The Inspiration behind "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story"

Mariah's Storm Inspired the Dreamer Movie

Dakota Fanning stars in Dreamer
Dakota Fanning stars in "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story". DreamWorks

 

From the legendary Seabiscuit to I'll Have Another, the semi-long shot who won the Kentucky Derby in 2012, people the world over love rooting for the underdog. Come-from-behind winners and horses that have battled the odds to achieve the seemingly impossible have always captured our imagination and our hearts.

Meet John Gatins Writer/Director of "Dreamer" 

John Gatins, writer/director of "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story," knew about long shots. He spent most of his life steeped in the world of horses and horse racing. "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 10 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've been a big horse racing 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."

Mariah's Storm 

Gatins knew that heart and drive sometimes mean more than just winning races, and he wanted to write a screenplay about a horse who overcame the odds. He started researching the stories of horses who came back from what should have been career-ending — if not life-ending — injuries. He came across the story of one remarkable mare named Mariah's Storm.

A promising filly, Mariah's Storm quickly began building points toward a bid in the 1993 Breeder's Cup, and she would have been one of the favorites.

Then she fractured a left front cannon bone in the Alcibiades Stakes, an injury so severe it could have ended her career. But her owners and trainers didn't lose faith. The fracture eventually healed, but the question of whether or not she would ever race again remained.

A Championship Run 

That question was soon answered.

Before her injury, Mariah's Storm had won the Arlington Washington Lassie in September 1993, a Grade 2 stakes race for 2-year-old fillies. She came back to win the Arlington Heights Oaks in August 1994, a Grade 3 stakes race for 3-year-old fillies. She again confounded prognosticators by winning the Arlington Matron Handicap in September of the following year, a Grade 3 stakes race for 3-year-old and older females. The win made her the only horse ever to win all three stakes races for her age class at Arlington. Her achievement was so unprecedented that there's now a race named for her at Arlington Park: the Mariah's Storm Stakes. Mariah's Storm also won the 1995 Turfway Breeder's Cup, upsetting the favorite, Serena's Song, in 1995.

The Legend Lives On 

Perhaps the most telling sign of Mariah's Storm's original promise can be seen in her progeny. She's the dam to several racing champions, the most notable of which is Giant's Causeway, 2000 Horse of the Year and sire of Noble Causeway who raced in the 2005 Kentucky Derby. Noble Causeway, in turn, sired Samraat, winner of multiple graded stakes races. He won the Withers Stakes and the Gotham Stakes in 2014, before finishing second in the Wood Memorial and fifth in the Kentucky Derby.

 

Dreamer — The Movie 

The actual life and career of Mariah's Storm bear little resemblance to that of the horse at the center of John Gatins' fictional screenplay, other than her injury and recovery. But 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 in "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story."