Secretariat

Horse Racing Movies for the Holidays

Rather than rank the best or my favorite racing movies, because of their diversity let’s just break them down in categories to cater to people’s tastes and what they are looking for, whether it’s movies about racing in general, a famous horse, or betting. You have gut-wrenching, heartwarming, comedic, and gritty films and it’s difficult lumping them together and ranking them. So, whatever your pleasure, here are the movies I recommend, although many are hard to find. ~ Steve Haskin

Horse Racing Movies for the Holidays

By Steve Haskin

 

If you thought it was tough finding Cabbage Patch Kids and Tickle Me Elmo dolls back in the ‘80s and ‘90s good luck trying to find horse racing movies. Once in the proverbial blue moon they’ll show up on TCM or some offbeat channel, so you will have to search Amazon and hope you find what you’re looking for.

With the holidays coming up, if you know a racing fan you want to surprise with a good racing movie here is a list you can choose from, depending on where their interest lies. Let’s start with the broadest category of them all.

ENTERTAINING:

50-1 – This should go in the horse bio category, but I am taking it one step farther because of its characters and pure entertainment value. I have been critical of most modern racing movies, and this film did take a few liberties. But having lived through and chronicled the story of Mine That Bird, I feel this film captured the amazing journey of the second-biggest longshot to ever win the Kentucky Derby at the time, and did it in an entertaining manner, combining actual footage of the Derby with recreations, and using a horse who looked exactly like Mine That Bird. Many times, you can’t tell the actual footage from the footage shot for the movie. Although they used Bob Baffert as the heavy or the foil, which was just a bit over the top, the actor who played Baffert had his mannerisms (and his hair) down pat. And the colt’s jockey, Calvin Borel, who played himself, was a pure joy. The biggest deviation from the truth was using a female exercise rider to accompany Chip Woolley on his trek across the country instead of Charlie Figueroa, who was in reality the exercise rider and his travel companion. But it actually worked, and I enjoyed the platonic and at times hostile relationship between the two, which helped make the journey more interesting and bring out Woolley’s character. This film should have received bigger exposure, but it is well worth looking for and once in a while can be found on TV. While this movie would rank no higher than No. 3 or 4 in the horse bio category behind two or three extremely well-made and beautifully filmed movies I always watch it when it’s on TV and it’s just as enjoyable every time.

KENTUCKY — This is the granddaddy of all horse racing movies, the formula that was used in many of the films that followed. It even resembles the story of Secretariat — girl (played here by Loretta Young) returns home to save the family farm and wins the Kentucky Derby. Centered around a longstanding family feud, the opening scenes during the Civil War are gut-wrenching. But that is followed by magnificent color footage of greats such as Man o’War, Gallant Fox, Fair Play and other top stallions at stud that look as if they were shot today. It brought those horses to life. One of the great racing characters of any racing film was portrayed by Walter Brennan, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as a crotchety old hardboot, even though, in reality, he was only in his 30s. One of the classic scenes was when the manager of the rival farm was trying to hide their top prospect from Brennan, who was there to collect on a wager, in which he could pick out any 2-year-old he wanted. We see a black groom dancing down the shed row singing, “Postman worked in :48, goin’ to the races, goin’ to the races.” Brennan dancing alongside him, goes, “Where’s he at? Where’s he at?” And the groom sings back, “Over in the tack shed, over in the tack shed.” You’ll have to get past the black stereotypes and the equine star Bluegrass’ improbable and implausible path to the Derby, but have to remember the film was made in 1938 when the entertainment value usually overshadowed reality and political correctness. All in all, this was great fun and includes footage of Lawrin winning the Kentucky Derby, which was Eddie Arcaro’s first Derby winner.

IT AIN’T HAY – You can purchase this with one of Abbott and Costello collection packages. It is without a doubt the funniest racing movie ever made, starring Bud and Lou, who unleash a barrage of racing bits that are hysterical, especially one that takes place in a betting parlor that is a classic. I won’t ruin it for you. The movie has an assortment of characters, including several Damon Runyon characters (it was based on a Damon Runyon story), and shows you brief scenes of old Saratoga in front of the majestic Grand Union Hotel and has a star racehorse named Teabiscuit. It also has a botched horsenapping due to mistaken identity, as Abbott and Costello steal Teabiscuit by mistake, and even throws in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s just crazy fun, with a feel of Saratoga and Runyonesque characters, and with a gripping emotional scene that really tugs at the heartstrings and ignites the main plot of the film. I never get tired of watching this movie, as it makes me laugh every time.

CASEY’S SHADOW – I’m venturing away from Thoroughbred racing to include this well-made film that takes place in the world of Quarter-Horse racing. It stars Walter Matthau and is loosely based on the Romero brothers (Randy and Gerald). It is an extremely realistic look at the Quarter-Horse world, well acted, and beautifully photographed, especially the sequences of Casey’s Shadow growing from foal to full-grown racehorse that can easily induce goosebumps. The plot got a little too formulated in the second half of the film, with the obligatory gangsters. But all in all it was a wonderfully made and highly entertaining movie.

NATIONAL VELVET – This is the movie that has created more female horse lovers than any in history. It is the story, beautifully told and photographed, of a 14-year-old horse-crazy Velvet Brown, who falls in love with a wild horse named The Pie, and winds up substituting for his regular jockey and riding him to victory in the Grand National, only to be disqualified. But that doesn’t matter. This film, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney, is the standard by which all movies and books about young girls who love horses is measured. So many young girls have aspired to be jockeys after having watched this film. Yes it is a typical Hollywood plot for its time, but who cares. As mentioned it earlier, it hits you on an emotional level, and is well-written, well-acted, and beautifully photographed.

GLORY – Don’t confuse this 1956 film with the more modern Civil War film. The plot is totally far-fetched about a filly who was born during an electrical storm and somehow makes it to the Kentucky Derby off one six-furlong claiming race. But the reasons to watch it include the excellent acting and biting dialogue between Walter Brennan and Charlotte Greenwood and the film footage of Swaps defeating Nashua in the Derby. It portrays racing in general in an intelligent way, but you just have look past the crazy plot.

HORSE BIOGRAPHY:

PHAR LAP – Although I haven’t seen it in ages, having taped it on VHS, which is long gone, it is simply the most faithful biography of a racehorse of all time; beautifully told and beautifully filmed, and extremely well acted. To add to the realism, the horse who played Phar Lap was the splitting image of the legendary Australian champion. The film even used actual newspaper pages reporting his controversial death in California. It is visually stunning, portrays no stereotypes, and is not afraid to expose the human frailties of its main characters. The only noticeable flaw is the film’s insinuation that Phar Lap was killed by mobsters, while failing to offer the alternative possibility that he was accidentally poisoned by ingesting pesticides sprayed on a field where he was grazing. But if you love horses and racing, this is a must see.

CHAMPIONS – Jockey battles back from cancer and is reunited with his horse, who has simultaneously returned from a serious career-threatening injury, and the pair team up to win the Grand National Steeplechase. Had the story of Bob Champion and Aldaniti not been true, it would have been considered too unrealistic and too Hollywood. But it was true, and what separated Champions from other equine biographies was Aldaniti playing himself. That was a stroke of genius and you kept thinking of that as you watched him re-enact the events of his life. Many objected to the depiction of Champion’s battle with cancer in agonizing detail, taking up a great deal of the film, and while it was tough getting through it, its candor only helped to enhance the story’s emotional, fairy tale ending. And the filming of the Grand National was nothing short of spectacular.

DREAM HORSE – Made in 2020 it is to me the best racing film made in several decades and shows that you can still make a great one without any noticeable deviation from the facts. It depicts the people and the place as well as any racing film and having established actors such as Toni Collette and Damian Lewis who fit right in with a collection of actors makes it look as if they were taken right out of the small Welsh town where the story takes place.

This is an inspiring story of Dream Alliance and bartender Janet Vokes (Collette), who became interested in bloodlines and decided to buy a potential broodmare named Rewbell, who had been injured on a barbed wire fence and had a bad disposition, for 350 pounds. When she produced a colt by American-bred stallion Bien Bien in partnership with a racing breeder from the town, Collette sets off on her quest to have the townsfolk chip in their meager earnings to help raise the colt. With opposition from many of the spouses she succeeds to get 23 people who put up 10 pounds a week to help raise the colt and pay his training bills. Bottom line is that Dream Alliance suffers a serious tendon injury that required stem cell treatment, which was new at the time. He recovers and goes on to win the Welsh Grand National. This is a heartwarming, well acted, and magnificently filmed move that is a must for all racing fans.

SEABISCUIT – This was a relatively high-budget film that was very well made and filmed in dramatic fashion, from the bush track match races to the match race with War Admiral. The movie focused quite a bit on the back stories of the humans behind the horse and the struggles during the Depression. But as a pure horse racing movie and biography it took a very long time before Seabiscuit was even introduced. And to make up for lost time, they turned him into a national celebrity after only a few victories in lesser stakes, and then embellished the David vs. Goliath theme by making War Admiral some 18-hands behemoth (which was a joke) when he was actually the same size as the much smaller Seabiscuit who measured 15.2 hands. They did a super job filming the match race, Gary Stevens was excellent, and all in all it was a good movie, even if it did take forever to get to Seabiscuit. I probably would have ranked this movie higher if I had never read Laura Hillenbrand’s epic biography. In the book, the backdrop was an integral part of the story, but it is difficult to condense everything in the book into a two hour and 20-minute film. I watched it recently and it still seemed long and drawn out. Then it appeared to rush through the second half of the movie. There are gorgeous scenes filmed at picturesque Xalapa Farm in Paris, Kentucky. If you haven’t see it it still makes for an excellent gift.

SECRETARIAT — As many major faults as this movie has, I am going to give it somewhat of a pass because of how much the budget was cut by Disney. And they made it way too Disneyesque, with odd location choices and several nonsensical scenes. But I did like the beginning when Penny Tweedy is called from her home in Colorado to come back to Virginia and help save the farm. The problem with making a movie about a horse that looked like Secretariat is that you can never find a horse physically worthy of portraying him and depicting the incredible larger than life aura he had. The same went for the very disappointing RUFFIAN (No one disliked this movie more than her trainer Frank Whiteley). Neither of these films came close to doing justice to the actual horse. But at least with Secretariat it brought Big Red to the big screen and stayed loyal to the legend, which is why a lot of young people enjoyed it, even if it only gave them a hint of what they missed. The film also seemed miscast in places. Diane Lane as Penny was believable, however John Malkovich was laughable as Lucien Laurin, and Pancho Martin was unfairly portrayed as the film’s primary villain. If you’re young and have no recollection of Secretariat and can ignore the fabricated, fictional scenes you will likely enjoy it for providing a look at an equine superhero that previously existed mainly on video and YouTube, and to younger fans in their imagination. For racing aficionados who saw the movie and lived through Big Red’s reign, you just have to put the scalpel away and resist the temptation to dissect it.

THE STORY OF SEABISCUIT – Not to be confused with Seabiscuit, this purely fictionalized biography stars Shirley Temple and an excellent Barry Fitzgerald, and is actually pretty entertaining for what it is. Just don’t believe that this is in any way the story of Seabiscuit. But if you want to see great actual film footage of the Seabiscuit — War Admiral match race, you definitely want to see this movie.

BLACK GOLD – One of the great stories of the Turf, this movie, starring Anthony Quinn, takes a lot of liberties and greatly embellishes the story of Rosa Hoots and the improbable Kentucky Derby winner Black Gold, but it’s still a fun movie. 

MOVIES ABOUT BETTING:

LET IT RIDE – There are a number of movies that feature scenes of betting horses, some with small racing plots, but it is not at all what the movie is about. When it comes to betting on horses one movie stands alone. People either loved or hated this film about a degenerate gambler, brilliantly played by Richard Dreyfuss, who normally is your typical loser, but has the one day every horseplayer fantasizes about. It is a never-ending day, shot at Hialeah Racetrack, in which Dreyfuss leaves the track several times to go to the bar across the street to hang out with his cronies or goes home to his frantic wife, who has had it with his gambling…and losing. But no matter what he does, he can’t lose. And it all starts with an insider’s tip overheard by Dreyfuss’ dim-witted friend in his taxi cab that has nefarious implications. But for Dreyfuss it is the one big break he has been dreaming about. That sets off one incredibly and surreal day at the track. The people who disliked the movie and found it far-fetched don’t see it for what it is – the fantasy of every horseplayer. If you look at it as pure fantasy you’re more likely to enjoy it. It captures the frenzy of the racetrack and every type of crazed horseplayer imaginable. There is an overhead scene with Dreyfuss in the bar’s rest room stall realizing he doesn’t belong with his clique of “losers” and appears to be pleading his case to God that is hysterical.

GRITTY MOVIES:

BOOTS MALONE – This 1952 film starring William Holden pulls no punches and depicts life on the backstretch with stark realism. It is as well acted and as well written as any racing movie, and has an excellent and thought-provoking plot that moves along at a swift pace and takes you to places most people have never been to, focusing on a young jockey and his down-on-his-luck agent. Holden is terrific as usual, going from successful agent, living high in the fanciest hotels, to living in a tack room and trying to scrape up a few dollars after his star jockey is killed. He gets enough to buy a cheap horse and then discovers a green aspiring young rider who has run away from his rich family. This is unlike any racing movie in that it does not glorify the sport and is not afraid to show you its underbelly.

THE KILLING – One of Stanley Kubrick’s early films that is as close as you’ll get to racing film noir. It is filmed almost like a stage play, with surreal backdrops, and is not for the faint of heart, as it is pretty violent at times, especially the end, with the plot focusing about the attempt of a bunch of hoods to make a killing at the track…literally, by shooting the favorite during the race and disguising the crime so that no one knows just what happened. It is like watching the proverbial train wreck – disturbing, but you can’t take your eyes off it, either despite of or because of the simplicity in the way it is filmed. And what better actor to star in a ‘50s film noir movie than Sterling Hayden, who plays his part to perfection.

THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER – Not a true racing movie, but one of the really great films and with an unusual storyline, about a young boy in England who rides his rocking horse frantically, and the faster he goes he reaches a point where he has seems to escape the real world and can predict the winners at the track. There is a lot more to this innovative plot. It has superb acting and is extremely thought provoking. Not an easy film to find.

JOCKEYThis is the most recent racing movie about an aging jockey looking for his one big break to ride a top-class horse, and is as realistic as you can get. It is more of a cerebral movie with actually no real racing scenes, and it doesn’t try to tug at your heartstrings. What makes this movie work so well is the brilliant, but low-keyed acting of Clifton Collins Jr., who as his bio says, “Was born short, lean, and mean on June 16, 1970.” And that is exactly the character he plays to perfection. It’s still around on TV and worth looking for.

OTHERS TO REMEMBER IN CASE YOU COME ACROSS THEM:

THE BLACK STALLION – This isn’t categorized because it isn’t a horse racing film in the true sense. It is more about a horse and a boy and a desert island, with the last part of the movie focusing on a horse race. If you do consider it a horse racing movie, then it definitely belongs under entertaining, as it is absolutely stunning, with another excellent performance by Mickey Rooney and a spectacularly filmed horse race. The scenes on the desert island of this magnificent black horse and the stranded boy slowly interacting are truly brilliant, and you won’t find more beautifully filmed scenes than the ones of “The Black” running through the water.

PRIDE OF THE BLUEGRASS – This is an outlandish plot that is actually based to some extent on a true story, just don’t ask me how much, because I laughed at this movie when I saw it. It starts with a mare giving birth to a colt. The barn is struck by lightning, killing her owner, but his seventeen-year-old son escapes with the colt, named Gantry the Great. A young girl gets the boy a job on the horse farm owned by her father. The boy, Danny, trains and rides Gantry, who becomes a good horse, but after being abused by his regular trainer he goes blind in the Kentucky Derby, as the favorite, and is pulled up by Danny. No one knows he went blind so Danny is banned for a year and Gantry is to be destroyed. But instead Danny trains him to jump and enters the blind horse in Grand National Steeplechase in England. Before you start laughing just know that in the description of the movie, Gantry the Great, whose actual name was Elmer Gantry, is played by the real Elmer Gantry. I won’t tell you if he wins the Grand National.

RIDING HIGH – This was an excellent vehicle for racing lover Bing Crosby, and the end of the movie will tear your heart out. But this film was a remake of the 1934 movie titled Broadway Bill. Frank Capra was so dissatisfied with the original he remade it in 1950 with plenty of songs. The only problem was that for some reason Capra left in a number of scenes from the original movie, and it was so obvious these scenes were from an older movie with different actors.

SPORTING BLOOD – This is a real oldie made in 1931 starring a young Clark Gable. Not only is it very well made, with an interesting plot, it contains the most remarkable footage ever shot at the Kentucky Derby, in this case the 1930 running, with the movie interacting with the footage. You have to see it to believe it. It occasionally pops up on Turner Classic Movies.

A DAY AT THE RACES – Typical Marx Bothers wackiness that wasn’t that much about racing. But there was a classic line when Groucho, playing a horse doctor, was treating a horse in his office and gave him a bottle of pills and told him, “Take two every half mile.”

DOWN THE STRETCH – Mickey Rooney is terrific playing a jockey with an attitude named Snapper Sinclair. It is a pretty interesting plot with your typical race fixing, but with loyalty, good conscience, and clearing your father’s name added to the mix.

SARATOGA – This was a pretty high-profile movie in 1937 starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlowe and Lionel Barrymore. It is a witty and intelligent movie, more about betting and high rollers, with Gable playing a bookie. I remember finding it quite enjoyable. 

THE STING – Although this is not a racing movie, it has a great racing flavor when the action takes place at a makeshift bookie parlor, and they even mention Mo Annenberg, who invented the wire and owned the Morning Telegraph. The greatest movie tip of all time — “Place it on Lucky Dan.” Even if it’s not a racing movie, it is one of the great movies of all time and definitely worth watching more than once. 

THE LEMON DROP KID – This is another Damon Runyon story about a racetrack tout, played by Bob Hope. Again, there isn’t a lot of racing in it, but it did become famous for introducing the classic Christmas song Silver Bells.

MY OLD MAN – Adapted from an Ernest Hemingway short story, this was a pretty decent made-for-TV film with an excellent performance by Warren Oates.

DREAMER – Many people liked this film, but I had a major problem with Dakota Fanning, who I found annoying enough to not enjoy it. So I can’t judge this film fairly.

THE HOMESTRETCH – This little known film starring Maureen O’Hara and Cornell Wilde is pretty entertaining, taking you from Argentina to Saratoga to Churchill Downs, and has a solid enough plot. It’s not your standard fare and well worth looking for, if it even exists anymore.

WALL OF NOISE – Even lesser known than The Homestretch, I did enjoy it. Starring Suzanne Pleshette and TV star Ty Hardin, it is far from a classic, but Hardin is excellent and has flaws in his character, which you don’t see too often from the star of the movie.

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to Secretariat.com since 2020.


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146 Responses to “Horse Racing Movies for the Holidays”

  1. Matthew W says:

    Another Sterling Hayden movie that had racing mentions…Asphalt Jungle, where his character is always talking about Kentucky horse farms, and ends up dying with the broodmares and their foals licking his face….

  2. Davids says:

    “My Fair Lady,” racing at Ascot with a racing song “Ascot Gavotte.” One of cinemas greatest set designs as well, brilliant!!

  3. Kyri Freeman says:

    I did find Rocking Horse Winner on Netflix DVD and added it to my queue.

    I loved Dream Horse! Another racing movie I loved was And They’re Off, starring Sean Astin and featuring cameos by some recognizable racing figures. Also, nothing to do with racehorses but if you can find A Dream of White Horses, an old movie which features amazing footage of free-roaming Camargue ponies, it is amazing.

    I think there were two Ruffian movies, neither of which was very good… I remember that she was played by an equine actor who was visibly a gelding, which was definitely an insult.

    • Davids says:

      I think you possibly mean the 1953 children’s film “Crin-Blanc,” English title “White Mane.” It’s an enchanting black and white film, not full-length, directed by Albert Lamorisse

      Also there is the 1960 Denys Colomb Daunant made documentary “Le Songe des Chevaux Sauvages,” English title “Dream of the Wild Horses”. It featured Camargue horses with slow motion photography. Noteably, the documentary won the Small Golden Berlin Bear at the 1960 Berlin International Film Festival.

      There are also quite a few documentaries about the “New Forest” pony roundups and “Exmoor ponies” being rounded-up which I adored as a child, wanting one of the ponies myself.

  4. Bigtex says:

    Secretariat deserves much better than what Disney put together. The group that made Seabiscuit should have been tasked with that project.

  5. Melissa P says:

    Thanks, Steve! Now my budget is shot. I only own three of these and am going to have to find the rest. I love Richard Dreyfuss in ‘Let it Ride.’ I even used his line when I hit a $1,200 exacta at Birmingham back in the day. Except I changed my tune when I found out that I had been talked out of the tri which paid $27,000+.

  6. Matthew W says:

    I always like to include The Sundowners, about a family of traveling sheep shearers, who enter a local horse race at movie’s end, a truly terrific movie staring Robert Mithum, Deborah Kerr and Peter Ustinov…I started to watch Mithum movies, after having seen him at Los Alamitos in 1974, he made another horse film, as a retired rodeo cowboy in a love triangle…story driven movies that have aged well, they’re still very good.

    • Matthew W says:

      Mitchum!

    • Davids says:

      “The Sundowners” is a beautiful film. Regrettably, I saw “Cape Fear” as a child not long after seeing “The Sundowners,” it made me quite fearful of Mitchum. Mitchum was my father’s favourite actor so we saw a lot of his films.

      • Matthew W says:

        They were running a stakes race, Mitchum had the favored Don Guerro, my sister asked him to sign her program he said ” As soon as my horse wins”…..no autograph! (He ran 3rd..)

      • Matthew W says:

        I saw the DeNiro version of Cape Fear first, and his character was creepy…but Mitchum….just by facial expression took that character further into creepiness!

        • Davids says:

          The original “Cape Fear” still creeps me out as well. You’re right, Mitchum certainly played the character perfectly and has the physical presence to worry anyone.

  7. Susan Daman says:

    Thank you for this list. Some i knew. Others i’ll have the joy of seeing for the first time. I still think Mickey Rooney should have won the Oscar for The Black Stallion.

  8. Laura L Lanham says:

    Great list of some of my favorite movies. As for 2 others that might qualify would add King of the Wind and Justin Morgan had a Horse. Granted not thoroughbred movies but they do have some racing footage and some history of the Godolphin Arab and the start of the Morgan horse here in the states.

    As for just fun to watch would have to add the Derby Stallion and Stripes.

  9. Alana says:

    Saw Phar Lap in a theatre when it was first released. What a fantastic movie! Best horse biography movie ever made, indeed.

  10. SJ says:

    Boots Malone, my personal favorite, accurately portraying racing in a much different era. Have read all of Walter Farley’s books as a young boy, looked forward to seeing The Black Stallion on the screen. Wife & went to theater with a jock friend of mine, and his wife. When the Black was approaching the gate, blood running down his tendon from pre race altercation with his main foe. the rider turned to me and said “If anything happens to him, I’ll never watch another racing movie again.”
    RIP, Angel Penna, a classy gentleman, horseman, and friend. Thoughts and prayers to Ruth & Elinor Penna.

  11. John Goggin says:

    “Dime With A Halo” (1963) – about street homeless kids in Tijuana, Mexico betting on the 5-10 (now the pick 5) at old Aqua Caliente racetrack using the last dime taken from a church box and winning…a Turner and Disney Classic movie.

  12. Andrea Bouwkamp says:

    I consider Hidalgo a horse racing movie. I couldn’t take my eyes off that wonderful paint who portrayed the lead. RH Tecontender, who is a registered paint that also is a male line descendant of Nasrullah. Kinda fitting I think.

  13. Lynda King says:

    Has anyone watched Ride Like A Girl? It is about Michelle Payne, first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.

    • Davids says:

      “Ride Like a Girl” is a positive, if somewhat saccharine coated film. Particularly, for those who are aware of the tragic-ridden past of the Payne family. See the film, read up on the history afterwards. If you haven’t seen the film “The Cup” they’d make for an inspirational double over a long weekend but not in succession.

  14. Deacon says:

    This is quite a comprehensive list I must say. I wish they would make a horse racing movie starring you & Richard Dreyfus as 2 rival trainers vying to win the Kentucky Derby. Both of your horses would be undefeated, 1 west coast horse, 1 east coast horse. Kind of make it a comedy/action movie. I would pay to see it.

    Anyway this is a great list, my personal favorites are Seabiscuit, mostly of the Santa Anita backdrop & the nostalgia of the time period, Saratoga & Kentucky. Sometimes a black & white movie is better.

    Happy Thanksgiving Steve to you & your lovely family.

  15. Davids says:

    Arguably, the best racing movie/TV show I’ve seen was “Luck.” Such a shame they had to cancel the show due to possibly dubious animal safety concerns.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      TV series not included. Yes, a shame what happened. More than concerns, a horse died.

      • Davids says:

        Yes, Steve, it was actually 3 horses that died, from memory.

        • Matthew W says:

          I loved LUCK, created by a guy who lost tens of millions at the windows…he “nailed”, the betting action, the scene where they had to euthanize a horse on track…I could see it was a real euthanasia, and they did it well, capturing the overall sadness, of all involved….Gary Stevens’s character said that’s why that have Jack Daniel’s, or something like that…

  16. Lynda King says:

    Steve, thank you very much for putting this list together. Weather forecast here starting Thanksgiving night is for 80-100% rain Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Perfect for sitting by the wood stove and watching these movies.

    My all time favorites on your list are National Velvet and The Black Stallion. I had read the books National Velvet and the Black Stallion series as a young girl. I did not watch the movie, National Velvet until I was in my early 30’s and rented it from a video store. I now have National Velvet and all 3 Black Stallion movies in my video library. Interesting trivia tidbit, the horse who played The Pie as given to Elizabeth Taylor. There was also an American TV series called National Velvet. LOL, telling my age I guess but I had National Velvet paper dolls.

    Liked 50 to 1. Thought it was funny, entertaining and loved Calvin Borel.

    Also liked Seabiscuit, great cast. Have it in my video collection as well.

    Also have Secretariat and Dreamer and Ruffian. Barely made it through Ruffian, watched one time and put it away.

    Phar Lap, I watched years ago was a good movie, but of course very sad.

    I would add Hidalgo to the list. Granted it is not track horse racing but rather desert racing. Based loosely on a true story. Viaggio Mortenson is one of my favorite actors.

    As to the Secretariat movie, yes lots of literary license, all of which I knew about. A friend and I took a group of her riding students to the theater to watch. They all loved it and it inspired some of them to watch horse racing.

    Will look for Wall of Noise. Maureen O’Hara is one of my favorite actresses from that generation. In fact, the movies she made with John Wayne are my favorite John Wayne movies.

    Not sure that any movie or TV series is not made without a big amount of literary license. It is a necessity I guess for entertainment value, otherwise it becomes a documentary??
    In a college writing class we were taught that writing a screenplay based on a book was the most difficult challenge for a writer.

    Again, Happy Thanksgiving everyone. If you traveling, be safe and hope you all enjoy your time with your families, friends and loved ones!

  17. Linda Dunn says:

    A more recent movie you may have missed…”Lean on Pete”. Warning alert, very emotional but powerful acting and story. Absolutely loved “Seabiscuit but was tremendously disappointed with “Secretariat”. He deserved a more factual telling of his life.

  18. Davids says:

    “The Grifters” is gritty drama surrounding a mob bookmaker who makes large cash bets at tracks to lower the odds on long shots and confuse the punters. Not for the faint hearted.

    “Pride of the Bluegrass,” 1954, with Lloyd Bridges and Vera Miles warms the heart.

    • Todd Vaughn says:

      I agree about The Grifters, one of my favorite movies. Racing was not necessarily central, but operators laying off action to protect the big mob bookies seemed to be presented accurately. The problem i have with many racing movies is feeling insulted by liberties taken by producers to keep the public interested, particularly in Seabiscuit. I guess that’s the “burden” we carry for knowing too much.

      • Davids says:

        Good point, knowing too much on any subject is often a burden. Movies, in general, follow a formula that has been successful at the box office. Producers buy rights to books etc, more correctly they options, which give them the exclusive right to purchase the film or television rights within a certain amount of time. Then they can frame that story into what has been successful, truth is very dispensable in the film industry.

      • Steve Haskin says:

        I wanted to mention The Grifters but for whatever reason I couldnt remember the name.

        • Davids says:

          Although, The Grifters is a high quality production, has an excellent script, and is well acted it’s not a film you want to see again in a hurry. Perhaps, the mind helps you recover from the trauma you have just witnessed, by wiping out memory of the incident.

  19. TommyMc says:

    Count me among the people that love “Let It Ride”. I think that anyone that plays the races regularly has gotten on a hot streak at some point, although probably to a lesser degree than the roll that Richard Dreyfus got on in the movie.

    Robbie Coltrane was a “scene stealer” as the Mutuel worker at the high-dollar window.

    Many of us have had a racetrack buddy who was there for the good times but was also a thorn in your side at the same time. David Johansen/Buster Poindexter played that pole perfectly.

    Lastly, the bar that Richard Dreyfus goes to reminds me of a couple of places near Santa Anita where people would go to after the races to commiserate with others about their “bad beats” and in some cases, their winners. There used to be
    Talk of the Town up on Foothill and The 100-1 Shot just outside the Colorado/Huntington gate. I’m sure they are both long gone now. Was it The 100-1 Shot or The 99-1 Shot? I forget.

  20. TommyMc says:

    Was Walter Brennan ever a young man? He always played a crotchety old man. Even in older movies. Maybe I’m forgetting him in some movie. The best I ever remember him looking was in “Pride of the Yankees” even if he didn’t look particularly young.

    • Davids says:

      That made me giggle. Yes, when I was five or six seeing Walter Brennan in movies he came across as this grumpy old man to be avoided at all times.

    • Lynda King says:

      Walter Brennan won three Academy Awards, one for Supporting Actor He appeared in a lot of westerns. I remember him from the TV series The Real McCoys. The show was one of my Dad’s favorites.

    • Deacon says:

      Yep I agree, Walter Brennan looked pretty much the same in every movie.
      The Westerner 1940 with Gary Cooper
      The Pride of the Yankees 1942 also with Gary Cooper
      Rio Bravo 1959 with John Wayne & Dean Martin

      He must have made about 100 movies or more.

  21. TommyMc says:

    Steve Haskin mentions that he was annoyed by Dakota Fanning in “Dreamer”. I feel like that about the Marx Brothers. I love the “Stooges”, Laurel and Hardy, and Abbott and Costello. But the Marx Brothers annoy me.

  22. Kathy Green says:

    As a young girl I loved the movie ‘Kentucky’. I purchased the dvd on Amazon a couple years ago and loved it all over again. Thank you Mr Haskin for a delightful list

  23. TommyMc says:

    I appreciate Steve Haskin’s recommendations on horseracing movies. I’ve heard good things about Boots Malone and I’m a big William Holden fan, but I’ve never run across that film. Hopefully, it will play on TCM one of these days.

    Somehow, I’ve missed 50-1, Champions, and Jockey. I hope they come on Cable at some point. If I remember correctly, Jockey came out at a bad time. Toward the end of the Pandemic. Theaters were opening up, but with few people in attendance. I saw many movies when I was the only person in the theater. “Private showings” I called them.

    Steve Haskin describes “The Killing” perfectly. “disturbing, but you can’t take your eyes off of it.”

    “Wall of Noise” was filmed at Hollywood Park. It’s always fun to see familiar places in the movies. I’ve always wondered why Suzanne Pleshette didn’t become a bigger star.

    • TommyMc says:

      I think that Casey’s Shadow was a real sleeper. I didn’t expect to like it, but I did. I’d never seen Walter Matthau play a part like that before. I’ve seen him a couple of times since then in older movies where he wasn’t in a humorous role. He was even a bad gut in

      • TommyMc says:

        in Charade.

        • TommyMc says:

          As far as “Secretariat” goes, I can pretty much watch anything with Diane Lane in it.

          • TommyMc says:

            Gary Stevens impressed me in Seabiscuit. That was a major motion picture and I thought he handled himself very well with some heavyweight actors like Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, and Tobey McGuire. I even liked him in the short-lived HBO series “Luck”. Stevens is multi-talented. Star athlete, actor, and a pretty good horseracing analyst.

            • Davids says:

              Yes, Tommy, Gary Stevens was quite accomplished in his acting roles. In his younger years he had the looks to be a matinee idol as well. Ha ha

    • Lynda King says:

      Jockey was filmed at Turf Paradise in Phoenix and was based on a true story. I rented it off Amazon, started watching it bit dud not finish. Cannot recall why I did not.
      Mollie Parker costars. If you watched the HBO series amd movie, Deadwood you might remember her. She played Alma.
      Jockey won a Sundance Film Festival Award.

  24. RobinM says:

    I’m embarrassed to say I considered myself a film racing buff until reading these lists. I knew of less than 1/3 and have seen (maybe) 1/4. Now to try and find the ones that intrigue me!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I’m sure there are plenty of others I didnt mention.

      • Alana says:

        Most importantly, you didn’t mention the documentary film “Dark Horse”, which is what “Dream Horse” was based on. I haven’t seen “Dream Horse”, because I thought “Dark Horse” was an absolutely perfect documentary, and I have no idea why they felt the need to cast actors and turn it into a Hollywood movie. I guess I’m glad to hear they did a good job of fictionalizing the true story? But I can’t recommend “Dark Horse” enough, if you’ve not seen it.

      • SJ says:

        How about The Pope of Greenwich Village? “See, with a horse, it’s all in the gene.” Paulie : )

  25. David T Green says:

    Dream Horse is one of the best movies on owning horses. If you haven’t seen this film yet, rent it – you will really enjoy it.

    • Alana says:

      Or go one better and rent “Dark Horse”, the documentary film on which it was based. Absolutely wonderfully made documentary with the real “Dream Syndicate” folks, who are delightful characters.