MY TIME in the makeup and costume trailers over, I was told to head toward the "Secretariat" movie set, the tunnel underneath the grandstand at historic Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.

It was a year ago, a perfect fall morning. They were setting up a shot of a news conference before the 1973 Belmont Stakes. The connections of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Secretariat were to be there, along with the people behind Derby and Preakness runner-up Sham.

Actually, the real people weren't there. Actors were in their places. And, when I got there with two other writers, the actors had stand-ins.

So, I thought, this is the movies.

As I was finding my seat among the crowd of "media" at the news conference - including author Bill Nack, the wonderful man who wrote the book "Secretariat: The Making of a Champion," who is played by Kevin Connolly (E on "Entourage") in the movie - I was told I would have a speaking part.

It had been just a few days since I was asked if I wanted to participate in a movie about Secretariat, only the greatest racehorse of my lifetime and the very horse that got me interested in the game. Of course I did.

Movie-supplied notebook in hand and clothed in a '70s look, I sat a few rows back from the dais. Diane Lane, playing Secretariat's owner Penny Chenery, eventually arrived and took her seat in front, the stand-in disappearing out the back of the tunnel. The other actors took their places.

Lane, I noted, was dressed to look like a '70s housewife. Which made sense as she was playing a housewife-turned-horse-racing heroine. If anybody has seen Lane in "Unfaithful," you know she is somewhere between hot and scorching. This, however, was a different kind of movie.

The lighting was tested and retested. The actors and faux actors were placed in the proper position. It was time.

"This," I was told, "is when you speak."

I had a question.

"What is it you would like me to say?"

It was one very small detail. This alleged actor did not have a script. I was handed my line and memorized the 13 words.

Director Randall Wallace explained that a few seconds after the scene started, I was to talk over the din of raised voices straining to get heard and ask a question of Frank "Pancho" Martin, Sham's trainer, played by Nestor Serrano.

"Action." Noise. Pause.

"Mr. Martin, Secretariat's beaten your horse twice now," I asked, somewhat cynically. "What makes this race different?"

I asked the question about 30 times, every time flawlessly. Mr. Martin, who had a somewhat more complex and quite a bit longer answer, flubbed his lines more than a few times and laughed his way through it. Eventually, we got the scene exactly right a few times.

You can see the scene in the final moments of "Secretariat," which opens today. "Real" writers were used in two scenes.

There is one news-conference scene before the Derby where Hank Goldberg (ESPN), Jay Privman (Daily Racing Form) and Tim Layden (Sports Illustrated) are at Churchill Downs. My scene included Reid Cherner (USA Today) and John McClain (Houston Chronicle).

After the scene was done, I was introduced to Lane. She asked what I did for a living.

When I told her, she said: "No wonder you seemed so natural. But you've acted before, right?"

Actually, no acting, I told her. But I am available for the "Unfaithful" sequel.

Growing up in Baltimore, I knew a bit about horse racing. But not much. Secretariat drew me to the Preakness for the first time. It was the year the infield blew up. I ran from the infield to the rail in the homestretch when Secretariat roared by on his way to the finish line. They erected a giant fence soon after.

Secretariat did not just win the first Triple Crown in 25 years. His Derby, where each fraction was faster than the previous fraction, is still the best ever. His Preakness, with that unforgettable move on the first turn, is still the best ever. And his Belmont Stakes, where he made Sham and the other horses disappear, is the best race ever run by any horse anywhere, any time.

Thirty-seven years after those five weeks, Secretariat has stood the test of time. Not quite as sure if my movie career will have quite as lasting an impact.