“The First Saturday in May”

Even seasoned punters are sometimes unaware of what happens behind the scenes of horse racing. They merely look at the names on the racing card, follow their favorite horse’s performance from race to race and hope that their predictions will deliver a winner. And one of the most popular and legendary races is the Kentucky Derby. But there is a lot of care, training, celebration and disappointment that spectators don’t know about. They have little understanding of the chances taken or the people who have taken risks, as well as the long, sometimes frustrating road, to make it to the top.

Brothers, John and Brad Hennegan, grew up around the racing industry. With their father being a placing judge for the New York Racing Association, they felt at home at tracks such as the Aqueduct, Saratoga and Belmont. Often they would help out, taking on the role of security guards, or cleaning seats. Their love of horse racing was instilled during these years, and they often came into contact with the daily trials and victories that are suffered and celebrated off the race track. And with the sport of racing always being in constant danger, due to critics, the brothers decided to make an independent film documentary, to highlight not only the horses that everyone comes to love and adore, but to tell the human side of the story of the racing industry.

Of the thousands of horses that are bred each year, only half make it to the major stakes races and even less than that make it to events such as the Kentucky Derby. To bring their film, “The First Saturday in May”, to life, John and Brad Hennegan followed six horses and the people who work with them on their journey to the big league. More than five hundred hours of footage were shot during 2005 and 2006. One of the magnificent horses that the brothers chose to include into their documentary was the marvelous Barbaro. He was a horse that crept into the hearts of every spectator, especially after his breathtaking win at the Kentucky Derby. Punters and racing enthusiasts cried as he stumbled and got injured at the Preakness, held their breaths as he endured countless surgeries, and were devastated when the time came to euthanize him in 2007. And this close bond that spectators share with their hero horses, is even more intense for the people that train them, care for them and dream for them.

The film, which has won numerous awards so far at film festivals such as the Savannah, Tribeca and Austin festivals, has been well received. Audiences gain renewed interest for the sport and many that have never been to a live racing event have commented that after viewing the documentary they look forward to attending their first race. It is a film that follows the lives and days of the horses and the people surrounding them, bringing colorful characters to the big screen, and giving the public an opportunity to see a side of racing that many are unaware of.

Back to Blog