Here are my top racing movies to bring you down the homestretch for Saturday’s 140th Kentucky Derby.
Secretariat (2010) – “Penny Chenery Tweedy and colleagues guide her long-shot but precocious stallion to set, in 1973, the unbeaten record for winning the Triple Crown.” – IMDb
What I Loved: Diane Lane and John Malkovich are simply fantastic to watch on screen, in whatever roles they choose. The movie has a rockin’ soundtrack and is all about girl power as it follows the trials and tribulations of Penny breaking into the boy’s club of 1970’s Thoroughbred racing.
What I Hated: There are so many factual errors in this film it’s hard to believe Disney did any research beyond Wikipedia. Just take a look at some of them listed on IMDb.
Seabiscuit (2003) – “True story of the undersized Depression-era racehorse whose victories lifted not only the spirits of the team behind it but also those of their nation.” – IMDb
What I Loved: Pretty much everything as this is my favorite horse movie of all time. I am a sucker for an underdog tale and this is one in every regard. Straight from the mouth of Charles Howard, “The horse is too small, the jockey too big, the trainer too old, and I’m too dumb to know the difference!” Then they come back from injury again and again. Not to mention that in real life Seabiscuit had mildly crippled knees? It’s just awesome!
What I Hated: The fact that it ended, though the huge guffaw of ‘War Admiral’s 18 hands versus Seabiscuit’s 15!’ can’t be ignored. In actuality, the two horses were very similar in size.
What I Loved: The movie, despite being made for TV, is visually stunning.
What I Hated: The heartbreaking loss of Ruffian at the end of this film is… Nope, can’t even talk about it.
Phar Lap (1983) – “The true story of a Australian racehorse that becomes a champion with the help of a local stable boy.” – IMDb
What I Loved: Every. Single. Thing. This film is one corner in the triangle of equestrian greatness that is Tom Burlinson aka The Man from Snowy River. It’s beautifully crafted and arguably the greatest horse racing film ever created both technically and content wise.
What I Hated: The abject horror you feel by the end of this film is hard to describe. Let me put it this way, if you have anything…and I mean anything…that needs to be done within 24 hours with some level of competency do not watch this movie. It will leave you in a fetal position, crying like a newborn babe. True fans can barely look at the movie poster without crying hysterically.
Family (As critiqued by my 5-year-old daughter)
Dreamer (2005) – “Cale Crane catalyzes the rescue and rehabilitation of Sonador, a race horse with a broken leg.” – IMDb
What I Loved: That girl is funny ‘cause she eats popsicles with the horse and horses don’t eat popsicles!
What I Hated: Her daddy…ummm…he was mean ‘cause she just wanted to ride that horse! (shoulder shrugs) So just…ummm…why can’t she just ride the horse? (weird questionable face)
Racing Stripes (2005) – “An abandoned zebra (voice of Frankie Muniz) grows up believing he is a racehorse, and, with the help of his barnyard friends and a teenage girl (Hayden Panettiere), sets out to achieve his dream of racing with thoroughbreds.” – IMDb HN Full Review
What I Loved: The animals are funny! They talk! And the zebra has (drops voice for effect) STRIPES!
What I Hated: Those mean horses. It’s not nice to make fun of other people. (shakes head with disgust)
On the Muscle (2006) – “Everything was covered: from racing, to breeding, to veterinary medicine, to shipping problems (at one point Mandella has to scratch a race because the airplane is either broken or missing… we never find out which), to investor relations. It was a fascinating in-depth look at the daily workings of Mandella’s operation.” – HN Full Review
First Saturday in May (2007) – “Follow six diverse trainers as they jockey for position along the 2006 Kentucky Derby trail.” – IMDb
I unfortunately have never seen this film, but I’ve heard so many good things that I’m willing to put it on the list.
What I Loved: This is Black Beauty meets Seabiscuit…all wrapped up with an amazing girl power bow.
What I Hated: Subtitles.
Still in Theaters
50 to 1 (2014) – “A misfit group of New Mexico cowboys find themselves on the journey of a lifetime when their crooked-footed racehorse qualifies for the Kentucky Derby. Based on the inspiring true story of Mine That Bird, the cowboys face a series of mishaps on their way to Churchill Downs, becoming the ultimate underdogs in a final showdown with the world’s racing elite.” – IMDb HN Full Review
What I Loved: The humor! My whole family was laughing in the theater, particularly at the antics of ‘Bird.’
What I Hated: The melodrama. I love it as much as anyone, but let’s take it down just one notch, eh?