From the legendary Seabiscuit, to this year's upset winner of the Kentucky Derby, Giacomo, people the world over love the underdog - or rather, horse, in this case. The come-from-behind winners, and horses that have battled the odds to achieve the seemingly impossible have always been the ones that capture our imagination ... and our hearts.
John Gatins, the writer/director of "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story," knew that, having spent most of his life steeped in the world of horses and horseracing. "When I was growing up, we lived near the Roosevelt Horse Farms in upstate New York," he recalls. "I used to see the horses on the way to school. Then my brother George went to work on a horse farm just down the street from us, and I would spend hours watching him work with the horses. I was only ten when I went to the racetrack for the first time. I always tell people it was a very long research process with this movie, because I have been a big horseracing fan for many years."
Gatins continues, "The way the New York papers described the horses—they gave them personalities; the horses came alive as actual characters. I thought it would be great to make a movie about those characters. I started going to the racetrack and following them like athletes, watching their careers as they started going for the big races, the classics. These horses are bred to race, they are bred to be super athletes, but some horses just have more heart and drive."
Gatins knew having that kind of heart and drive sometimes means more than just winning races. He wanted to write a screenplay about a horse who overcame the odds, so he started researching stories of horses who came back from what should have been career-ending—if not life-ending—injuries. It was then that he came across the story of one remarkable mare named Mariah's Storm.
A promising filly, Mariah's Storm was quickly building points towards a bid in the 1993 Breeder's Cup—in which she would have been one of the favorites—when she suddenly fractured a left front cannon bone in the Alcibiades Stakes. An injury that severe could have ended her career, but her owners and trainers did not lose faith. The fracture eventually healed, but the question of whether or not she would ever race again remained.
The question was soon answered. In September 1993, before her injury, Mariah's Storm had won the Arlington Washington Lassie, a Grade II stakes race for two-year-old fillies. After her recovery, in August 1994, she came back to win the Arlington Heights Oaks, a Grade III stakes race for three-year-old fillies. In September of the following year, she again confounded prognosticators by winning the Arlington Matron Handicap, a Grade III stakes race for three-year-old and older females, making her the only horse ever to win all three stakes races for her age class at Arlington. Her achievement was so unprecedented that there is now a race at Arlington Park named for her: the Mariah's Storm Stakes. In 1995, Mariah's Storm also won the 1995 Turfway Breeder's Cup, upsetting the favorite, Serena's Song.
Perhaps the most telling sign of Mariah's Storm's original promise has come in her progeny. She is the dam to several racing champions, the most notable of which is Giant's Causeway, the 2000 Horse of the Year and the sire of Noble Causeway, who most recently raced in the 2005 Kentucky Derby.
Other than her injury and recovery, the life and career of Mariah's Storm bears little resemblance to that of the horse at the center of John Gatins' fictional screenplay. However, Gatins was so impressed by her courage and determination—and her legacy—that Mariah's Storm became the main inspiration for his script about an injured horse named Sonador and the father and daughter (played by Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning) whose unwavering faith gave her another chance to race for glory in "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story."