Best Horse Racing Movies of All Time
People have long had a special connection with horses, and the sport of horse racing brings the thrill of competition and gambling into the mix. For centuries, it has been a popular sport in many parts of the world, with viewers attending live or tuning in to watch the big races on a regular basis. A popular subject with filmmakers, horse racing has been consistently made into movies — some good, some bad — with numerous themes.
Let’s take a look at some of the best horse racing films ever made, and how I rank them all-time.
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7) National Velvet
Starring Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor, this 1944 film tells the story of a young girl from a small town in England who wins a special gelding in a raffle and decides to take him all the way to the famed Grand National steeplechase. Based on the 1935 novel of the same name by Enid Bagnold, National Velvet is a heartwarming and bittersweet story of growing up and a girl’s powerful connection with her horse.
A classic story that has numerous ups and downs and life lessons along the way, National Velvet is an older movie that should never be forgotten. It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
6) 50 to 1
Based on the unlikely true story of Mine That Bird, this 2014 film recounts the story of an outsider group of New Mexico cowboys who jump on the ride of a lifetime when their bargain basement purchase gelding quickly develops from a gangly nobody into the 2009 Kentucky Derby champion.
The dream of every horse owner is to win the Kentucky Derby, and the dream of every gambler is to have that big long shot. The story of Mine That Bird, a relative unknown until one fateful day on the first Saturday in May, covers both bases in colorful style. It’s a story made for the big screen, and this movie does not disappoint.
5) Phar Lap
When the great racehorse Phar Lap collapses and dies suddenly in California in 1932, the news hits the nation of Australia the hardest. That’s how this 1983 film written by David Williamson begins, with the remainder of the movie done as a flashback retelling the story of one of horse racing’s greatest legends.
From his beginnings in New Zealand, through becoming a champion in Australia, and then his final days in North America, this film does a very good job in chronicling the story of Phar Lap. His strong connection to his handler, and all of the backstories that surrounded the great horse who traveled the world, before dying far too young are all part of this most interesting story.
Our connection and affection for horses and what they can mean to us is wonderfully captured in this 2005 film directed by John Gatins. Inspired and loosely based on the true story of an injured Thoroughbred racehorse named Mariah’s Storm, the movie tells the story of trainer (Kurt Russell) and daughter (Dakota Fanning) as their own relationship evolves through the racing career of their star horse.
Injured early in her career, Mariah’s Storm recovered and went on to be an excellent race horse, who eventually produced the super star Giant’s Causeway. Dreamer doesn’t follow the script of Mariah’s Storm too closely, but the adaptation works in a very pleasing way for an all around enjoyable family film.
Perhaps the most famous horse in modern racing, this 2010 film documents the racing career of Secretariat and his owner Penny Chenery. Based on the 1975 book by William Nack Secretariat: The Making of a Champion, the film is an inspiring look back at one of the most inspiring American athletes of the last half-century.
As well known as the story of Secretariat was, there were always going to be critics of any cinematic allowances in the film, and sure enough, there were. Still, the movie (and the greatness of the horse) wins out over numerous factual inaccuracies throughout the film. The story of Secretariat’s rise to legendary status is one to be remembered, and this movie does a solid job in representing his greatness.
2) Let it Ride
Gambling and humor make for an exhilarating ride in this 1989 comedy film starring Richard Dreyfuss. It focuses on a habitually unsuccessful horse player who experiences one very good day of betting. A colorful character in his own right, Jay Trotter, played by Dreyfuss, is joined throughout the day by a cast of evocative characters who make the film memorable.
Primarily filmed at beautiful Hialeah Park, Let It Ride follows the main character through an amazing day of winning bets as he decides to let it ride, from one successful race to the next. Besieged with pitfalls along the way, it’s impossible not to root for Trotter as he experiences a hilariously great day at the track.
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Any list of horse racing films should begin with this 2003 film showcasing a legendary American race horse. Based on the best-selling 1999 non-fiction book Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand, this movie recounts the rags to riches story of one of the nation’s most beloved race horses.
At a time of the great depression, Seabiscuit was able to rise from very modest beginnings to become one of the sport’s greats. Shot at many of the nation’s most famous racetracks, this award winning film does a wonderful job in capturing both a different period of time, but also the ups, downs, and thrilling action of a horse who was able to capture the imagination of a country in need of a hero.
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Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.
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