A Late Night Staple: Craig Ferguson's Secretariat

Pop Culture

The Secretariat character has been a staple on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" since 2010, but he will gallop off into the sunset when Ferguson leaves the show next month. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved)

“Ding-dong!”

“Who’s THAT at the door?” TV host Craig Ferguson jumps up as techno pop music begins and starts dancing while a large chestnut “horse” skips onto the stage. The audience roars and cheers as they leap to their feet and also dance while “Secretariat” takes a romp around the stage before entering his stall on the right side of the set.

All in good fun! This is exactly what I wanted to see after a weekend spent at Santa Anita for the 2014 Breeders’ Cup. Every year, my friends take me to the taping of a television show. Since Ferguson is leaving his show “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”, I wanted to see him in person. But more importantly, I have always harbored a secret desire to see his horse “Secretariat.” After all, Secretariat is the most important horse on television right now! 

Secretariat is a pantomimed horse played by (front to back) Joseph Bolter and Ryan McGowan who wear a two piece costume and brown suede boots.  Think about this! Can you imagine telling your friends and family that you are on late night television every night but you are in costume playing a horse? No glory, but what a ride!

Ferguson’s horse made his debut on Oct. 11, 2010 in a skit about Disney’s movie “Secretariat.” The costume in the film bit wasn’t as robust as it is on stage. In his debut, Secretariat had large white cartoon eyes, a wisp of a mane and (gasp!) appeared to be a bay. Later in the same show, he appeared on stage as a chestnut with a larger mane and tail, large pink lips stretched around his pearly white teeth in a lascivious smile while his ears flop downwards. His most predominant feature is his heavily lashed eyes blazing with loud peacock blue eye shadow. (I think his make-up would make Ursula the sea witch from Disney’s film “The Little Mermaid” jealous.)

Of course the fake horse had to visit a real racetrack. On the Dec 10, 2010 show, Ferguson announced that he had been receiving tweets and e-mails stating “Lose the horse! We have had enough of the horse.” He replied “I say unto you: “Who’s that at the door?” Dancing erupted as he yelled “I love that Secretariat!” He then played a zany clip in which his Secretariat went to the track and “raced” against Trolley Boy (an actual horse from the film “Secretariat”) and Sharkey (one of the jousting horses from Medieval Times). Typical eccentric late night shenanigans ensued at the Hollywood Park with Bridger Winegar (the Late Late Show intern) telling us about the “Too Hot to Trot” match race which was eventually won by Trolley Boy.   

I have loved watching Secretariat and admit staying up many a late night just to hear Ferguson yell “Who’s that at the door?” The horse has been featured crashing into various features on the set (the wall, the door, guests and fake Ming vases.) Several guests have ridden him on stage which seems almost physically impossible for the actors inside. He has traveled to New York City to deliver Fergusons annual Christmas present to Jimmy Fallon while making a round of appearances on New York shows. (Including visiting the ladies on The View who were struck silent for once!) He also traveled with Ferguson to Scotland, France and New Orleans.

FERGUSON AND SECRETARIAT ON STAGE

Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

On the night I was at the taping, Secretariat started the show from his stall. He was wearing a white mustache for “Movember” and a baseball cap. (Other nights have seen him bedecked with a black saddle cloth; a striped knit scarf or a large red bandana around his neck.) He has various horse paraphernalia hanging outside his stall. I spied a cinch, a leather martingale, two stirrups and a lead line.  There are also two framed photographs of Secretariat; one in front of the Eiffel tower and a one of him on the racetrack. Above him hangs a horseshoe on green felt in a rustic wooden frame. The horseshoe is hung “correctly” to keep the luck from falling out. The background of his stall was a lovely autumn scene of orange colored leaves and it changes with the seasons.  

He often has a camera focused on his stall to capture his reactions. He poses and doesn’t miss a beat in response to Ferguson’s musings or conversations. He comes out during breaks to interact with Ferguson who will either lob Frisbees’ or kick a soccer ball at him. The best is at the end of the breaks when Secretariat and Ferguson dance. It’s pretty cool to see them dance together when they sync their steps. Here is a collection of Ferguson/Secretariat dance moves.

A couple on their honeymoon had tweeted Ferguson asking if Secretariat would dance for them. Of course! The music started and the crowd leapt to its feet as Secretariat took a spin around the set. So what is the Secretariat dance? First you close your hands into fists and raise your arms shoulder high. Then you wave your extended arms back and forth sideways like windshield wipers. While the music plays, silliness ensues on stage, its grand fun. It’s absolutely brilliant when you realize that most of Ferguson’s work adlibbed with a robot sidekick named Geoff (dressed in a suit and a nametag from the Price is Right.)

At the end of the show, you must look quickly. As Ferguson thanks the voice of Geoff (comedian Josh Robert Thompson makes a quick appearance), actors Bolton and McGowan momentarily doff their costume in the stall for their thank you. Ferguson plans to move on and leave his show and has said repeatedly (tongue in cheek) that he plans to “walk the earth with Geoff and Secretariat and solve crime.” 

I know that for most, the name of Secretariat raises the image of our beloved Triple Crown winner charging down the Belmont stretch into our hearts. He holds a place as racing royalty and one of our most honored. Yet, I am grateful that we have a goofy horse on late night television. It doesn’t matter that he isn’t real.  What matters is that a chestnut horse with peacock blue eyes prances out nightly while a loving crowd screams “Secretariat” and keeps the love alive. 

If you just can't get enough of Ferguson and Secretariat, check out the official Late Late Show website or YouTube channel, or follow along on Twitter at @LateLateShowCBS, @craigyferg, @josephbolter and @RyanPM42.

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