‘Hidalgo’ (2004): One Of The Most Beautiful Movies About Horse Racing

We’ve all seen it, but nearly 20 years later, maybe it’s time to revisit it!

If you’re passionate about horse racing (or betting on horse racing), here’s one of the most beautiful movies that is closely connected to your passion: the 2004 movie Hildago, directed by Joe Johnson (Jurassic Park III). This fantastic epic adventure Old West style film about horse racer Frank Hopkins is a story of devotion and love, full of beautiful and terrific action scenes with Frank and his horse, Hidalgo.

Although not the traditional horse racing on a track if you are really into horse racing then your next weekend should be devoted to watching this film, and not the real online casino. One of the highlights of the film is surely the horse race of 1890 — a deadly race across the Arabian desert. The competition, as depicted in the movie, is a centuries-old annual event featuring the best Bedouin riders and the best Arabian horses.


The movie is set in 1890 America. Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen), the son of a white settler and the daughter of a Native American chief, works as a dispatch rider for the U.S. Calvary. He rides Hidalgo, an unassuming-looking Mustang with unique markings. However, the horse is incredibly fast and hardy.  On Hidalgo Hopkins constantly participates in and wins various races and competitions.

Frank witnessed the massacre of the Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee when American troops shot 300 men, women, and children, who had gathered to perform a religious dance in South Dakota. After which, Hopkins began drinking heavily, quit his job as a delivery boy, and began performing with Hidalgo in the Wild West Show. While performing in the show, Hopkins is presented as the best rider in the world and Hidalgo as the fastest and most enduring horse, the pair was seen by the counselor of Sheik Riyadh (sheik is brilliantly played by Omar Sharif). He offers Hopkins the opportunity to take part in the famous horse race the Ocean of Fire, a 3,000-mile survival race across the Arabian desert that ends in Damascus.

This has Frank facing the toughest race of his life. And it’s not just that he has to run through thousands of miles of red-hot desert, encounter sandstorms, locust swarms, leopards, quicksand, brigands, and dehydration. Other Arabian racers make attempts on his life and use underhanded tactics to beat him. His opponents in this race are the best horses and the most hardy Bedouin riders, many of whom hate the very idea that an American on a Mustang can even come close to the finish line, and he and Hidalgo must not just survive, but also win this deadly race. This competition is also a way for Hopkins to escape from the prison of self-contempt and help the daughter of Sheikh Riyadh, Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), who is forced by her father to marry the Arabian prince riding her father’s horse if he wins a dangerous challenge.

The race becomes for Frank not so much a chase for the main prize as a struggle for survival — after all, he and his horse have undertaken to accomplish the impossible.

The man behind the movie

The movie is based on the story of the real Frank Hopkins. Cowboy Frank Hopkins was born just after the Civil War in the cab of a logging truck at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. His father was an army scout, and his mother was presumably the daughter of a Lakota Sioux chief. Through his entire life, Hopkins was connected with Mustangs: as a child, he caught and rode them. He was considered an outstanding expert in everything that concerns this breed of horses. In the 40s in America his book “Vermont Horse and Trail Bulletin” was published. However, it is not yet proven if he has won the 3,000-mile race in the Arabian desert. There is a belief that the story of Frank Hopkins and his victories is nothing more than a myth created by Frank himself and his biographer Charles B. Roth.

Most researchers of Hopkins’ life agree that the story of his winning the Ocean of Fire race in Arabia is a pure legend that has nothing to do with reality. First, in Arabia, horse races began to be held only in 1931, and before that races were only on camels. Second, at the end of the 19th century, no infidel would have been allowed to the cult races by definition — the orders there were very strict. Third, there is no mention of the Ocean of Fire races ever taking place anywhere at all. Fourth, there is no mention that Hopkins ever visited these places, let alone participated in any races there, let alone won. Hopkins did participate in the famous Buffalo Bill show. The rest of the information about Hopkins’ life is based on his own stories, books he wrote and published, and books by his biographer and other writers.

Even if many turns of the plot may be fictitious and full of clichés, it doesn’t make the film less thrilling. This is a magnificent and thrilling epic action film with elements of traditional Western flair. Frank Hopkins is an archetypal hero. Beautiful desert landscapes are true highlights of the film. Hidalgo was mainly filmed in America, in Montana and South Dakota; however, some scenes were filmed at beautiful locations in Morocco and Marrakech. Some of the most picturesque film locations are Oklahoma at Blackjack Mountain, Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, Black Hills Wildlife Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota, and Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in California. This film is definitely worth watching!