Secretariat (2010) and Other Fantastic Horse Racing Stories

True sports stories are a popular subject for movies. Inspirational sports tales of teams struggling against adversity or underdog victories remind us of the best values that we share. A popular sub-genre within the category of sports movies is horse racing movies.

Horse racing is an exciting world, so it makes sense that it would be used as the backdrop for many movies. That so many of these stories are based on real events shows just how interesting that world is. It seems like horse races just have higher stakes than most other sporting events.

This is partly due to the amount of money involved. Horses are expensive animals to breed, raise and train. Elite equine bloodlines can be worth millions and are closely protected, while betting on horse racing is a massive industry where huge sums are won and lost.

If any of these films inspire you to place some bets of your own, it is important to remember that just like with any sport, doing your research is important. Of course, you can bet based on the color of the jockey’s silks or which horse is prettiest, but that’s not an ideal long-term strategy.

There will always be upsets and surprise wins — this year’s Kentucky Derby made that clear — but paying attention to previous races and good tips is essential when betting on horse racing.

Without further ado, here are our picks for some of the best horse racing movies:

Secretariat (2010)

The story of Secretariat, the first horse in 25 years to win the Triple Crown, is one of both an exceptional animal and a woman who fought to protect her family’s legacy. Penny Chenery worked to save her family’s struggling horse farm and her eye for horses caught Secretariat’s potential.

The movie has an appropriately star-studded cast for telling the life story of such an important horse. Diane Lane stars as Penny Chenery and John Malkovich plays Lucien Laurin, Secretariat’s trainer. James Cromwell plays Ogden Phipps, the owner of Secretariat’s sire.

Secretariat is one of the most famous racehorses in history and his story has inspired many people. He’s even become a pop culture reference, including being part of the plot in multiple seasons of the hit animated sitcom BoJack Horseman.

Seabiscuit (2003)

While Secretariat was a horse that was almost as big as his legend, Seabiscuit is the story of a horse that was almost too small to compete. At the heart of the story is the fiery and unmanageable colt and his equally difficult jockey; the two are able to understand one another and that makes them unbeatable.

It is also a story of culture clashes, as Seabiscuit was a major West Coast winner but wasn’t taken seriously by the more tradition-bound East Coast racing circuit. The movie also does a very good job of showing the toll racing takes on both the horse and the jockey.

In order to get an authentic feel, the movie was shot at some of the most famous racetracks in the United States. Shooting locations included Santa Anita Park in California, Keeneland Race Course in Kentucky, and the Saratoga Race Course in New York.

Hidalgo (2004)

Hidalgo is one of the great endurance horse race movies. It tells the story of Frank Hopkins, played by Viggo Mortensen, an American distance rider who enters the Ocean of Fire endurance race across the Najd desert.

As with all great epics, there is more at stake than just the race. There is political intrigue, sabotage and a steady stream of danger and adventure. It is considered a western because the main character is a cowboy, even though almost the entirety of the film takes place in what is now Saudi Arabia.

What is even more intriguing is that experts can’t agree on if the historical events in the film ever happened. Some have doubts about Hopkins’ background and even if the race existed. Others have argued that relying on written sources silences cultures with oral traditions — such as the Lakota and the Bedu.

Phar Lap (1983)

Phar Lap is a story that American audiences are less familiar with, but he is probably the most famous racehorse from New Zealand in history. The movie tells the story of how Phar Lap was trained from an awkward and underweight young horse into a Melbourne Cup and Australian Derby winner.

This movie deals with the unsavory side of horse racing, which makes sense since Phar Lap was murdered, most likely by members of the mafia looking to protect their betting interests. There had also been an attempt to shoot the horse two years earlier.

The story of the bond between Phar Lap and his strapper Tommy Woodcock is an uplifting one. However, the tragedy of his death and the fact that he was killed to protect the financial interests of criminals is one that shows how cruel humans can be.

National Velvet (1944)

The final movie on our list isn’t based on a true story, but it is such a great story of determination and trusting your instincts that we had to include it. National Velvet stars Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet, a young girl who has adopted a horse and plans to enter him in the Grand National steeplechase event.

No one believes in the horse except the girl, and she struggles to convince her family that he has the makings of a champion. The movie also stars Mickey Rooney as a former jockey who was traumatized in a racing accident but who agrees to train Velvet and her horse.

The film is inspiring for anyone who has had to overcome the odds to pursue their dreams. The events of the movie might not have happened – but the feelings and struggles it portrays are ones that many people are all too familiar with.

In the end, it doesn’t even really matter if a horse racing story is true or not. There is enough in the racing world that is stranger than fiction or impossible to believe. What really matters is the inspiration we can take from these stories.