Zac Efron stars as 15-year-old Patrick, a promising ballplayer but who can't get his head in the game. Whoops, that's High School Musical, the phenomenally popular movie that catapulted Efron to teen idol status. The Derby Stallion was filmed prior to HSM, but fans will find similarities in Patrick's coming-of-age journey. Much to the disappointment of his father, a former professional baseball player whose career was cut short by injury, Patrick is determined to be a steeplechaser and ride in the Derby. His Mr. Miyagi is Houston Jones (Bill Cobbs), an elderly, disreputable black man haunted by his past. Patrick's nemesis is a conceited, rich bully who is "the No. 1 steeplechaser in the state." But he is encouraged to follow his dream by Jill, the new pretty girl in town, with whom he develops a chaste romance. There is little in The Derby Stallion viewers will not see coming from furlongs away, but this is part of its modest charms. A winner on the film festival circuit, this is the kind of heartfelt family film Hollywood has ceded to television and home video. There is scant profanity or coarse language. Positive messages about the rewards of hard work and perseverance make this a winner, as does the likeable Efron.
by Craig Butler review