Here at Simple Horse Life, we love a good movie. Especially when it contains horses. If you’ve read our recent article on the best horse movies of all time, you may have already checked out some of our top picks. This post is specifically about the best horse racing movies of all time.
Best Horseracing Movies of All Time
Horse racing movies are often centered around an “underdog” that becomes a champion. It is this common theme that lends an air of inspiration to the best horse racing movies. As we know, horses and owners often mirror each other in a number of ways, so it’s easy to relate to a lot of the equine and human characters in our favorite horse films.
If you’re up for some inspirational vibes this weekend and don’t mind shedding a few tears, have a gander at some of our recommendations. Bear in mind that these are in no particular order. Enjoy!
#1: Seabiscuit (2003)
Gary Ross’s Seabiscuit received great reviews from both audiences and critics. First of all – a little history. The real Seabiscuit was a small Thoroughbred born in 1933. Despite performing poorly in his early races, he went on to eventually beat champion racer War Admiral at Pimlico. In 1938, he took home “Horse of the Year” and became an icon during the Great Depression.
The movie Seabiscuit tells the story of three men – John “Red” Pollard, Charles S. Howard the racehorse owner and trainer Tom Smith. The belligerent young Pollard is matched with a lazy, apparently untrainable Thoroughbred called Seabiscuit. Pollard jockeys Seabiscuit under trainer Tom Smith’s guidance.
Though Howard initially writes off Seabiscuit as a racehorse, he keeps him for his looks. Smith has other ideas and is determined to get Pollard and Seabiscuit up to speed.
The real Seabiscuit became a legend both within and outside of the horseracing community. His success comforted people living through the Great Depression, and brought hope to many.
#2: Hidalgo (2004)
Hidalgo received mixed reviews from critics and audiences. That said, we’re not about to write off a film that some people might love. This action-adventure movie focuses on the troubled Frank T. Hopkins and his mustang named Hidalgo. Hopkin is haunted by his past in the U.S. cavalry and the part he played in the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. As a result, he drinks heavily.
The duo has a reputation for success in horse racing and frequently race in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. When rich Sheikh Riyadh discovers that Hopkins is called the “world’s best rider”, he challenges Hopkins and Hidalgo to show themselves worthy in a race across the Najd desert.
Elsewhere, the U.S. government has captured and planned to euthanize wild mustangs, something Hopkins is determined to help prevent. Will he succeed in his efforts to preserve his title and honor and rescue the mustangs?
#3: National Velvet (1944)
If you’re an old cinema lover, National Velvet might be the one for you. Screen legends Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney star as young horse trainers in this classic. Velvet, a 12-year-old horse lover, wins a horse that she later names “The Pie” in a raffle. Velvet meets Mi, a young wanderer when her parents hire him to work at their home.
The two develop a friendship, and former jockey Mi eventually agrees to help Velvet train The Pie for the Grand National. This takes some work, as Mi is now afraid of horses after a tragic accident and refuses to ride them. Velvet is determined to have Mi assist her and he eventually relents.
National Velvet won two Oscars – Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Anne Revere as Araminty Brown and Best Film Editing for Robert J. Kern. It was also nominated for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction awards. This beautiful classic is one horse lovers simply cannot miss!
#4: Dark Horse (2015)
A newer, lesser-known entry is Dark Horse. Dark Horse is actually more of a documentary than a movie and has been highly reviewed, currently holding a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Dark Horse takes us on a journey to a Welsh mining village, home to barmaid Jan Vokes. Jan convinces other members of the community to chip in 10 pounds a week towards a new horse racing venture. Together, they purchase a colt named “Dream Alliance” and hire a trainer to work with him.
Dream Alliance is the typical underdog, stunning everyone by performing pretty well in his first race. He went on to win a great deal of prize money, which was shared amongst those who chipped in for him. Some of the money went towards medical costs when Dream Alliance was discovered to have a lung condition.
Dream Alliance is still alive in 2021 and is happily retired in Somerset. Another film, Dream Horse (2020) starring Toni Collette is also based on Dream’s story, if you’d like to check that out, too!
#5: Phar Lap (1983)
Like Seabiscuit, the real Phar Lap was an underdog who went on to become a champion. The New Zealand Thoroughbred became an icon during the Great Depression in Australia, just like Seabiscuit in the United States, and a symbol of hope to many who were struggling through it.
Phar Lap the movie tells the legendary racehorse’s story. We first see him malnourished and covered in warts, much to the disappointment of his future owner, Mr. Davis. Trainer Harry Telford, however, comes to the horse’s defense and convinces Mr. Davis to let him work with Phar Lap.
After a few lost races and with the help of a devoted stable boy, Tommy Woodcock, Phar Lap finally starts to win races. Sadly, the real Phar Lap only lived for five years. He died in mysterious circumstances in 1931.
#6: Secretariat (2010)
Disney’s Secretariat is another movie based on the life of a famous racehorse. In this case, it’s about Secretariat, another Thoroughbred champion who won the American Triple Crown. Her sick father unable to continue running the family farm after her mother’s death, Penny Chenery decides to take matters into her own hands.
When Penny receives a foal (Secretariat) from Ogden Phipps as part of a deal her father made, she has high expectations due to the foal’s bloodline. Secretariat gives an average performance in his first race, so Penny decides to invest in a seasoned jockey.
The new jockey, Ron Turcott, races Secretariat to victory and the “Horse of the Year” title. Secretariat got pretty good reviews, and currently holds a 76% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
#7: Ride Like a Girl (2019)
Ride Like a Girl depicts jockey Michelle Payne’s story. Michelle Payne from Australia was the first female Melbourne Cup winner along with her horse, Prince of Penzance. As of 2021, she is still the only female to have ever won the Melbourne cup.
The movie details her life from being a little girl dreaming of winning the Melbourne cup, to a young woman who has made it happen. She also deals with the aftermath of her sister’s death, which causes her father to have reservations about Michelle continuing to ride. She ignores this and tries to escape his protective grip.
When Michelle enters the Melbourne Cup race, her odds of winning are 100 to 1. Of course, she smashes these odds and rides Prince of Penzance to victory and gives her famous winning speech.
#8: Rock My Heart (2017)
Netflix Drama Rock My Heart is a movie almost certain to have you reaching for the tissues. Teenager Jana has a serious heart condition and her parents’ overprotectiveness is grating on her. She goes against their wishes at every opportunity and is frequently sullen, rebellious and withdrawn.
When she goes out searching for a horse she recently connected with, she finds him and learns his name is “Rock My Heart”. A horse trainer, acting on his intuition, offers to train Jana up in the art of jockeying, an offer she accepts.
Despite knowing it might kill her, Jana persists with Rock My Heart and is determined to enter a race and live her life to the fullest. If you don’t mind getting a bit emotional, give Rock My Heart a chance this weekend!
Best Horse Racing Movies of All Time: Sum-Up
- A lot of horseracing movies take inspiration from real-life events. Famous horses Seabiscuit, Phar Lap and Secretariat all have movies based on their stories.
- The common denominator in most horseracing movies is that the horses and riders depicted are often underdogs who have had to overcome great obstacles before their success.
- You can find plenty of great horse movies on Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.
Best Horseracing Movies of All Time: Final Thoughts
It wasn’t easy whittling the best horseracing movies down to eight, and there are many others we’d have liked to include. Honorable mentions include Dreamer (2005), The Black Stallion (1979) and Dream Horse (2020).
We hope you’ve found something that strikes your fancy on this list. Thanks for reading our top picks for best horseracing movies of all time, and enjoy your horsey movie night!