liddellI was talking about the film “Secretariat” with a friend recently, and I remember him saying “I’m not really into horse movies”. That made me laugh. It’s like saying “I’m not into books about turtles”. It just seems to be an odd thing to be averse to. Anyway, I guess if I was pressed on the topic, I’d say I kind of like horse movies, Sea Biscuit, Secretariat, War Horse, and Black Beauty all come to mind. The film Secretariat came up in our conversation because we were talking about favorite movie scenes. I had mentioned that one of my all-time favorite movie scenes is at the end of that film (below).

Secretariat has been back in the news these past few weeks with American Pharoah winning the Belmont Stakes this month to complete the first horse racing Triple Crown since Affirmed did it in 1978.  American Pharaoh’s margin of victory in the Belmont was 2nd only (for triple crown horses) to Secretariat’s margin 1973. The scene below depicts that ’73 Belmont race. Secretariat (known as a sprinter and thus susceptible to fading badly in the Belmont like the vast majority of Triple Crown hopeful sprinters who have won the Derby and Preakness before fading in the 3rd race) wins by 30 lengths with the (to this day) all-time record time.

In the final 80 seconds of this clip, I always see in Secretariat exactly what Olympic Track Legend Eric Liddell meant in Chariots of Fire when he told his sister why he was delaying his move to China to become a missionary:

I believe God made me for a purpose. For China. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.

During the last minute of this Belmont scene, when that Gospel refrain,”O happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away” comes in over the soundtrack, you can almost hear Eric Liddell in an eerily similar/parallel scene from Chariots of Fire repeating his words to his sister in a voice over: “God me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.”  The similarity between the two scenes, and the two stories, is uncanny.  Both runners are running in races that are NOT their specialty. The story of Liddell (a bit embellished in the film) has it that he had refused to run in the 1924 Olympic 100 meter final because the race was “on the Lord’s Day” (hence the note he gets from the American runner in the clip below). So a fellow British teammate gives up his spot in the 400 meter final on Monday to Liddell, even though Liddell had not trained for that race.

In these scenes, both runners are supposed to be exhausted mid-way through.  Logic says there’s no way they can keep the pace. However, when I watch these clips, the ability to “push through” the exhaustion seems to come easy. They both just look free. They’re just having fun. You don’t see the wheel’s turning in Eric Liddell’s head (or the jockey’s head for that matter). They’re not calculating when to start the kick. There’s no trained “technique” that they’re tapping into. It both cases, it looks like pure joy. It’s 2 runners enjoying a gift, a gift they didn’t deserve. It’s a gift that seems to be indiscriminately bestowed upon them for the heck of it. Perhaps most stunning to me is that both runners at a simple level, seem to know that.

Then American Pharoah came along and added another layer on top of all this. Ahmad Zayat, American Pharoah’s owner has been raving about his horse ever since the Triple Crown win.  He hasn’t been raving about his horse’s talent much though. He’s been raving about his horses “demeaner”.

PharoahWithBobEclipseThis guy, he’s like a pet,” Ahmed Zayat, American Pharoah’s owner, told CNBC in an interview. “He loves when you come up and pet him. He loves playing with you, he is fun. So for me, this is a sign of a guy who is so confident in his ability…I have other horses that are kind of full of themselves and they bite and they’re mean,” he said. “It’s ‘I’m the big dog.’ American Pharoah is different. He has a humbleness to him.

Bob Baffert, American Pharoah’s trainer confirms that the horse just doesn’t have the countenance of a thoroughbred. Baffert says that American Pharaoh is not ornery, aloof, overly aggressive or arrogant like the majority of champions he’s trained.  “He’s just a pleasant horse”. Much like Eric Liddell and Secretariat are fast because God just seems to have delighted in making them fast, American Pharoah is friendly perhaps just because friendly is rarely if ever a thoroughbred horse virtue.

All this reminds of Will McDavid’s excellent post on “Virtues” a few weeks back: He writes, “Thank God, my faith, hope and love comes not from myself, nor discipline, nor actions, nor habits, but from the One who elicits them.” The One who elicits all this just seems to do so for His good pleasure, and when we recognize that He seems to be enjoying it, it makes us enjoy it too.

Pure. Pleasure.