy Miss Fanning’s given a pivotal role in restoring the mount’s broken spirits. In a part which seems to have been written for a slightly older performer, however, she’s also involved in key financial decisions and takes a keen interest in betting, taking us far away from the innocent Hollywood horse operas of yore and blighting an otherwise unremarkable though decent-hearted time-passer for families of the horsey persuasion.
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