Friday Flicks: Horse racing movies – the good, the bad and the ugly

Horse Nation film critic Amanda Ronan has some suggestions about which ones to watch–and which ones to avoid.

From Amanda:

As the country gears up for arguably the most famous, if not also most important, horse race in America, you might want to freshen up on your track lingo by watching a few of these movies.

First, we’ll start with one of the good ones and my favorite horse movie, Seabiscuit (2003).


Even with Tobey Maguire (I’m just not a fan!) this movie is awesome. Set during the Depression Era and starring a top-notch cast, it has ALL the cliches; down-on-his-luck rider, underdog horse, awesome trainer living on the fringe of society, and a hopeless but charming wealthy benefactor.

My favorite scene of the whole movie is when the trainer Tom Smith, played by Chris Cooper, is desperately looking for a jockey willing to ride the feisty little monster also known as Seabiscuit. He stands in the backstretch watching three or four grooms wrestling with Biscuit, turns his head and sees three or four grooms wrestling with Red Pollard. Boom, mystical magical connection made and the rest is history!

The next good one is Disney’s Secretariat (2010).


Another true story, Secretariat is the story of a woman caught in a man’s game who comes out the glorious winner. Penny Chenery along with a fantastic team of people beat the odds and steered “Big Red” to become the 1978 Triple Crown champion.

The best scene of this one has the be the final race at the Belmont. Sham and Red are head to head and everybody is screaming “No, he can’t take it!”, “It’s impossible!”, “No horse can take
this!” Then Red’s all like, “Oh yeah watch this kiddies.” He breaks away from Sham and pounds down the track! The soundtrack goes silent and all you hear is the thud of his hooves and his heavy breathing… Then ‘Oh Happy Days’ starts playing and everybody is all happy and cheery!

Lucian yells, “Ronny don’t fall off!”

Ah, perfect.

Next up are the “bad” horse racing movies. Now, these two movies aren’t bad in the sense that you’ll cringe over all the mistakes while watching them, so much as you’ll be sobbing uncontrollably to the point of not being able to even communicate to your non-horsey significant other why you are crying.

First off, Ruffian (2007).


This movie, made for ESPN and starring Sam Shepard, pulled (more like yanked) at my heartstrings.

Because I can’t actually write about this movie without sobbing, I’ll tell you a bit of movie-making trivia. Ruffian was such a large filly in real life, most of the horses cast to be her on the film were geldings. So there you go, don’t look too close in those closeups…

If this movie didn’t tap out your tear reserves, why not take the time to watch Phar Lap (1983).


Tom Burlinson, also known as the Man from Snowy River, rides… (SOB! Choked up breath.)

Umm, there are no words…not even gonna try…

Whew, moving on to the ugly. I mean uggully.

These movies just are not good. Maybe if you’re looking for a laugh, but even then, I wouldn’t watch them.

First, And They’re Off… (2011), starring Sean Astin who you may know as the “Rudy Hobbit” otherwise known as Samwise Gamgee.


For this movie you’re going to want to down a mint julep…or two…before watching. I’m pretty sure it was meant to be hilarious, but I don’t know, the jokes just did not come across as funny?

The only shining moment that it had was when poor Dusty was crying buckets after losing “Sprockets” in a claiming race. Anyone who’s sold a horse can relate to that moment.

But the ugliest of the ugly has to be the TV series, Jockeys (2009) produced by Animal Planet.


This sports/reality documentary surprisingly lasted for two seasons. I have to say, I thought it was terrible! The horses seemed very disposable to these riders. Where are the Red Pollards or the Tommy Woodcocks that would give up their own legs before they let their horse become injured! Urg! I think maybe this was the worst because unfortunately it was real, or as real as any “reality” show can be. It does give a decent look at the “track lifestyle,” but honestly I care less about so-and-so’s drug addiction or that-guy’s second wife so much as I care about the HORSES! Blegh.

Carrying on…

I know there are a few more good racing movies out there. For the PG crowd there is the always cute Racing Stripes (2005) starring Hayden Panettiere or Dreamer (2005) starring a young
Dakota Fanning. Both are easy breezy movies that will make the whole family happy.

Happy Derby watching and Go RIDING!

About the Author

Amanda’s experience with horses is just as eclectic as her taste in movies.  She has dabbled in almost every discipline from eventing to team penning to fox hunting.  She started riding when she was 8 with her local 4-H club in Western performance events.  She moved on to the AQHA circuit with her Quarter Horse, “Aggie,” when she was 12 and he was a green 2 year old.  Through college she held a working student position at Seahorse Sporthorses, owned by Terri Adams, where she was introduced to the wonderful world of show jumping and eventing.  Along with Aggie, who just turned 20 years old, she has two OTTBs in her herd named “Gump” and “Lizard.”  Amanda continues her jumping training with Ms. Adams and works on that necessary evil also known as dressage with Mimi Burch of Blue Moon Farm.

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