The richest horse race in the world is held each year in Ruidoso, New Mexico. The big event is the All-American Futurity where the ten fastest quarter horses from qualifying heats spring 440 yards for a prize of over $300,000. The rich and the poor, the idle and the always working gather together with one thing in common the dream of victory. What do individuals go through to get into this event at Ruidoso and what part of themselves are they willing to give away in order to win? These questions form the armature of Casey's Shadow.
Lloyd Bourdelle (Walter Matthau) lives on a rundown farm in the Louisiana bayou country where he trains, boards, and raises quarter horses. His three sons help him out Buddy (Andrew A. Rubin) who has a good business sense; Randy (Steve Burns) who is a fine teenage jockey; and seven-year-old Casey (Michael Hershewe) who takes on the chores no one else wants to do. Their dismal existence is given quite a boost when the old mare Buddy picked up in a shrewd deal gives birth to a colt. They call the horse Casey's Shadow since he and the boy become inseparable.
It soon is evident that the old mare has good bloodlines Casey's Shadow looks like a champion. Lloyd works out an agreement with his partner (Harry Caesar) giving the Bourdelles 10% ownership of the horse and the option to run him at Rudioso. Mrs. Sarah Blue (Alexis Smith), a wealthy quarter horse owner, offers the impoverished Bourdelles some big money for Casey's Shadow but they turn her down. Another millionaire, Tom Patterson (Murray Hamilton), can't convince them to sell either. His trainer is determined to stop Casey's Shadow from running in the All-American Futurity.
Carol Sobieski, author of excellent TV scripts including "Sunshine" and "Amelia Earhart," wrote the screenplay for Casey's Shadow. She has done a good job developing these characters and their motivations. Director Marin Ritt (The Front) keeps the story line focused on the Bourdelle family while also making the most out of the tension and excitement of the Ruidoso horse races. Casey's Shadow is a prime example of how the combination of a sensitive screenplay and tasteful direction can set a film apart from other light entertainments of its type.
As the big moment of the All-American Futurity approaches, Lloyd becomes obsessed with winning. He sees the race as a battle between the "rich and the fancy" and a poor ole' cowboy like himself. Although Casey's Shadow is hurting from an injury, Lloyd is willing to do anything to get his name in the record book "with Mrs. Sarah Blue and God." Walter Matthau bites into this juicy role like a cowpoke chomping on some tobacco. And it comes out just right. Something's gained and something's lost in the outcome of the big race. The lessons learned can serve us all well.