Horse Racing Movies – Exploring the Beautiful Relationship Between Man and Horse

The horse has been man's companion for thousands of years. They were together on the road, on the field, and even in battle. Another place where you can see this iconic duo perform is the horse racing racetrack, a favourite destination to millions of people. The sight of galloping stallions on the tracks has inspired numerous horse racing movies. As we share the love for these magnificent animals, we have prepared a list of the best horse racing movies of all time.

List of the Top 10 Horse Racing Movies

1. The Black Stallion (1979)

“The Black Stallion” is an American adventure movie from 1979, based on the 1941 classic children’s novel of the same name by Walter Farley. The movie is set in 1946, five years after the publishing of the book, and tells the story of Alec Ramsey. The protagonist is shipwrecked on a deserted island with a black Arabian stallion whom he befriends. After they are being rescued back to America, the protagonist decides to train his stallion for the racetrack.

To enter the local race, Alec sets up a secret nighttime demonstration, where he invites the press to witness Black’s performance. Everyone is amazed by the speed of the mysterious black horse and his rider, which results in Alec and his animal companion being invited to the race. There, the black stallion manages to outrun the two champion steeds and wins the championship. When watching the movie, we cannot help it but associate it with the exciting slot, Black Horse Deluxe.

“The Black Stallion” is one of the best horse racing movies of all times, scoring a $37.8 million at the box office, while the initial budget was just $2.7 million. The 118 minutes long movie was included in the 2002 annual selection for the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Furthermore, they deemed this great example of the horse racing movies genre as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

2. Seabiscuit (2003)

Second, on our list of the best horse racing movies, we have the 2003 American sports film production, “Seabiscuit”. The movie is written and directed by Gary Ross and is based on the best-selling 1999 non-fiction book Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. Seabiscuit stars many recognisable actors like Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens, and William H. Macy.

The “Seabiscuit” movie tells the story of three men who fixed a broken-down horse, while also the horse, Seabiscuit, fixed the three men as well. The main characters of the horse racing film are Charles Howard, Red Pollard, and Tom Smith. Howard is the largest car dealer in California and one of the richest men in the Bay Area. After the death of his son, Frankie, and the divorce with his wife, Howard acquires a stable for racehorses.

Howard hires a skilled horse trainer and drifter, Tom, who convinces him to purchase Seabiscuit. Then, they hire Pollard, a tough Canadian who had to fight in illegal boxing matches to make ends meet. The half-blind brawler’s spirit matches the one of Seabiscuit, and they become a successful race duo. Eventually, Howard challenges the New York horse champion, and despite the odds, Seabiscuit manages to beat him.

3. National Velvet (1944)

Now, we are going to travel way back in time, more precisely, in 1944, because that is when the movie “National Velvet” was released. Based on the 1935 novel of the same name, this production is perhaps one of the pioneers of the horse racing films genre. The movie is directed by Clarence Brown. Later, in 2003, National Velvet was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

“National Velvet” follows the story of the 12-year-old girl, Velvet Brown, who lives in the small town of Sewels in Sussex, England. She ends up winning a spirited gelding in a raffle, and due to her affection towards horses, she decides to train him for the Grand National Steeplechase.

In the difficult task of training the horse, which she names “the Pie”, Velvet find help in the face of a penniless young drifter named Mi Taylor. With the financial support of her mother, Velvet, Mi, and Pie make their way to the Grand National, named one of the biggest horse races in Europe.

Initially, they hire a professional jockey, but Velvet senses he lacks faith in her horse, thus the young girl dismisses him. With Mi hesitating to ride instead, Velvet mounts Pie wins the race. But as soon as it is found out she is a girl, the authorities disqualify her. After the victory, Velvet refuses all media attention as she wants to return to the normal life that she and her horse had. Truly one of the racing horse movies of all time.

4. Secretariat (2010)

Next on our exploration of the most popular horse racing films is the “Secretariat”. The movie is an American biographical sports drama film produced and released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2010. Moreover, the Secretariat is written by Mike Rich and Sheldon Turner and is largely based on William Nack’s 1975 book “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion”. The budget for the movie is $35 million and scores $60.3 million at the box office.

The main character of the movie, Penny, learns about her mother’s death and returns to her childhood home. After the funeral of her mother, she takes the reigns of her family’s Meadow Stables. There, she faces many difficulties in turning the horse stable back to profitability, one of them being the absence of a trainer.

After a decisive coin toss, Penny ends up with the Secretariat. She is determined that with enough hard work and training, the Somethingroyal’s foal can win the Triple Crown, which is a feat no horse has accomplished in 25 years. The movie reaches its climax when Penny’s horse runs with unbelievable pace and secures the Triple Crown.

5. 50 to 1 (2014)

Fifth on our listing, we have one of the best horse racing movies based on a real story, “50 to 1”. The American drama is based on the real experience of the Thoroughbred racehorse by the name of Mine That Bird. Moreover, 50 to 1 was directed by Jim Wilson and stars Skeet Ulrich, Christian Kane and William Devane. The initial budget for filming the movie was $10 million but, it generated only $1,064,454.

The Cowboy Drama movie introduces us to the life of a misfit group of New Mexico cowboys. Without really believing in anything big happening, they found themselves on their journey of a lifetime when their undersized thoroughbred racehorse qualifies for the Kentucky Derby, a highly competitive horse race. Based on a true story, the movie follows the cowboys as they make their way to the Churchill Downs.

Fortunately, despite their journey is very difficult and filled with a series of mishaps, they manage to reach their final destination. Not only that but their undersized thoroughbred racehorse manages to better all the world’s racing elite at the Kentucky Derby. Everyone on the racetrack is left speechless as Mine That Bird pulls off a monumental upset at 50 to 1 odds by winning the 2009 trophy. Similar odds can be seen only at the best horse racing betting sites.

6. The Horse Whisperer (1998)

Another great example of what the best horse racing films should strive for is “the Horse Whisperer”. Despite not being as focused on the race track aspect, it is still about the love between human and horse. Anyhow, the Horse Whisperer is a 1998 American Western drama film, directed by and starring Robert Redford. The budget for the production was numbering $75 million, while it made over $186.9 million at the box office.

“The Horse Whisperer” illustrates the incredible story of the teenager Grace MacLean (Scarlett Johansson) as she goes out on an early winter’s morning ride. She is accompanied by her best friend Judith (Kate Bosworth) and their horses Pilgrim and Gulliver. As they ride on an icy slope, the two horses slip, which results in the whole party falling onto a road and being hit by a truck. Sadly, Judith and Gulliver are killed, while Grace and Pilgrim are both seriously injured.

Grace is left with a partially amputated right leg, while Pilgrim is traumatised and uncontrollable. Hoping that her daughter’s recovery is linked with the horse’s, Grace’s mother, Annie, tracks down a “horse whisperer”, named Tom Booker (Robert Redford). Both the horse and the little girl are reluctant at first, but with time passing by, they slowly overcome their trauma. The mending culminates as Grace and Pilgrim go on a ride together once more.

7. Hidalgo (2004)

“Hidalgo” is perhaps one of the most exciting and surreal horse racing movies based on a true story. The film is a 2004 epic biographical western production, based on the legend of the American distance rider Frank Hopkins and his famous mustang Hidalgo. It is directed by Joe Johnson, written by John Fusco, and has a run time of 136 minutes. “Hidalgo” stars Viggo Mortensen, famous for playing Aragorn, together with Omar Sharif and Said Taghmaoui.

The tale begins as Frank T. Hopkins, and his mustang are a part of the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. One day, he receives an invitation to enter in the “Ocean of Fire” competition, which is an annual 3,000-mile race across the Najd desert region. Frank accepts as he is eager to compete with the greatest racehorses of all time.

There is a still competition from the other riders, trickery, and even attempts for murder. Eventually, Hidalgo and Frank grasp the victory from the remaining riders and return home. Hopkins uses his winnings to buy the endangered wild mustangs from the government, thus saving them from certain death. In reality, the story of Frank T. Hopkins has been disputed to even exist, and he has been named as a professional con-artist.

8. Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (2005)

Just a year later, after the premier of “Hidalgo”, the director John Gatins introduced another breath-taking addition to the American horse racing movies collection. Gatin’s directorial debut called “Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story” is a sports drama film starring Kurt Russel, Kris Kristofferson, Elisabeth Shue, and Dakota Fanning. The 102 minutes long movie had a budget of $32 million while generating only $38 million at the box office.

Ben, who is played by Kurt Russell, is a horse trainer who prioritises work and neglects his daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning). One day when Ben takes his daughter to the racetracks, the horse that he takes care of falls badly and injures herself. The owner wants to put Sonya down, but Ben strikes a bargain to buy the horse. However, Ben’s plans to breed Sonya fall apart, as he finds out that she is unable to have a foal.

But after darkness always comes light and the fortune changes for Ben’s family. Moreover, Cale and her father find out that Sonya has actually recovered and is still quite fast; thus, they decide to race her in the Breeder’s Cup Classic. With Manny as the jockey, Sonya outruns the competition, and the duo becomes victorious.

9. Ruffian (2007)

Here is another one of our horse racing movies based on a real story, “Ruffian”. The movie is an American television film that follows the story of the U.S Racing Hall of Fame Thoroughbred filly Ruffian. It is made by ESPN Original Entertainment and stars Sam Shepard as Ruffian’s trainer, Laura Bailey, and Frank Whaley. The movie has a running time of 89 minutes and has been released on June 9, 2007.

Ruffian was a young thoroughbred racehorse who won 10 races in a row, most of the time completely outclassing the competition. In July 1975, as she was three years old, she was sent to enter a highly anticipated match race with Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure. During the race, Ruffian broke down on the racetrack.

The consecutive champion was taken straight to surgery, but the attempt was unsuccessful, as “Ruffian” reacted poorly after coming out of the anaesthesia. Thus, she was euthanised. Anyhow, the movie was ranked among the top American racehorses of the 20th century by The Blood-Horse magazine.

10. Spirit: Stallion of The Cimarron (2002)

Finally, we want to end our review of the best horse racing movies with a different kind of a film, a cartoon to be exact. “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” is a 2002 American animated film produced by DreamWorks Animation. The movie was directed by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook and stars Matt Damon. The budget for this animated story was $80 million, and they scored big with a $122.6 million income at the box office.

This is the story of the wild Kiger Mustang by the name of Spirit who gets captured by some men. Being a magnificent specimen, the men take him to a US cavalry post. At this time, the American army is fighting in the Indian Wars, so the soldiers attempt to train him as a warhorse. Due to his stubbornness, neither of the attempts is successful, and eventually, he runs away with the help of a native American, named Little Creek.

They run to Little Creek’s village, where the man tries to tame Spirit but is also unsuccessful. However, Spirit falls in love with Creek’s mare, Rain. Thus, he becomes a bit softer to people. Not long after, the village is attacked by the American forces, resulting in the capture of Spirit. Eventually, Little Creek saves Spirit, who then takes Rain into the wilderness and reunites with his herd.

Frequently Asked Questions

We hope that you have enjoyed our selection of horse racing movies and in case you have any questions, you will be pleased to find out that we have something for you. In the following section, we have gathered some of the most frequently asked questions and answered them for you.

📽️ Is there an old horse racing movie worth watching?

If you are a fan of old school cinematography, then we are sure that you will enjoy the movie "National Velvet". It was shot in 1944, based on the 1935 novel of the same name. It is one of the best racing horse movies and follows the amazing story of Alec and his black stallion.

💰 Which of the horse racing movies generated the biggest sales?

Perhaps one of the best horse racing movies of all time, "the Horse Whisperer" film, has impressed everyone with the number of sales at the box office. Moreover, with a budget of $75 million in production, the horse racing movie has scored £186.9 million sales, which is more than doubling the initial investment.

💯 Are there any horse racing movies based on a real story?

As you might have already noticed in our review, there are a few great horse racing movies based on a real story. One such is "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story", in which Cale and her father keep their faith in their horse Sonya, when no one else does.

🐴 Did the story told in "Hidalgo" actually happen?

There have been many disputes over the stories of the American horse rider Frank Hopkins. One such is the adventure illustrated in the horse racing movie "Hidalgo". As to the question, it can be said that apart from the testimony of Hopkins, there hasn't been any other prominent records to back this legend.

❌ Did "50 to 1" perform well at the box office?

Unlike many other horse racing films, who made a profit after covering their production costs, the case with "50 to 1" movie is different. The budget for filming the movie numbered $10 million, which is a modest number. However, 50 to 1 generated slightly over $1 million, despite the good feedback by the critics.

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