Any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon are affiliate links and I earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks in advance – I really appreciate it!
The title for this piece could have been the 5 Best Horse Racing Movies plus one. Our list of movies includes real-life stories and fictional tales, but all make excellent viewing for anyone who loves horse racing.
Included are a couple of non-traditional horse racing movies to add some diversity. The movie that shouldn’t be on our list is Secretariat, but hopefully, after you read our review of the film, you will understand our rationale for its inclusion. Regardless, all these horse racing movies are top-notch.
Best horse racing movies
Phar Lap (1983)
Phar Lap is likely the best horse racing movie ever made. It is a true story of a racehorse whose life follows an unbelievable path. Like the saying “real life is stranger than fiction” applies to Phar Lap.
Phar Lap dominated horse racing in the 1930s, but he wasn’t destined to be a champion. He was foaled in New Zealand, trained in Australia and died in California.
Harry Telford, a down on his luck racehorse trainer, encouraged Davis, one of his last remaining owners to purchase Phar Lap sight unseen. Once the horse arrived in Australia, Davis, was so disappointed in how Phar Lap looked he didn’t want to waste money paying for his training.
Telford agreed to train the horse for 2/3rds of his winnings and no daily training fee. Phar Lap started his career uneventful, losing his first race. But shortly after began winning and winning, becoming the pride of Australian horse racing.
He won the Melbourne Cup, Cox Plates and many other matches. He was transported to Mexico to run in the Agua Caliente Handicap, which he won and set a new track record. Most of his later races he had to carry extra weight.
Phar Lap died in California in 1932 of unknown causes. However, he was once shot at while attending a race. The underground gambling circuit was losing money because of Phar Laps’ domination of racing, and some speculated they might have poisoned him.
This movie captures the essence of the bond that grows between trainer and horse with perfection. Phar Lap is based on the novel written by Michael Wilkinson. This horse racing movie is available here on Amazon.
Seabiscuit ran a close second to Phar Lap on this list; it’s based on the novel Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. During the great depression, people didn’t have many things to cheer about, Seabiscuit came along and gave hope to the masses.
The movie was a critical and monetary success. The Academy of Motion Picture nominated Seabiscuit for seven Academy Awards. Seabiscuit is the story of three men, Red Pollard (played by Tobey Maguire), Charles S. Howard, (played by Jeff Bridges), and Tom Smith (played by Chris Cooper) and a horse.
The three men transform Seabiscuit from a lackluster, small high-spirited racehorse into a champion. Red is a jockey in dire straits, Howard is a wealthy businessman dealing with the tragedy of his son’s death, and Smith is a skilled horseman and drifter.
The unlikely trios paths cross and lead them to Seabiscuit. Seabiscuit is a small unruly horse with an excellent pedigree. Smith convinces Howard to purchase the horse but has difficulty finding a jockey to ride the animal.
After watching Red fight with some stablemates, Smith decides that Red would be the perfect fit for Seabiscuit. Smith is right, Red is an excellent fit for Seabiscuit, and they begin to win races and the hearts of the American public.
Howard prods the owner of the great War Admiral into a match race. However, before the competition, Red injures his leg. One of Red’s buddies rides Seabiscuit, the real-life jockey Gary Stevens.
- Seabiscuit the movie
- Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand.
- To read another aritcle about Seabiscuit click here.
Hidalgo, the movie, is a true story about a man and his horse. Hidalgo is a mustang ridden by Franklin T. Hopkins in the 1890s. Hopkins and Hidalgo are part of the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
They are promoted as the “world’s greatest endurance horse and rider.” One day they are challenged, to either stop calling themselves the greatest endurance team or prove it by entering the “Ocean of Fire” 3000-mile race across the Najd desert.
The Ocean of Fire race customarily restricts the competition to pureblood Arabian horses and Arab riders legendary for their endurance racing abilities.
However, an exception is made to allow Hopkins and Hidalgo to compete. During the race, Hidalgo and Frank face many obstacles and prejudices. Lots of drama ensues involving some questionable characters and intriguing ladies.
Towards the end of the race, both Frank and Hidalgo reach a breaking point, and Frank debates shooting Hidalgo to stop his suffering. But Frank has a spiritual moment and hops back on Hidalgo to finish the race.
After their return home, Frank purchases a herd of mustangs and releases them and Hidalgo to run free. Hidalgo is an excellent movie. It flows nicely and tells an exciting story that just so happens to be based on real-life characters.
The film also has interesting people and ties in relevant themes, including cultural differences and acceptance of who we are. The cast of Hildalgo is excellent; it includes Viggo Mortensen as Frank Hopkins and Omar Sharif as Sheikh Riyadh the Arab who placed the challenge to Frank and Hildalgo.
Every list of the best horse racing movies should include Hidalgo. It is a different type of racing but the movie is a lot of fun. Hidalgo is reviewed by over 1,000 customers and earned a five-star rating. It is available here on Amazon Prime
Let It Ride (1989)
Let It Ride is a comedy revolved around gambling on horse racing. A perfect ensemble of actors develop characters you easily believe could be real. Let it Ride is funny, it stars Richard Dreyfuss as the lead character Jay Trotter who is married to Teri Garr.
Jay has a gambling problem and promises his wife; he will stop gambling. That seems okay until he meets up with his buddy Looney, a cab driver like Jay.
Looney while driving some goons around town happens to record their conversation about a fixed horse race. Jay takes this information and bets on the run, justifying it to himself that it isn’t gambling, its a sure thing. Surprisingly he wins the race, and the fun begins.
Let it Ride, is a fun movie with some twists and turns. Nothing too serious about the film, just a day in the life of a loser who happens to experience an extraordinary day. The movie is based on the novel Good Vibes by Jay Cronley and released in 1989.
Should Let it Ride be included on a list of best horse racing movies, absolutley. If you’ve been around horse racing you’ll surely relate to the characters in the movie. Click here for streaming information on Amazon.
The Killing (1956)
The Killing is a Stanley Kubric directed classic film noir. Not a feel-good story, it is a gritty look at some wannabe big-time criminals planning to rob a horse racing track. It’s a black and white film made on a low budget that turns up the tension and makes the movie watcher cringe
The director uses to perfection a couple of unique movie-making techniques in the film. First, he doesn’t follow a standard timeline, moving back and forth from past to present.
Second, there is no classic hero or good guy; people are people a little good and a little wrong. The robbery plot involves shooting a horse during a race to create distractions for the robbers.
Without exposing too much, let’s say everything turns ugly, including the decision of the main character to share his robbery plan with his wife.
The Killing may not be on everyone’s lists of the best horse racing movies of all time. But we liked this movie because it was unique and pulls you into the plot. Stanley Kubric created an excellent movie that includes the racetrack as a character in the plot. The Killing is available on Amazon Prime.
A big-money budget, an excellent story, and a solid cast resulted in a good, not great horse racing movie. The movie focuses on four characters, Secretariat, played by his great-grandson Trolley Boy, Eddie Sweat, Secretariat’s groom played by Nelsan Ellis, Penny Chenery Tweedy Secretariat’s owner played by Diane Lane, and Secretariats trainer Lucien Laurin played by John Malkovich.
Secretariat is a well-made movie produced by Disney. It tells the true story of Secretariat a great thoroughbred racehorse. He won the triple crown in 1973, becoming the first horse to win the triple crown after a 25-year drought.
Secretariat tells the story of a woman, Penny, navigating the horse racing world dominated by men. She also is juggling family obligations while trying to save her families stable.
Penny is a smart woman with nerves of steel. Secretariat will be her savior, and she knows this even before the horse is born. Lucien trained horses for her family’s stable for years. Together, Lucien and Penny mold Secretariat into a great horse.
Lucien is a seasoned semi-grizzled trainer looking forward to retirement life spent on a golf course, but Penny pulls him back in for one more run at the roses.
Lucien is reluctant to forego his retirement dreams but agrees to train Secretariat. As the movie unfolds, Lucien develops a winning relationship with Penny and Secretariat. Malkovich did an excellent job in the role of Lucien.
The groom Eddie Sweat is a likable character who has a real passion for Secretariat. Nelsan Ellis does a great job conveying this passion to the audience.
Secretariat rewrote the history of horse racing, to not include this film would be an injustice to racing fans. The movie consists of footage from his great victory at the Belmont Stakes and also does an admirable job covering his record-breaking career.
However, the film has glaring holes from a historical perspective. The main one is the failure to include Riva Ridge, Secretariats stablemate that saved Meadow Stables from ruin. Secretariat, the movie can be rented through Amazon. Click here to check current options.
I hope you take the time to watch all of these great horse racing movies, you will not be disappointed.
- Was Secretariat the Fastest Horse to Ever Race?
- Seabiscuit: 10 Facts About An Unlikely Champion Racehorse
- To learn about the Friesian horse breed and check out some of the movies they play a role in, click here.
- To read more about the top racehorse breeds click here.