The volatile ups and downs of horse racing are genially, if rather dully, distilled in John Corey’s tyro docu. Account of the bittersweet, short-lived career of San Francisco thoroughbred Lost in the Fog illuminates the thinking, risk-taking nerve and pure faith that goes into owning and managing a race horse. Pic is a bit too plain and homespun for commercial release; its best bets are the fest circuit and select tube outlets worldwide.
A rather odd intro (with Peter Herrmann’s graphic design), about the Greek god Poseidon’s plan to seduce his beloved Demeter with the creation of the horse, would seem to indicate a poetic and literary film to come. But Corey’s telling is more mundane, something at the level of a quality PBS or ESPN special.
Crusty real-estate agent Harry Aleo, a stalwart Reagan conservative based in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood (he dubs it “Looney Valley”), had owned several horses before Lost in the Fog, none of them champs. Through one of those strokes of good luck that can never be explained or underrated, Aleo bought Lost in 2004 for $10,000. After a few wins under trainer Gary Gilchrist, it was clear Aleo had something special, and he began to prep the horse for the Kentucky Derby.
Pic takes a few needless detours, such as filling in Gilchrist’s bio, but it pays close attention to such matters as how a racehorse can exceed expectations (few if any Bay Area horses have ever tallied wins as this one did), and whether a horse is abused for short-term gain or cared for with respect. Aleo and Gilchrist fall into the latter school, and their choice to finally keep Lost out of the Derby is praised by vet Washington Post horserace writer Andy Beyer.
Corey may have done well to consider the case of Barbaro in the context of Lost; Barbaro, eventually put down after his Derby win, has proven a cautionary tale in the sport. In any case, Aleo and Gilchrist come off as decent, humane men, more concerned with their prized horse’s long-term health than with Triple Crown glory.
After barely losing the Breeder’s Cup (breaking a 10-race winning streak), Lost in the Fog became a hot item for deep-pocketed buyers as distant as the Mideast. Suddenly, though, Aleo, Gilchrist and rider Russell Baze realized the horse “is a mess,” as Aleo bluntly says it. The film’s final images are vivid and sad, yet also hopeful.
Corey’s training in TV journalism serves him well as far as his knack for capturing action, but not so well in making a feature doc. Countryfied music by Marc Capelle and Monte Vallier is a bore.