I’ve seen Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Hidalgo, and plenty of other films that deal with horseracing and even been out to Churchill Downs a handful of times and watched the races myself but an actual understanding of horse racing has always eluded me. Large, hooved creatures dashing by so quickly you can hardly see them pass through your line of vision is, of course, an electrifying way to spend a day and there was never any doubt in my mind that there was an enormous amount of work put into preparing the horses for the Sport of Kings but as I watched Chasing the Win, I came to appreciate the scale of determination and commitment that bringing a single horse to win a single race entails.
Laura Sheehy’s sports documentary follows the racing career of Kinsale King, an American thoroughbred and winner of the 2010 Dubai Golden Shaheen among other races, and the team behind the victories. Kinsale King’s dramatic rise to win three consecutive races, culminating with Dubai, followed Patrick Sheehy, longtime owner of Kinsale King and other horses, hiring Carl O’Callaghan, a rookie trainer, to take control of training the horse that would bring him the biggest win of his career. Horseracing, like any sport, is a business first and its status as a form of entertainment and as a hobby come second and, like any sport, winning is a key aspect in turning a profit, especially in the case of a gelding (for our readers who are unfamiliar with the terminology, a gelding is a castrated horse) such as Kinsale King who could not retire to a life as a sire. As fate would have it, when Kinsale King faces tougher competition after the Golden Shaheen, he places the Sheehy family and O’Callaghan in a state of uncertainty.
The documentary brilliantly cuts together footage of races and interviews with simulated recreations of news articles to fill in gaps and quickly explain the story’s trajectory. The interviews themselves are masterfully conducted and deftly explain all the concepts regarding horseracing that we see in action during the races and training without ever becoming too technical or bogged down in jargon for an outsider to the world of racing to comprehend the happenings. Effort is taken to devote time to all those involved in training the horses even where it is not necessary to propel the narrative and a brief segment dedicated to describing the reasons many of those working to train the horses have for being there is among the most poignant moments in the documentary. All of the people on display are hard at work trying to make horses turn a profit but their love for the horses is evidently their reason for being in the line of work they are in. Though the film is about horseracing, it finds the humanity in the sport and provides a moving portrait of the great lengths it takes to bring one horse to the top and to try and keep it there.