The industry that is horse racing certainly isn’t the beast it once was. What used to be an event for the elite and commoner alike, has now become more of a status symbol than anything else. While horse racing doesn’t permeate popular culture as much today as it once did, that doesn’t make the business of worldwide horse racing any less lucrative. In 2008, it was estimated that the horse racing industry took in over $115 billion. Whether it be for cash or glory, gambling or sport, the horse racing industry still commands a massive stake in the economics of sporting events, and, with that, many players looking to get their hooves in the door.
Enter Kinsale King, the focus of Chris Ghelfi and Laura Sheehy’s documentary. Chasing the Win is a light, generally inconsequential doc that chronicles the highs and lows of Kinsale’s career over the course of a single year in 2010, following his surprise win of the Dubai Golden Shaheen having gained new rookie trainer, Irish-born Carl O’Callaghan shortly beforehand.
Chasing the Win starts rough, if only because starting the film with Kinsale King’s biggest win of his career makes the journey you take with him feel a bit less involving than had the film built the narrative around the journey to his glory. Okay, yes, documentaries don’t always have the luxury to build a narrative solely around how we want to see things, but more so in how things actually happen. It’s a bit of shame given that the film does become quite engaging during its middle-half because it begins to build itself in the vein of other sports stories like it, but in its final moments, the story just doesn’t feel grand or moving enough to feel like its existence is justified to a casual viewer.
While Chasing the Win doesn’t feel like it has much of a reason to exist other than being purely self-serving, those familiar with the world of horse racing might find more enjoyment from it. The technical approach in portraying the stress of horse racing on the trainers, jockeys, and horses themselves doesn’t lend itself to easy accessibility to those unfamiliar with the sport, which leaves the final product feeling a bit cold, as if there’s an expectation of having knowledge coming into the film. That might work in documentaries about widespread sports such as soccer or baseball, but to a casual viewer unfamiliar with the ins and outs of horse racing, it feels a bit distant.
It’s Chasing the Win’s moments of compassion and levity that lend themselves to genuinely pleasant entertainment. O’Callaghan’s love for Kinsale King beyond just a source of income or an athlete, but as a member of his own family, is truly touching and provides some of the best material throughout the film. The lengths the team goes to ensuring Kinsale King’s utmost comfort and enjoyment of life is an incredibly pleasant change to much of the discourse around the treatment of racehorses (among other racing animals). This becomes the reason why Chasing the Win should’ve been filmed. It’s a shame the film doesn’t focus on it to a larger degree.
During its final moments, Chasing the Win leaves you feeling how it did at the begining. It’s nowhere near a bad film, but it doesn’t feel like the grand, sweeping story of successes and downfalls that its marketing materials might’ve made it out to be. It resembles more of a “day-in-the-life” documentary than it does a chronicle of the “meteoric rise of a rookie trainer, a down on his luck owner, and their imperfect racehorse.” Playing the winning hand so early into the film leaves the rest of the story without any other place to go for the next hour of its short runtime. That lack of thematic and editorial finesse is what separates a “watchable” from a “great” documentary. Chasing the Win is watchable.
Available via digital services now.
Final score: 2.5 out of 5.