My Top 10 Racing Movies

One of my all-time favorite racing movies was on TV last week, and it got me thinking about some of the great flicks about The Sport of Kings, and some of the big disappointments. Racing movies actually are making a comeback after being so popular in the 1930s and ‘40s, and even into the ‘50s. In a relatively short period of time, we’ve had major motion pictures about Secretariat, Seabiscuit, and Ruffian, an old-fashioned type of movie such as Dreamer, and documentaries on John Henry and the epic “First Saturday in May.” Expected over the next couple of years are movies about Mine That Bird and Canonero II. We even had a horse racing episode of “The Sopranos.”

So, with that in mind, for your holiday enjoyment here are my Top 10 favorite horse racing movies.

1—PHAR LAP – If there is anything remotely close to a flawless horse racing movie, this is it. Wonderful storytelling, historically accurate, beautifully filmed, excellent acting, and they even got a horse that looks just like Phar Lap. The relationship between Tommy Woodcock and Phar Lap is told with great passion. This is just a wonderful film about one of the great heroes in Australia, who eventually came to the United States and raced in Tijuana, turning in one of the most impressive races ever witnessed. The film portrays his then mysterious death – poisoned by the bookies? Accidentally poisoned by pesticides sprayed from an airplane while he was out grazing? Experts have since confirmed that it was a massive ingestion of arsenic that caused his death.

2—CHAMPIONS – If you can handle the overdone and painful hospital scenes and Champion’s recovery from cancer, you will absolutely love this film, which stars the real Aldaniti, winner of the Grand National with Champion in the saddle. The race was magnificently filmed, with more drama and spectacle than you’ll find in most movies. It hits hard on an emotional level and will leave you either in tears or at the least with heavy duty goose bumps.

3—LET IT RIDE – If you have ever spent a day at the track betting and hoping this will be the day you can do nothing wrong, you will be able to relate to this racetrack fantasy, complete with an excellent cast of characters headed by Richard Dreyfuss. This is every horse bettor’s dream. There are so many memorable scenes there isn’t enough space to name them. People seem to either love or hate this movie. But if you look at it as a fantasy, you will understand the film’s intention. Just have fun with it. Great shots of Hialeah.

4—KENTUCKY – Made in 1938, this is the granddaddy of all racing films, the formula that most have followed since. The story of Penny Tweedy and Secretariat and Meadow Stable is basically life imitating art. This was the blueprint for that story. Who can forget the classic scene with Walter Brennan and the groom dancing down the shedrow together to “Postman worked in fohty eight, goin’ to da races, goin’ to da races.” The movie actually starts during the Civil War with a scene so emotionally gut wrenching it’s difficult to watch. But that is followed by amazing color film footage of Man ‘o War, Gallant Fox, and other greats at stud, which makes you feel as if they are alive today, the color and quality is so vibrant. The plot is Hollywood, but good Hollywood, and Brennan actually won an Academy Award. It is hard to believe the crotchety old Brennan was 34 when he made this film. And on top of all that, you get to see clips of Eddie Arcaro winning his first Kentucky Derby aboard Lawrin for Ben Jones.

5—CASEY’S SHADOW – Other than the stereotypical Hollywood “bad guy,” who winds up doing something really nasty in the film, this is an immensely enjoyable movie, with a sensational performance by Walter Matthau. His sons in the film are based on the Romero (Randy and Gerald) brothers back in their youthful Quarter Horse days. This movie is made so meticulously and with such great care, you feel as if you’re there in that world. The filming of Casey’s Shadow’s growth from foal to 2-year-old in a matter of seconds is brilliant and a tremendous piece of movie making.

6—BOOTS MALONE (1952) – This is about as realistic a look at racetrack life as you’ll ever see, and William Holden is superb as a down and out jockey’s agent whose star jockey is killed in an accident. Unable to find another rider to allow him his grandiose lifestyle, he falls on hard times, living in a tack room in a stable. The racing footage is very well filmed and the plot and sharp dialogue move the film along to its satisfying conclusion.

7—IT AIN’T HAY (1943) – As a huge fan of Abbott and Costello, I absolutely loved this movie that is based on a Damon Runyon story and is loaded with classic Abbott and Costello routines, including the hysterical “They’re off, the race is over, you lose!” race call at a bookie parlor, and other great bits (His mudda was a mudder). If you want to get a brief glimpse of old Saratoga, there is footage taken in front of the sprawling Grand Union Hotel. Oh, and the central equine figure in the movie is named Teabiscuit. This movie is not all crazy antics, which come later in the film. It has tragic scene, a classic scene in an automat, Damon Runyon characters, an even Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman. Great fun from start to finish.

8—THE KILLING – Stanley Kubrick’s first film is as gritty as it gets, with its plot focusing on a racetrack heist and the murder of a racehorse during a race as a diversion. The simplicity of the racetrack set makes you feel as if you are watching it on stage. Made in black and white and for next to nothing, the narrative and time framing, jumping back and forth in time, was extremely bold movie making in those days, and still would be today. The final scene was so violent, it was cut dramatically when shown on television.

9—RIDING HIGH – I wish I could remember more about this film, which was a remake of “Broadway Bill,” and stars Bing Crosby in one of his great performances. There is music, well-written dialogue, and a final scene that will tear your heart out. I have to warn viewers to get the tissues ready for the climactic scene.

10--SEABISCUIT – Yes, it had its flaws, but considering how lame most racing movies are these days, this at least was extremely well made, with spectacular photography and excellent performances. Racing aficionados can pick apart a good deal of it, from the totally false presentations of War Admiral (18 hands? Seriously?) and his owner  Sam Riddle to the racing inaccuracies and omissions. But it is still an enjoyable film, geared mainly to non-racing people. There was also "The Story of Seabiscuit," starring Shirley Temple that made absolutely no attempt at the truth. Entertaining but totally fictitious.


11—THE BLACK STALLION --  Spectacular photography, including great racing photography. And a terrific performance by Mickey Rooney

12—THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER – This British film about a young boy who can predict winners at the racetrack by driving himself into a frenzy riding his rocking horse is very well done and engrossing.

13—NATIONAL VELVET -- Highly entertaining, and a classic. This is the movie that made racing fans out of millions of little girls.

14--THE HOMESTRETCH – An enjoyable film starring Maureen O’Hara and Cornell Wilde with great shots of Ascot, Pakermo, and a number of tracks in the U.S.

15—(TIE) WALL OF NOISE – One of the best made-for-TV racing movies, with an excellent cast

15-- (TIE) GLORY – Good acting and dialogue, despite the incredibly lame plot. The real reason to see this film is the terrific footage of Swaps beating Nashua in the Kentucky Derby.

16—SECRETARIAT – Just in case anyone asks why Secretariat is not mentioned, I’m mentioning it.

** There certainly are other horse racing films of note, but these are all the ones that I’ve seen. And, yes, I did see Ruffian and Dreamer.


PRIDE OF THE BLUEGRASS – OK, first off, there once was a horse named Elmer Gantry back in  the ‘20s who went blind with cataracts and was taught to jump by a young girl who had been working as a wrangler and jockey at the fairs. She taught him based on a cadence technique, actually telling him when to jump and to know when he neared a jump. Heartwarming story, but here is what it evolved into when made into a movie.

Young man trains and rides Gantry the Great, and runs him in the Kentucky Derby and he goes off as the favorite. Gantry runs up the track and the stewards suspend the young man, his reputation now ruined. But it soon is discovered by a veterinarian why Gantry ran so poorly. During the Derby he had gone blind. The young man is ordered by the owner to shoot the horse. But, seeking redemption, the young man fakes shooting him and instead teaches him to be a jumper. Now, what do you do with a blind jumper? Simple, you take him to England and run him in the Grand National. Gantry, who actually plays himself, falls at one of the jumps, but gets back up and wins the Grand National, as the previous owner listens to the race from Kentucky on radio. Hey, if you’re going to alter history you might as well go all the way.

As wild as the plot is, you’ll get a kick out of it, even if you want to make fun of it.


Leave a Comment:

warning drums

Ah, I am amazed that On the Muscle is not on your list. Not only is it a well made documentary, but also the filmmakers had the best bit of serendipity (Mandella's BC blow-out) ever.

17 Dec 2013 4:34 PM
Bruce Greene

I'm delighted to see Phar Lap at the top of the list.  Couldn't agree more.   Too bad it's not shown often or even available on Netflix.  (I keep trying) One of the old-time trainers I interviewed at Bay Meadows years ago corroborated much of the film's portrayal of the events surrounding Phar Lap's death.  He even recalled seeing him grazing in that field.  The training regimen on the sand dunes scene is most memorable.

17 Dec 2013 4:43 PM
Steve Haskin

I didnt include documentaries. The best is "First Saturday in May." There are lots of others that are great, including On the muscle, but that is a totally separate category.

17 Dec 2013 5:12 PM

I enjoyed the movie "Seabiscuit," a lot more than I did "Secretariat." Oh well. I haven't seen any of the others you mentioned. I was fortunate enough to be able to have purchased a Seabuscuit movie poster signed by Gary Stevens and Chris McCarron. I wish there would be some more movies made about some of our great racehorses. I don't believe this will happen though.Too little interest in racing from the average moviegoer anymore. Sad.

17 Dec 2013 6:34 PM
carol in utah

carol in now in Arkansas....also, the phar lap movie can be viewed on youtube that from someone on fb....saw Kentucky on one of the "old movie" channels a few months ago...its great...gonna check out some of the others

17 Dec 2013 6:48 PM

OK. I have been waiting for a column like this.  When I was a young girl (the 60's, yikes) there was a movie shown on late night TV in LA. Don't know the name and have never been able to locate it.  It was Japanese with subtitles and was about a young boy who acquires a racehorse, he may have rescued it.  Anyway, his dream is to run the horse in some big race in Tokyo.

I'm pretty sure I remember that the horse won but the horse developed colic shortly afterward and died.  The boy sees an image of the horse in the clouds.  I cried for hours.  I would love to revisit this movie.  Does anyone have any ideas?

17 Dec 2013 7:31 PM

Nice list, Steve! I am now looking at my dvd assortment in the garage: The 1st Saturday in May, Barbaro- A Nation's Horse, Seabiscuit, Casey's Shadow, Dreamer (it's my way of hooking my friends' kids), Jerry Bailey's Inside Track, On the Muscle, Trip Handicapping, Ruffian (MY FAVORITE), Champions, and Let it Ride. I know several are informative/documentaries, but it is amazing how we punters seem to compile similar viewing favs. I love catching the classics on TCM - including Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in Thoroughbreds Don't Cry... My US History students will be watching Seabiscuit when we return from break as a fine example of socioeconomic culture of 1930's America...They always love it, so I recommend the book (many give that look that says "we watched it, why read it?)... Happy Yule to you and Lenny!

17 Dec 2013 7:46 PM


17 Dec 2013 8:15 PM
John from Baltimore

If you include harness racing movies "Back Home in Indiana" with Walter Brennan is quite the tear jerker.

17 Dec 2013 9:05 PM

Phar Lap (the full movie) is available on YouTube. Enjoy!

17 Dec 2013 9:08 PM

Could not agree with you more on your selection of Phar Lap....It is available for free on You Tube

17 Dec 2013 9:13 PM

Secretariat was awful. No mention of Riva Ridge? The film tried to make it seem like Saratoga, Lexington and The Meadow Farm were all within 15 minutes of each other. Finally, the presentation of the greatest race ever run by a horse, the 1973 Belmont, was done in a way that was completely uninspiring. And I guess now we know why the film presented John Tweedy in a poor light.

17 Dec 2013 9:34 PM
Rebs Policy

This past Summer, I saw a decent 16mm print of a racetrack life-based film from 1955 called "The Fighting Chance" starring Julie London - looking gorgeous,as always but portraying a selfish, vain woman - that was quite enjoyable.

17 Dec 2013 10:03 PM

A friend of mine bootlegged a copy of Phar Lap for me a few years back.  I just ball every time Tommy leads Bobby out of the van, on his way into the track and the crowd starts cheering for Phar Lap!

When he had threats on his life and was kept hidden. On his way to win the Melbourne Cup!  God the sceen is just beyond anything with how much he was loved!  I have a rare copy and cant tell anyone how my friend did it, but it was done. No, you wont find it anywhere. But I just love this movie and Phar Lap!

I am also glad you mention the movie Kentucky with Walter Brennan.  I sure do remember the color footage of Man O' War at the beginning of the movie, how cool!

There was also a movie called Blood Racing the Walter Brennan did that I remember watching on tv as a kid. The story is about 2 twin colts, one was supposed to be put down, as 2 never make it.  He was the weaker twin.  But a young boy convinced Walter not to put the horse down. Of course the weaker twin grows up secretly and wins the Kentucky Derby. I have never been able to find this film online, but it does exist somewhere.

17 Dec 2013 10:50 PM
El Kabong

Unbelievable. As if it's not enough to provide us with reality, you endeavor to share your insane devotion to all things equine in the realm of film. I'm just dying over here. I will make my best effort to see Phar Lap. But I have to reveal that The Rocking Horse Winner landed in my lap right about the time I first began to enjoy this sport. The cruel lesson of living beyond ones means is a tough pill to swallow for a high school kid but that was my first and most important literary lesson tied this sport, and a good one. I pondered the relevance of this story for years after I read it, but eventually vindicated the sport and realized we had been used to warn mankind of the dangers of credit cards.  

17 Dec 2013 11:24 PM
Arch the phoneman

I really enjoyed your list Steve. For me it's Casey's Shadow & Let It Ride neck and neck. Let It Ride truly captures the feeling of being on a roll, on a hot steak at the track. There's no feeling like it. Casey's Shadow features the great Walter Mathau and a really good story. I say Casey by a nose with Phar Lap 3rd. I've heard good things about Boots Malone, but, I've been unable to track it down. It's funny, I just finished watching Dreamer on cable for the umpteenth time which proves I'll watch anything about about this great game. As far as Secretariat goes, you've got a movie about one of the greatest horses in this great game and you get Diane Lane. Sign me up every time.

17 Dec 2013 11:48 PM
Shelby's Best Pal

This was great fun to read.  Thank you for sharing these movies, many I have not seen but now want to. I'm saving this article.  I love horse racing but I also love movies so this is great.  Living not too far from Double Eagle Farm, home to Mine That Bird, I am naturally excited for 50-1.  I may even try to make it to The Kimo in Albuquerque for the premiere.  Now wouldn't that be fun?  And about "Seabiscuit," I never get tired of watching it.  And I don't know if you are familiar with a movie called "The Heist" which starred Pierce Brosnan and Tom Skerrit but it was filmed in the 80's at Del Mar and it is a cool little movie, made for HBO I think.  The racetrack characters are hilarious.  Thanks again for this fun and interesting article.  Merry Christmas.

18 Dec 2013 6:31 AM

Loved Phar Lap.  As much as I obsess over the great Secretariat, I did not like the movie at all.  Consider a movie called 'Bite The Bullet'.  It's an older western film about an endurance horse race.  More focused on the human characters than anything else, but the end is done pretty well and will satisfy those of us who love our horses.

18 Dec 2013 7:20 AM
Pedigree Ann

Glad you put one of my favorites *Boots Malone* on your list. Loved it since I first saw it on TV back in the '60s; independent stations played lots of old movies in those days. (And isn't it interesting that Maryland, where the action was supposed to take place, looked so much like Southern California? <grin>)

I have a notion that the owner who decrees that White Cargo be sold off after his 'bad' work was based on Louis B. Mayer - he sold some very good horses out of his racing stable for not looking the part early. Mr. Mayer imported Alibhai and Beau Pere and bred many top-notch horses with them; if you look deeply enough, most top California-breds since go back to Mayer's stock somehow.

18 Dec 2013 8:46 AM

Great list!  I also love Hidalgo--while not about thoroughbred racing, it does give a nod historically to long-distance / cross-country competition.  Heart-warming story of a disillusioned half-breed soldier and his relationship with his Mustang. They compete and win (of course) against the purest-bred Arabians in the desert!  Still, very enjoyable!

18 Dec 2013 9:32 AM

I saw PHAR LAP once and there are portions from three scenes that I committed to memory.

The 1st was contained the scene where the groom used his body as a shield for bullets that were to caused the horse's demise. Happily the contract issue to kill the horse did not contained a clause containing  'All Others'.

Irrespective if this scene was either fact or fiction, the actions of that groom went beyond his keep and care duties. I am sure he was not required to lay down his life for his charge but he was prepared to do same.

Is this mind set of modern day grooms?

The next was when his trainer stated that he had 20 2YOs back in the barn and if their talents were combined, it would not amount to that of PHAR LAP.

The great ones cannot be made, they are born with special alethic talents. These super equines are rare and a craved in each successive crop of youngsters.

Last was the devious but brilliant wager his owner made. A wager on a three race series with Phar Lap to win two and a horse he had beaten like a rented mule to win the other, would have most bookies licking their chops.

The bookies did not see the sinister scratching of Phar Lap in the second race coming. They realized that they had been taken when it was too late.

I saw this movie a long time ago so if my recollections are fuzzy please forgive.

18 Dec 2013 9:41 AM
Go For Wand

The Cup came out last year regarding Media Puzzle and the story of Damian Oliver and the Melbourne Cup of 2002. There was also a movie about Black Gold, but it wasn't exactly accurate. I wish someone would make a movie about John Henry or Seattle Slew, two of the greatest "finds" in racing history.

I loved the story (book) of Seabiscuit better than the movie. I was rather appalled about how they portrayed the 1940 Santa Anita Hdcp and how they condensed three years of a story into one. If you read the book, the movie really disappoints. The best book I've ever read! Secretariat was "ok" but again I was disappointed by how the story unfolded. When Penny protested the movie, then something is wrong. Racing has SO many great stories and few ever get told.

18 Dec 2013 9:57 AM
Gina n

Thanks for sharing your list it made me smile. Pharlap has always been the most accurate race movie to me along with Casey's shadow. The reason we can't get a copy here of pharlap is because it's Australian made. Unless we buy an Australian DVD player we have to settle for bootleg copies. One of my clients was the sound mixer on sea biscuit and I begged him not to ruin the movie with stupid fake horse sounds that they don't really make. I agree about secretariat sadly it was about penny not him. I hope the next racing movie follows the lead of pharlap and Casey's shadow. Horse racing is a tough industry and you have to love it to stick with it.   Thanks again for sharing anxious to find the other movies you listed.

18 Dec 2013 10:44 AM
Arts and Letters

I agree about Phar Lap - fabulous movie!  Some Australian vendors used to sell the original dvds (and may still) but you need a TV and DVD player that can cope with PAL -- or watch it on your computer.

Apparently the real Aldaniti was in Champions - all the scenes that didn't include jumping.

I'm going to try to track down some of the movies on your list.  Thanks!

18 Dec 2013 11:41 AM
Smoking Baby

Phar Lap, Champions, Let It Ride.  Believe me Steve.  I've probably given this subject more thought than any normal person would over the years and I think you've hit the trifecta.  These would be the top three on my list as well (if only real trifectas were this easy).  Phar Lap.  Best scene for me was when Phar Lap was late for the big race (Melbourne Cup?), crowd growing restless and worried, and here comes Woodcock jogging Phar Lap in at the last minute.  To hear that crowd you'd have thought U2 was coming on stage.

Champions.  I saw this before the others and don't remember so much about it aside from thinking it was the best racing movie I'd seen at the time.  GREAT acting by the lead (John Hurt?)as I remember.

Let It Ride.  If you don't like this movie I can't help you. Best scene for me was when Trotter goes around asking everyone who they like and one by one scratches the number from his program until he's got one horse no one picked and that's who he bets.  Plus you get Michelle Phillips and Jennifer Tilly in the deal.  How can you complain?

18 Dec 2013 11:48 AM

Yes a great list and I will try to find the ones I did not know about.  From Netflix maybe?  Great to hear that Phar Lap is on YouTube since a DVD for this country's DVD formats is not available.  I do own a video tape of it which is still available at Amazon. And I think that the John Henry DVD is sold out.

18 Dec 2013 11:49 AM
That Thorobrat

Hey, what about the Marx Brothers & 'Day at the Races'?  Supremely silly!  I'd love to locate a copy of 'Kentucky' as it has been highly recommended to me in the past.

18 Dec 2013 12:01 PM

Just went looking through Netflix and I can not find many of these.  Anybody else find Boots Malone? Glory?

18 Dec 2013 12:02 PM

Secretariat movie is not first, yet he was and still is the greatest that has ever lived. Why???

18 Dec 2013 12:07 PM

I'm glad you included Champions on your list. A co-worker and friend is currently fighting cancer. When he was diagnosed and told how severe his case is, I could tell he was wavering as to how agressively he should fight it...should he just manage the pain and give up.  I told him about the scene where Bob Champion is about to check out of the hospital to go home and die but sees the children with cancer playing in the nursery down the hall. He walks in to observe them, and a little girl asks, "Are you going to live or die."  Shocked by her candor, Champion replies, "I'm going to live."  I have no idea if that really happened or not, but my friend took it to heart and is fighting!

18 Dec 2013 12:25 PM
Mary Zinke

Gin, That 1954 Racing Blood movie stars George Cleveland as "Gramps".  The kid is singer Jimmy Boyd.  Here's an IMDb link.  Sounds like a good movie. Good luck finding it.

18 Dec 2013 1:20 PM
Derby Dew

Steve, thanks for the trip down memory lane. I agree that Phar Lap was the best horse racing movie I've seen.

The movie that I looked forward to with the greatest anticipation, having enjoyed the book, was Seabiscuit. The movie barely resembled the book and my balloon was deflated.  Sigh!

As far as accurate and unfrosted portrayal of race track life, I was really into the short lived HBO series, LUCK.  It started out a bit awkwardly, but continued to improve in the areas of character description and intrigue.  A great saga of the ups and downs of racetrackers and those who infringe on that world.  Good casting for all parts (including the multi-talented Gary Stevens).  I really miss this series.  Damn you, PETA!

18 Dec 2013 1:51 PM

Phar Lap is my all time favorite also!  Can't keep a dry eye no matter how many times I watch it!  I can't find the American version on DVD?  The Black Stallion definitely makes my top 5.  The cinematography was stunning.  I'm not familiar with many of your others.  Good viewing for the winter. Thanks for sharing!

18 Dec 2013 2:32 PM

Have seen and own quite a few of these. Phar Lap probably my #1 too. Kentucky would be higher on the list as a huge fan of Exterminator and has that 'feel' to it, was a favorite movie for a long time. Ruffian would have made my top 10 though. A couple not mentioned worth viewing: Black Gold (1947)with Anthony Quinn, TV mini series Bluegrass (1988) Cheryl Ladd, kinda sad movie My Brother Talks to Horses (1947), Shergar (1999), Archer (1985). There are several good documentaries, Life and Times of Secretariat, Lost in the Fog, Seabiscuit and one of my all time favorites, Jewels of the Triple Crown Narrated by Jim McKay. I used to watch it every year prior to the derby but sadly the VHS was misplaced a few years ago and only have the case now and need to replace. Makes me want to veg in front of the TV now.

18 Dec 2013 2:55 PM
Ted from LA

You might be walking around lucky and not even know it.

18 Dec 2013 3:48 PM
Rusty Weisner


Funny you should mention "Let it Ride" -- Steve Cronley over at ESPN had a column about this movie last week:  he was the scriptwriter.  I'll have to see it.

18 Dec 2013 4:16 PM
Rusty Weisner

Steve Haskin,

Correction -- Cronley wrote the book on which the movie is based.

18 Dec 2013 4:21 PM

Thx to Noracherry who brought up Hidalgo before I actually was able to figure out whattheheck to do now that I have upgraded to Windows 8.1.  This was yet another horsie movie that I made the nieces and nephews and kid friends go to -- every time a horse movie comes out, they still (now all in their 20's) call me up to ask if they're going to have to take me to see it!

I will be looking for the Phar Lap movie.

Thx Steve, for including The Black Stallion and National Velvet -- although calling a horse "The Pie" when the one in the movie was a bay or brown really confused me when I went back to read the book.  I always thought he was supposed to be a piebald horse -- even more of an outsider when you think about National Hunt horses -- aren't most of them horses of the usual colour?

And in anticipation of the phone calls from the kids: does anyone know when the Mine That Bird movie is scheduled to come out?  I want to try and bug them before they call me.  (It's my job as an aunt)

18 Dec 2013 4:36 PM

I was thinking of the made for TV movie, Ruffian.  I know it wasn't very accurate in many aspects and maybe it's a documentary of sorts but since I remember the match race so well that one would have made my list too.

18 Dec 2013 5:31 PM
Jean in Chicago

Thank you for reminding me of the title "Boots Malone".  I had remembered the horse's name (White Cargo) and two scenes--the 'rich kid' pulling out his last $100.00 bill at the sale and swearing to Boots that this really was his last and Boots teaching him to ride sitting on a bale of hay.

"National Velvet" may have made racing fans out of little girls, but "The Black Stallion" made boys and girls want to be stranded on a desert island.  And someone on this blog (Linda in Texas, maybe?) actually knew CassOle, the horse who played The Black.

smarie, I agree on both your points.  That's why we love Steve's 'history' columns so much.  I think the trick is that the successful films aren't just about the horses (great for us), but also about the  people and the times (brings in the non-horse people).

18 Dec 2013 6:14 PM
The Doctor

Secretariat 777 - You may recall that "the greatest horse that ever lived" lost three times as a three year old to mediocrity!! You may want to modify your opinion. But it is the holidays so each to their own opinion.

"Let It Ride" my all time fav, Dreyfuss was spectacular!

18 Dec 2013 6:38 PM
Uncle Smiley


A subject so pertinent for this time of year.  Phar Lap, yes... The Kubrick film, also a fine but taxing view.

But where is A Day at the Races?  The Tootsie Frootsie Ice Cream scene, Steve, is the embodyment of pre Equibase record keeping!

Season Greetings,


18 Dec 2013 7:20 PM
Jean in Chicago

mz, that annoyed me too.  Darn it, he was supposed to be a piebald, otherwise his name makes no sense!  I also liked 'Hidalgo', but I have to admit that's partly because I have a crush on both Viggo Mortensen (played Aragorn in Lord of the Rings) and on Omar Sharif.  Nobody can say I base my lusts on age.

18 Dec 2013 7:39 PM
Paula Higgins

O.k. I loved National Velvet as a kid and still do. Loved Hidalgo even thought it was complete fantasy (never happened). Seabiscuit was good but not enough horse for me in that movie. Secretariat was o.k., not great though, in spite of Diane Lane's very good performance. I have not seen Phar Lap and deliberately so. The ending is not good and that is hard to deal with but maybe I should look for it on Youtube. The documentary on Seabiscuit was great. Loved it. I am surprised War Horse wasn't mentioned. A very good movie, although not about racing per se. Some tough moments in the film though.

18 Dec 2013 7:54 PM

By far and away "Kentucky" is one of my favorite horse racing films, but as a fan of the Marx Brothers I have to include "A Day at the Races" on my list.  The Tutsi Fruitsy ice cream scene on a betting tip between Groucho and Chico is a classic!

18 Dec 2013 8:06 PM

"Kentucky" was my favorite film at about 5 years of age and I thought Loretta Young was the most beautiful lady I had ever seen. Rerun on TV I must have watched the film dozens of times. The Grifters is my least favoured 'racing related' film, although a very good film I think the subject matter was extremely damaging to racing at the time.

"The Cup" can be viewed on Netflix but you had to be at Flemington racecourse when Damian Oliver won the Melbourne Cup in honor of his late brother, also a jockey, who had passed away a few days earlier from a racing fall. Their father had also died from a similar racing accident 27 years earlier.

18 Dec 2013 8:23 PM

Thanks for the "tip" on Let It Ride.....A lot of fun...Richard Dreyfuss is perfectly cast, Teri Garr always a delight, Hialeah scenes were excellent...and Jen Tilly, OMG !

18 Dec 2013 8:27 PM

I turned on "Kentucky" a couple of decades ago and was astonished to see the film clips of those fabulous horses - Man O'War and some others.  It was too late to start my VCR, so I spent several months reading the movie listings until it was shown again.  I have a VCR copy of the movie, but have no player with which to watch it.  My second comment has to do with the Black Stallion.  I read the book about a year ago, along with most of Farley's BS series.  The filming of that movie closely follows the words written by Walter Farley in 1947. Beautiful story and memorable movie.

18 Dec 2013 8:44 PM

I like the one.........about a horseracing writer.......that writes articles about unbelievable magical heartwarming articles, the one about the horse/person against all odds.......oh.....thats every story.............GROUNDHOG DAY 2

18 Dec 2013 8:47 PM
Steve Haskin

A Day at the Races should be on here. It's just that I havent seen it in so long I dont remember most of it. I do remember Dr. Hackenbush's classic line to the sick horse: "Take two of these every half mile and come back and see me."

18 Dec 2013 11:04 PM
Mary Zinke

KY, I hope you didn't feel compelled to "add" to this blog because I did.  How about posting a daily ten at the other blog, and I'll cheer you on.  I'll be there on Friday.  Go back up the mountain and leave Whoville alone :)

18 Dec 2013 11:42 PM

Jean in Chcago: ibid on the lusts.  (Sorry, Ted)

Regarding Secretariat, one of my biggest difficulties with the movie was John Malkovich' s accent as Lucien Laurin.  The whacky "Cajun" accent for someone from Quebec was just weird.  

18 Dec 2013 11:57 PM

This is a fun article Steve.  I love some of these movies on here, especially "Kentucky" with Loretta Young and Walter Brennan.  Brennan is in another one called "Home In Indiana" about harness racing with Jeanne Craine as a young girl.  

I have to agree "A Day At The Races" is a riot, I love that one and mention it often on these blogs.  I love the name "High Hat" and he (the horse) saves the day to save the sanitarium they are trying to convert to a casino.  Groucho is a riot as Dr. Hackenbush, when he "intercepts" a call from the "Florida Medical Board" at the sanitarium because he is really a veterinarian posing as an internist to woo a wealthy widow who has fallen for him and will only stay at the sanitarium if he is there!  He arrives and gives the woman a huge pill and says, "the last one I gave one of these to won the Kentucky Derby!"  The skit with the Florida call is on YouTube, in fact the entire movie is on it in parts, including the tutti-frutti scene another poster mentioned at the ticket windows.

Some other good horse movies, not necessarily racing ones, are My Friend Flicka with Roddy McDowell, Snowfire, Flicka with Tim McGraw, and the Hallmark Channel plays a lot of horse themed movies today.

19 Dec 2013 1:03 AM
Black prince

for racetrack speak, A Day At The Races and Boots Malone. Classics in the genre and universal

19 Dec 2013 3:51 AM

Thank you for not including National Velvet in your list. The mere fact that the Elizabeth Taylor character fainted near the end of the race renders this film nauseating to me.

19 Dec 2013 4:29 AM

Steve, you forgot "Hidalgo". Granted he was not a tbred, but he was an endurance race champion. Love this list Learned of some movies I want to add to my collection and watch. I do wish to disagree on some negative comments on "Secretariat" . I went with a group of horse friends and young riding students. It was refreshing to watch a movie that had no violence or profanity. At the end most everyone stood up and cheered ad clapped. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone and you too Steve. Please write a book in 2014!

19 Dec 2013 10:32 AM
Abigail Anderson

Steve: What a terrific column for the holidays! I knew about several of these and actually own copies of Broadway Bill & Riding High! The former was done by the great Frank Capra, starring Myrna Loy and Warner Baxter. Clarence Muse plays Bill's groom and was one of the first inductees into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. It's a really charming movie and I like it much more than the later Riding High. I agree about PHAR LAP -- it's right up there at the top of my list, as is THE BLACK STALLION. Some others I just loved and would recommend to those interested include A HORSE CALLED NIJINSKY, with narration by the fabulous Orson Welles and THE YEAR OF SIR IVOR, also a documentary; SARATOGA -- Jean Harlow's last film and another charmer; one other documentary, this one on the great (and titled as such) ISTABRAQ, who I feel is the one descendant (dam was Betty's Secret) who truly got "Secretariat's heart"; a golden oldie called THE GREAT DAN PATCH (which comes with an episode of ROY ROGERS!) is also very nicely done, although it is fiction and does take a few liberties with the true story. I really enjoyed the British movie SHERGAR, which stars Ian Holm, Mickey Rourke & David Warner, although it is a narrative and concludes in heartbreaking --though poetic -- fashion. But like many British films, it is beautifully done and I felt that the ending is fitting as a way of immortalizing a thoroughbred whose loss is still so keenly felt. Dare I add HBO's "LUCK"? I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I had heard terrible things about the filming but, after seeing Dustin Hoffman interviewed and hearing what he had to say, I decided to watch it. And that's all I'll say because it is controversial and that's not your purpose here.

Thank you for the suggestions of other films I didn't know about, Steve, (Stanley Kubrick's first film in particular -- who knew?) as well as those titles submitted here by other fans of "Steve's Place."

19 Dec 2013 10:48 AM
Abigail Anderson

WHOOPS! I included documentaries because I thought CHAMPIONS was a doc. (never seen it, though). SORRY!!!!!

19 Dec 2013 10:50 AM
Ted from LA

No worried mz. I'm having a very good day.

19 Dec 2013 1:34 PM

Once again, Steve, you break open old memory vaults... first, in "National Velvet," Elizabeth Taylor's character faints because that's what was in the book; remember also that she was a young teenager (book and movie) riding in an extremely grueling race against male jockeys, probably in the 1930s...

Next, thanks for the reminders of Walter Brennan, he wasn't always Grandpa McCoy... he lived about a half block from us in Southern California and used to exchange garden cuttings with my mom... always very warm and friendly and "just folks."

THEN the mention of Aldaniti--- I was fortunate to feed that very horse a mint in his paddock at the National Stud in Newmarket about 5 years ago, hope the ol' boy is still around, he was loving the attention.

Finally in my personal response to your list, I also knew Cass Ole who played the Black Stallion, he was a wonderful show horse who competed in all sorts of events including sidesaddle; and his movie trainers found him very easy to work with.

A nice list and I'll enjoy tying to ferret some of them out, along with some of the ones from other posters.

Merry Christmas to everyone, and Steve I loved the Hanukkah bushes on the current ATO!!

19 Dec 2013 2:22 PM

Thank you Steve!  Great reliving some of those movies along with your thoughts of them.  I got myself a VHS tape of Phar Lap from EBay, many years ago.  Cannot watch it without wailing tears.  Need to get a hold of some of the others you have mentioned.  Wishing you and yours the loveliest of Holidays!!!

19 Dec 2013 2:58 PM
Steve Haskin

Happy holidays to everyone, and thank you for your comments all year and supporting the blog. I'll be taking a break and will return with the 'ol Derby Trail and Derby Dozen and whatever features I feel will interest everyone.

19 Dec 2013 4:05 PM
Ted from LA

That should read, "No worries, mz."  I hate making mistaks.  I just figured out that it's not my gambling my wife hates, but it's my losing.

19 Dec 2013 4:44 PM

everyone forgets one of the best.........."The Champ".......come on man!...........Man from snowy river/return to snowy river.................."Wake up champ! wake up!"

19 Dec 2013 5:27 PM

I completely agree with Phar Lap being the best racing movie ever made. I have probably watched it twenty times and still cry every time at the end. I also loved Champions and agree with it being number two. I got to put Casey's Shadow and The Black Stallion over Let It Ride though.  The Black Stallion Returns was also a good movie although not as good as the first one. Added bonus for Phar Lap, Champions and The Black Stallion movies was they had beautiful soundtracks. I have not seen the older movies that Steve mentioned but I would like to see those too.  I also agree that they did no justice to Secretariat's Belmont in the movie. I was disappointed.

Does anybody remember that song and video that ABC Sports used to play before the Kentucky Derby in the mid to late 1980's?

19 Dec 2013 9:08 PM
Paula Higgins

I 2nd and 3rd that about Viggo Mortensen and Omar Sharif in Hidalgo. Also, Chris Cooper in Seabiscuit. While I know John Malkovich was not even close to the real Lucien Laurin, I could watch him read the phone book. I read somewhere that the one of the horses in Seabiscuit was used again in War Horse. Viggo Mortensen bought the horse in Hidalgo. He loves horses and does all his own riding in his movies. He also bought the white horse in one of the Lord of the Ring movies and gave it to the stunt woman that rode it.

19 Dec 2013 9:35 PM

What a great holiday piece!  Thanks Steve.

Many of these movies, including the older ones (Champions, Casey's Shadow, It Ain't Hay, The Killing, Riding High, Seabiscuit [the new one & the Shirley Temple one], The Black Stallion, The Rocking Horse Winner, National Velvet) can be found at  And if they don't have it, they may be able to find it.  They have an extraordinary catalog that's something like 900 pages long.  I'm not affiliated with them in any way, except they have a lot of my money from many purchases through the years!

I wish somebody would make a version of National Velvet that was truer to the book.  Not just the name and color of the horse, but the complexity of the story.  Ah well.

19 Dec 2013 10:28 PM
Pedigree Ann

*Phar Lap* is, IMHO, the best movie based on a racehorse ever made. Some may like those that deal more with the gambling side of things better, but I don't. I first saw *Phar Lap* at the Kentucky Theater in Lexington, a one-time only screening, and there were gobs of horse people in the audience. During the intermission (yes, an INTERMISSION), I was chatting with Peg Simpson who did the Blood-Horse foreign racing research down in the basement library of the old building on Alexandria Drive. She said that she was of two minds about whether to go back for the second half because, like most of the people in the audience (myself included), she knew exactly how this would end. Much choking up as the tragic moment approached. I have a VHS tape AND a player.

*Lightbulb* My hubby has a machine that puts tapes onto disks - has done so with all the family tapes from the 80s and 90s. Anybody interested in some bootlegging? <grin>

20 Dec 2013 12:06 PM

Pedigree Ann: name your, suggested donation.

Also, can your husband change VCR tapes of old Super 8 movies (made by Dad in 1970, when I was a young teen and hated that I had to go to Italy for a WHOLE SUMMER with my family and be seen in public with them) into DVD's?  We completed the conversion to VCR when we thought technology had gotten as far as it could and we would never have to change into any other format again.  I am waiting until we all have chips implanted in our jaws and won't have to pay cell providers ever again*

*although easier for NSA, etc. to track us.  Not that they aren't already doing that.  

20 Dec 2013 2:03 PM
Mary Zinke

Geez, had to LOL at your mention of The Champ, KY.  How is that a horse racing movie? And you may as well just boldly admit that you like the feisty girl in the Snowy River movies. Ha,ha,ha!

20 Dec 2013 2:04 PM

Forgot to tell everyone: Mine That Bird movie coming out in March.  The trailer is already out but I am not ept enough to post a link.  Go check it out (while I YouTube the real Derby again and smile a lot)

20 Dec 2013 2:06 PM

Lol, seems that the comments have gone beyond race horse movies to horse movies in general with the mentioning of The Man From Snowy River, but maybe not too far as the wild stallion was a thoroughbred. So I will tosin aan old movie that has nothing to do with racing..Misty of Chincoteague.

20 Dec 2013 3:28 PM
Paula Higgins

mz, omg I laughed my head off at your trip to Italy comment. I felt the same way. I think most teenagers did.

20 Dec 2013 8:38 PM

acadamy award! the champ was a groom....they lived at the track....the kid owned a from snowy river 1 and 2....about 2 twins trying to win the heart of a girl....she told them she would go with the 1st one to make a went looking for gold, one bet all his money on a horse....the horse won..........was dreamer,a movie about horseracing? or a father that gave up on his dreams.....was day at the races about horseracing? or 3 comic slapstick comedians? the best movies are about personal character development.......the way the champ, and kid showed their morals, the way they carried themselves, were consistant with growing up at the a bet is a bet, you win sometimes you lose sometimes.......the boys horse broke down on the track right? ......not a movie about horseracing? really?

20 Dec 2013 10:45 PM
Mary Zinke

Okay, KY, more giggles at your movie synopses. You always seem so out of breath. I was thinking that The Champ had more to do with boxing, but you gave a racing link. I'm a fan of the Snowy River movies for that guy who stars in Phar Lap, too.

21 Dec 2013 1:51 AM

Haven't been around lately so Happy Holidays everyone. I have Phar Lap, and think it's the best too. I have Let It Ride, but had a bit of a disappointment. Several years ago a TV commercial used scenes from that movie but told the story of some gamblers who got into debt with Mr Big, and attempted to appease him by buying him a champion race horse. Everyone is at the track on the big day. Mr. Big is strutting around as an owner. The gates open and the horses take off. Mr. Big is searching the field with his binoculars. However, his champion horse is still back at the gate doing the two-step salsa on the track. His "Champion" horse turns out to be a dressage champion! (but not a race horse.) That scenario was the commercial, and not in the movie...but I kept waiting for it...hence the disappointment.

You did forget the '30's movie with an emerging Clark Gable (pre-moustache days), and I think the title was The Sporting Life (not certain, even though I have it somewhere). It's a boy meets girl story, but it's mostly about a race horse called Tommy-Boy. I thought Seabiscuit was excellent, but Secretariat was not really about the horse.

Of course I would most love a movie (but the real story) about Seattle Slew.

21 Dec 2013 5:22 PM
joseph lemoine

hi,i dont want to sound sarcastic but your choices dont fall in line with the publics opinion.i have been an owner for numerous years probably more than you and pharlap was ok but as far as the american ideas of a good race track movie seabicuit even with mistakes is

probably the nos i choice

22 Dec 2013 1:40 PM
Uncle Smiley

This just came to mind and is perhaps the ultimate blend of Race Horse and holiday movie...The Lemon Drop Kid, staring Bob Hope.

Plus, the name of Hope's character, runs with us today.

Youtube has a great synopsis showing highlights from the racing plot and susequent "Christmas" plot.  Both based on a Damon Runyan con scheme.


22 Dec 2013 5:37 PM
Thoroughbreds are the best

Watched Phar-Lap on you tube this morning. I haven't seen it in years.  It is still well done and deservedly number one.  Glad to see it again.   Great movie that really captured the early 1930's as well.  

22 Dec 2013 8:46 PM
Linda in Texas

Merry Christmas Steve and family and all the wonderful bloggers,friends, fans, announcers, owners, trainers, jockeys, handlers, caregivers, hot walkers, groomers and all supporting back track folks, but especially to the Thoroughbreds whom without we would not be here.

Regards at this special time of the year from all of us in Texas y Feliz Navidad a Todos!    

23 Dec 2013 10:26 AM

Thanks for such an entertaining walk through the history of horse racing cinema! I am thrilled that you also appreciate Casey's Shadow as it is my all-time favorite and the reason I became obsessed with horse racing. I was already a horse-crazy girl but this movie made me fall in love with the racing world. As much as I love the sequence you mentioned with the colt's (and the boy's) development, the final racing scene of the All-American Futurity moves me to tears every time. The slow-motion, the colors and the swell of the music to Shadow's rippling muscles propelling him across the finish line were magnificent. The heart-wrenching ending completes the emotional wringing-out for me but then I can't wait to see it all again. Once when I was in college I actually wrote to HBO and asked them to please put it on, and they did!! Again, thanks for your nod to the movie that changed my life.

24 Dec 2013 8:41 AM

Great list Steve. I agree with Phar Lap, Boots Malone, National Velvet and Let It Ride. I also like The Long Shot with Tim Conway and Harvey Korman ("Opening prayer is at 1:00 o'clock"). Always good for a laugh!

24 Dec 2013 10:21 AM

Great list Steve.  As I spent 20 years in Oz involved in the racing game over there I agree with your number 1.  I had the privilege of meeting Tommy when, as a trainer, he campaigned his wonderful horse Reckless all over the country and marveling as he let kids have rides on his back on raceday! Supreme horseman and if you have not seen the photo of him sleeping with Reckless in his stable, here it is - a one off for sure!

25 Dec 2013 8:52 AM

Any love here for The Reivers from 1969, starring Steve McQueen and a very young Mitch Vogel? It was a "road trip" story set in the rural American South at the turn of the century, and the big horse race scene is absolutely lyrical. Racing is one of the major themes of the movie although it has several story lines. I still enjoy watching it.

Phar Lap was really great film, which I have seen several times, but I am not sure I can ever watch it again, it's too heartbreaking, as are several others people have mentioned.

arcadiagirl, I know that Japanese film too but I can't recall the title! It was in black and white and very intense. I remember the boy's father beating the horse while he was in his stall, probably because he had lost a race? I was very young and I had never seen that kind of cruelty depicted on film before and it had a profound effect on me.

25 Dec 2013 6:31 PM

Just wanted to let all of Sgt. Reckless' fans know that they unveiled a statue in her honour in July.  I'd like to see a movie about her.

25 Dec 2013 8:13 PM
Ted from LA

God bless us everyone.

25 Dec 2013 8:20 PM

Another wonderful article...ty...

26 Dec 2013 8:25 AM
Paula Higgins

mz, I loved the story of Sgt. Reckless too. I never really understood why Steven Spielberg did a story (yes, I know it was big on the London stage) about a fictional horse when the real deal existed in the form of Sgt. Reckless, and a girl no less. What a great story. If you don't know about her, "google" her. There are a bunch of sites devoted to her courage in battle. As much as I love the Queens: Zenyatta, Rachel, Goldikova, Black Caviar, Zarkava and Rags to Riches, Ruffian, Personal Ensign, Miesque etc., she was unique in her heroism. I know many horses were used in battle throughout history and showed great courage.

Ted from LA, Happy New Year and to everyone who blogs here. A special Happy Year to Steve and his family for giving us such a wonderful blog.

26 Dec 2013 1:45 PM
Mookie's Hero

I'm not sure if this would be considered a racing movie but in the book The Horsemasters  by Don Stafford there is a terrific cross country horse trial. The made for TV Walt Disney movie was lots of fun. I loved it. Annette Funicello starred in the movie. I would love to find a DVD of this movie. I have both Casey's Shadow and the Champions. Loved the book National Velvet but can't bring myself to see the movie. Seabiscuits was a great book and a interesting movie. I hope I can find the others on this list. Great list. Thanks so much.

27 Dec 2013 1:42 AM

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned "My Old Man" based on Hemingway's short story with Warren Oates, Eileen Brennan & Kristy McNichol that came out in the 70's.  If you've never seen it, it's a great movie.

What about "Little MIss Marker?"  There are 2 versions, the 2nd starred Walter Matthau & Julie Andrews.  Both the original and remake are good racing movies.

There are so many good horse/racing movies that have been made over the years.  I've been collecting them all of my life and have amassed quite a catalogue of books and movies.  I think after reading this blog, I'm going to make a trip into town for provisions & come home and watch movies all weekend.  Thanks for the insperation!  

27 Dec 2013 12:47 PM

After reading your list, I remembered that I had a DVD copy of Phar Lap. Several years ago Fox Movie Channel showed it, and I recorded it with a DVD recorder I had at the time. I finally found the DVD in a box, sat down last night and watched the whole thing, being totally captivated. What a wonderful film - I can't find one thing wrong with it.

28 Dec 2013 3:49 PM
Mary Zinke

On The Nose!  Just watched it. Aborigine head in a jar picks winners.  Good stories, many funny moments.

01 Jan 2014 11:00 AM

How about Dreamer the Kurt Russell movie.  David Morse shines in this, and with the foreign money everywhere it makes sense to mention it.

12 Jan 2014 6:11 AM
jeanne wolverton

Love Phar Lap, I bought a Video cassette copy on Amazon. It was once available at blockbuster, and this is where it came from originally.

06 Apr 2014 7:18 PM

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