NOTE: This Spoiler was sent in by BGMitsuo who says..."There were kids in the audience who seemed to enjoy it but most the under 4 crowd fell asleep. Some adults did cry. It doesn't get too bogged down with sentimentality, but it is rather a clichéd story. Dakota Fanning and Kurt Russell really carry the film."
The story opens with Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) hearing from his wife Lily (Elisabeth Shue) to take his young daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) to work. Cale overhears and runs out in her pajamas with her regular clothes in hand and stops her father who has started to drive off. He tells her to get in. He is a horse trainer and he takes her to the racetrack. They watch a horse run by and Cale says she like him. Her father informs Cale it's a her. Later, she is introduced to his workers Manolin (Freddy Rodriguez), a rider, and Balon (Luiz Guzman), a handler. She is then introduced to Sonya when the horse gets a hold of Cale's licorice. Balon tells her Sonya has a sweet tooth.
Then Ben's boss, Palmer (David Morse) shows up. Ben informs him Sonya shouldn't run, there's heat emanating from her leg. Palmer arrogantly disagrees and reminds Ben who's the boss. Palmer was hired to find Prince Sadir a horse that could beat Sadir's brother's horse. After bullying Ben into running Sonya, he also tells him to have his Mexicans leave through the back. They all head for the stands. Cale tries to enter a private area and is refused entrance, told it is only for owners.
During the race, Sonya falls and breaks her leg. Ben holds off putting her down on the track and they move her to the stables. There, Palmer is furious with Ben for not putting her down. Ben says you don't just throw away a champion like that. Palmer fires Ben. Ben ask for his $9,000 owed to him. Palmer has $6,000 in cash and tells Ben to take it or leave it. Ben says he'll take the $6,000 and Sonya. Palmer agrees.
Ben, Manolin, and Balon get Sonya home. Ben tells someone to get his father who lives next door. When Pop Crane (Kris Kristofferson) shows up, there is obvious tension between him and Ben. Pop tells Ben to put the horse down.
The vet sets Sonya's leg and wishes Ben the best. Ben, Manolin, and Balon lift the horse on a huge sling so she is in the air and off her leg. Cale, who witnessed everything the day before, comes to visit Sonya the next evening. She sneaks out of her room, gets a popsicle, and goes to see Sonya. Through the wall of the barn she offers it to her and it is eaten quickly. She pulls out a second one and it is soon gone. She sticks them in the ground.
Pop Crane decides to check up on Ben and Sonya. He still believes he should have put her down. Ben then says she is from a good line and said she could breed another champion. Pop smiles and likes the fact that Ben has gotten back to his horse roots. Cale is also happy there is finally a horse in their stable. At one point, (not sure of the order) Cale visits Manolin as he is exercising another horse. She asks him why he doesn't ride as a jockey. He says he gets nightmares. He tells her how he fell from a horse and was trampled on by several other horses on the track. When he takes off his jersey, she sees the scars on his shoulders. He had two broken shoulders, broken ribs, a punctured lung. He quit riding in races after that.
Soon, the horse is allowed down and the vet claims the leg has healed enough for breeding.
When Ben solicits a friend for breeding rights, he finds it will cost him $15,000, which he doesn't have.
Cale is at Pop's place and he is telling her more of his own horse experiences. After hiding some horse periodicals in her sweats, Pop tells her to take a can of coffee to her father. She does and takes a piece of chocolate cake and tells her father she will eat it in the barn. When Ben opens the can, he goes to his father. It contains close to $20,000.
Pop tells him he can see Ben's dream of being more than a trainer has come back. He admirably admits it took a lot of guts to do what he did. Ben says he doesn't want this and he certainly doesn't want it for his daughter. He tells him to quit telling Cale horse stories. He goes to the stable and sees Cale feeding the piece of cake to the horse.
Ben decides to take Pop's money, but hears horrible news from the vet. Sonya is infertile and will not be able to breed. Lily and Ben talk. Ben is shattered and frustrated. He tells her the horse has bankrupted them. She tells Ben the horse is the best thing that ever happened to them; How it brought the family together especially Ben and Cale. Ben tells Lily he would've put Sonya down if Cale hadn't been there and he would still have a job. Cale overhears this and decides to runaway.
Cale sneaks out and climbs on top of Sonya. As Ben enters the stable, he catches a quick glimpse of Cale on the horse and a door bangs open. It spooks Sonya who takes off. Ben quickly gets in his truck and yells for Cale to hold on. He pulls way ahead of the horse and then gets out and tells Cale to jump in his arms. She does and she is pretty shaken. Manolin and Balon show up and chase down the horse.
Manolin and Balon show up and tell Ben that the horse was making pretty good time as they tried to chase her down. With their smiles, he is encouraged to train the horse to actually race again. Even Ben's vet claimed another champion horse had the same break but came back. A brief montage of training and family bonding - Cale, Ben, and Pop with stop watches and a Cale planting a popsicle stick which is becoming a long row.
After enough training, he decides to run a claim race. Apparently, anyone can claim a horse for a certain price but, if the horse wins, it can't be claimed. Ben is confident knowing even if Sonya lost, no one would claim a horse that broke its leg and is infertile. It's also pointed out that they can use the money.
The race comes and Ben, Manolin, and Balon are trackside to watch the race. It is there Cale learns Sonya's name is actually Sonador. It's Spanish for dreamer. Cale and Lily head for the stands and cheer on Sonya. She places third. Cale and Lily are jumping for joy. Ben looks disappointed. Manolin said she could have won if the jockey didn't get boxed in. Cale and Lily are still excited that she placed third. A track official the gives Ben some papers and tells him his horse has been claimed. Someone put a claim in before the race.
Cale is crushed and starts to tell her father that he said Sonya wouldn't be claimed. He then tells her this is what it's like. It's not just fun and games. Horseracing is a business and they just made $15,000. She becomes almost hysterical.
The next day, as Lily is going to work, she tells Ben he will have to go to the parent-teacher day. In a classroom, a mother is reading a story her child wrote. There is a smattering of laughter. The teacher then tells Ben she would like him to read Cale's story as it was rather creative.
He starts to read about a King who had everything he ever wanted. The King began to lose bit by bit his domain (paralleling his own land) and how he would need the help of a magic horse. He would climb on top the horse and the horse asked the King if he trusted the magic horse. The King said yes. So they journey far and wide and didn't eat or sleep. They started up a steep mountain and at the top of the mountain was everything the King had lost - his fortune, his family, his friends - and they all celebrated with pie and coffee.
Ben returns home and goes to Cale's bedroom. He tells her he read her story about the King and how he was the stupid King. She then tells him she loves the stupid King.
The next morning, a trailer arrives. Ben tells Cale to go help Manoling and Balon get the new horse out. When she opens the door, she's ecstatic that it's Sonya. Ben then tells her she is the owner - with help from Pop's money - of Sonodor. She will have a 51% stake, Pop's will have 39% and Manolin and Balon will have 5% each.
She then hires her father to train the horse. As they train the horse together, Ben tells Cale that Sonya is fat. She tells him he's being mean. He informs her he knows about the popsicles.
One evening, everyone is gathered in the Crane kitchen, eating at the table. Cale has been studying all the upcoming races and informs them she has picked the Breeder's Cup to race Sonya. She knows the selection of the last seven horses is by committee. She tells them that Manolin will be the jockey. She tells them she knows it's a long shot, but why not Sonya and why not them.
Then we see them going to the meeting where all those wanting to participate in the Breeder's Cup have to submit their applications to the committee. When Cale's name is called she stands and acknowledges the committee. Palmer, Ben's former employer, makes a snide comment telling her to stand up and gets some snickering. Cale is informed by the selection committee that she will need $40,000 just for an entrance fee and that she will need an additional $80,000 three days before the race. She says she will be ready.
Later, Ben picks up Lily at the diner she's been working at. He tells her what happened and how proud he was to see Cale stick up for herself. He just knows there is no possible way to get the money. Lily tells him to just let Cale have her dream. Let it go all the way it can. She then tells Ben she feels like she's on a date. They kiss.
They go to the track on the day of the selection. It's a big press event. The horses are listed in alphabetical order. Cale is trying to contain herself and desperately wishing to hear Sonador's name. Going down the list, Sonador takes the 14th slot.
Palmer pays a visit to the Crane stables. Everyone is in the stables. He offers Ben $20,000 and then $40,000. Ben tells him it's not his decision and nods to Cale. He tells Palmer it's her horse. Palmer crouches down to her and takes out a certified cashiers check for $100,000. Everyone realizes this could work out for the best. Cale looks at her father and asks for advice. Ben tells Cale it would be nice money for everyone involved, but he would refuse. Cale turns down Palmer's offer by telling him to be ready to see what all the horses and jockeys will see - Sonya's behind.
The day before Cale has to pay for all the fees, Ben tells her and Pop to get in the truck. He drives them to the mansion of Prince Sadir. They enter a room where the prince is entertaining guest at a long dining table. Cale then tells him what she wants from him. Prince Sadir asks Cale to look him straight in the eyes and tell him Sonador will beat his brother's horse. Not missing a beat or a blink, Cale tells him Sonya will beat every horse there. As they are driving away, they stop at the entrance to the mansion and them go crazy.
Lily comes home and finds a ribboned box with a card. She opens the card and smiles. She removes the ribbon and she finds a hat inside. She knows she's going to the race track.
At the track, everyone is dressed up and in good spirits. Manolin is excited and receives from Pops the colored jersey from his past. Lily wishes everyone good luck and Pops escorts Lily to the owner's area in the stands.
The horses are walked out for viewing and the press wants pictures. Palmer decides he wants his horse photographed with Sonya and a scuffle between the two horses breaks out. Cale gets upset. Manolin then tells Cale he had a dream of riding a horse and winning. He thanks her for ridding him of his nightmares and finding his faith in himself.
After things settle down, Ben is concerned and feels Sonya's leg. He feels heat in the leg. The same heat that warned him not to let her run in the disastrous race at the beginning. He tells Balon to bring Sonya in the stall. Ben heads for Sonya's stall and loses his temper. Cale follows him. He can't believe it's happening again. Cale asks him why is he afraid. He looks at her and knows she still has her dream.
Balon then tells Ben Sonya doesn't want to come into the stall. Ben goes to Sonya and looks straight into her eyes. He asks Sonya what is it she wants to tell him. Cale asks her dad what is she saying. Ben tells Cale she wants to race. Cale then says let's go.
Balon escorts Cale to the stands. When she if refused entrance, she and Balon gleefully show off their passes to security. Ben heads to make a bet on Sonya. She is a long shot at 80 - 1. He bets $20. The guy behind him begins to rib him and tell him the odds. Ben agrees and pulls out all the money he has $257 and places it all on Sonya to win. He joins everyone in the stands and gives Pop the ticket and says it's for him. Pop looks pleased.
The race begins. Sonya starts off strong, but Manolin's foot slips out of the stirrup and they fall back, but Pops points out it's only the first turn. Manolin then gets his foot back in and they head for the pack. He slowly makes his way through the pack. Most of this is in slow motion. As the horses round the final turn Sonya is one of four horses in front. The Cranes and Balon are going yelling. Manolin starts the final push and beats Palmer's horse by a length. The stands cheer and Sonya's owners go crazy. Pops comments how he just made $20,000. Manolin is screaming as heads for the winner's circle.
The film ends with everyone at the winner's circle and a voice over from Cale recounting a story of a true champion from Pops. (When you ran, the ground shook, the sky opened and mere mortals parted
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