Best Worst Horse Movie Ever, II: ‘Champions’

Amanda Ronan isn’t going to stop until she’s reviewed every last horse movie and television show ever made. Brace yourself for the next film on her list.

From Amanda:

Every possible minute I can spare I am riding horses, or thinking about riding horses, or reading about riding horses, or watching other people ride horses in movies. I recently happened
across this list wherein its author, Michelle, is attempting to compile an inventory of every single horse-related TV show or movie ever made. And now I’m going to watch them… ALL.

Coming in at #55 on the List: Champions circa 1984. Directed by John Irvin and starring John Hurt, this movie is based on the true story of Bob Champion, a British steeplechase jockey.

The lengthy opening credits set this movie up for greatness. Wide panning shots of Aldaniti himself galloping across a field juxtaposed with images of the ominous steeplechase track.

Horse so pretty! Me want to ride!

But then I see this…

Now the OCD horse owner in me says this horse needs his teeth checked, possibly a better fitting bit, a properly fitted noseband, and definitely someone with softer hands. But anyway
let’s carry on…

After the opening credits, we are instantly taken to the track. Bob Champion and Aldaniti have just won a race! Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the race.

And then we’re in Kentucky. What? Where? Why? Bob is talking with a southern gentlemen about steeplechase and the dangers of the Grand National, at which point the man offers Bob
a job there in Kentucky. I have to say I felt a “vibe” between the actor playing Bob and the old gentleman.

“…will you let me come back next year?” Bob asks with a slight head tilt as he leans back on a small rock wall.

“Well, you know you’re always welcome here Bob,” the gentleman replies, grinning creepily as he leans over Bob, one leg propped on the wall.

Ummm…. anyway.

But then…

Is that the lady from Look Who’s Talking and that really horrible reality show called Fat Actress? And what in the world is she doing to that horse’s withers?

In an effort to keep this article PG, I’ll refrain from saying what happened next but let’s just say it was really awkward.

And then we’re back in London… that was a quick, strange trip over the pond… and Bob has just been diagnosed with cancer. The next 50 minutes of the movie show Bob going through round after round of chemotherapy, sickness and baldness. The movie does show the reality of cancer and cancer treatment. It is depressing and harsh. But in true horse-lover fashion, Bob doesn’t really lose hope until Aldaniti blows a tendon. Throughout the movie there are beautiful, albeit random, montages of Aldaniti training, and after this terrible accident we watch Aldaniti gag his way downhill set to a dark, foreboding soundtrack. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, the camera pans in close so we can watch Bob dry heaving in a bucket.

But he does beat the cancer! So begins the Rocky-like comeback, grey sweatsuits and inspirational music included. And then he tortures a small pony…

…and a full-size horse.

The head trainer, slightly concerned about Bob’s physical and mental well-being, send him back to Kentucky, where the southern gentleman, Kirstie Alley and a corncob revive him to full

I’ll let you figure out that one.

And then we’re back in London. Bob is healed and ready. Aldaniti is healed and ready. Let’s FINALLY see some steeplechase scenes in this steeplechase movie! But not quite yet…

We still have to have a love interest! So Kirstie Alley and the corncob aside, there’s this woman with one of those pixie haircuts that everyone thinks is so cute…until they get one…but that’s another story for another day. Anyway, Bob thinks he’ll love her!

Bob: “I think we should get married.”

Pixie-cut Girl: “Well good, because I’m going to business school with the intention of running
your future breeding/training operation.”

Bob: “Well, that’s convenient.”

Hey! There’s your love story. OK, back to horses…

Finally, Bob and Aldaniti are reunited. They quickly win a qualifying race and are well on their way to the Grand National. Bob straps on his blue and white turtleneck and prepares to run the race of a lifetime!

And here is where I’ll leave you in suspense. Of course I’m not going to tell you the ending! You’ll just have to find out for yourself. I will warn you though that this part of the movie should be rated HL-17… meaning no Horse Lover under the age of 17 should watch. Steeplechase is brutal on both man and beast and the filmmakers left nothing to the imagination.

My final conclusion… this movie was not my cup of tea. I give it 1 Golden Horseshoe for the Aldaniti musical montages and nothing else.

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