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Greatest Horse Racing Films of All-Time and Why We Love the Tales from the Track

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Humanity and horses have lived side-by-side for millennia, with evidence suggesting that the first prepared horse ride – one with a bridle or saddle – came over 5,000 years ago. Fast-forward through the ages of civilization, and the thrill of watching and riding horses became ever more apparent, with the first documents race taking place under a bet between two French noblemen in 1651.

To this day, horse racing is still a wildly popular sport in many nations around the world. It’s fair to say that the connection between trainers and horses, jockeys and horses, and the fans and the horses that they’re backing is certainly a romantic one.

With underdogs surging ahead of the field on many occasions, and the people behind the horses putting all of their trust in the hulking equine to win huge sums of cash, there are tons of made-for-movies tales from the track. So here, we’re going through the years to look at the best horse racing movies ever made, and why we continue to identify with the stories born from horse racing.

Phar Lap (1983)

While not the first movie ever released to be about horse racing, Phar Lap is certainly one of the earliest examples of a top-class portrayal of the classic rags-to-riches story that the sport is known for. Simon Wincer’s film takes you on the rollercoaster story of the titular horse, from his rise to becoming the peoples’ champion of Australia to his sudden, suspicious death shortly after his biggest triumph.

Seabiscuit (2003)

Few would argue against Seabiscuit being the greatest horse racing movie of all time, even being good enough to muscle-in among the best sports films ever made. The Gary Ross spectacle is loosely based on the life of a true underdog of US horse racing, Seabiscuit, who inspired the nation through the Great Depression of the 1930s. Bolstering the tale are strong performances from across the cast, which includes Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks, Jeff Bridges, Gary Stevens, Chris Cooper, and William H. Macy.

Hidalgo (2004)

While he’s now made his directorial debut, when he was fresh from Middle-earth, Viggo Mortensen first took his horse-riding talent astride Brego in New Zealand to the Middle East to race against the famously fast Arabian horses in this flick. The Joe Johnston film follows the legend of Frank Hopkins and his mustang, Hidalgo, as they tackle the stunning but harsh conditions of cross-desert racing in 1800s Arabia. The setting separates Hidalgo from its peers on this list, but this movie still encapsulates similar defying-the-odds, feel-good tropes of the subgenre.

Dreamer (2005)

Coming in as the directorial debut of John Gatins, Dreamer is an inspirational movie set around a father (Kurt Russell), trying to balance life as a trainer with his responsibilities to his daughter (to Dakota Fanning). The main focus, though, is his efforts to bring an injured horse back from the brink to become a champion.

Secretariat (2010)

Chronicling the tale of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, this Randall Wallace movie brought in the likes of John Malkovich, Diane Lane, James Cromwell, and Kevin Connolly to relay the triumphant tale of this Thoroughbred. Now known as one of the greatest of its kind, the uphill battle commences when a coin toss sees the protagonist “lose” to get Secretariat as a foal.

Why do horse racing films continue to appeal to us?

The quintessential horse racing movie encompasses an uphill battle for both the lead horse of the story as well as their human trainers and carers. They’re tales of sporting triumph, with man and beast combining to overcome all others to achieve tremendous prestige. The fact that horse racing and betting have always been tied simply makes these tales even more relatable.

Around the world, people are infatuated with horse racing and betting. The world’s biggest horse racing events take place in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, the United States, United Arab Emirates, Australia, and Japan, showing the global affection for the sport. What’s most telling, however, is that in many of these locations, general sports betting isn’t typically permitted, but horse racing bets, such as to win, each-way, forecasts, and Lucky 31s all get the nod.

Betting and horse racing are intrinsically tied, only making everyone all the more familiar with the stakes. We all know that trainers have to put in years of effort and training in the mud to nurture a potential winner. Then, on race day, all bettors connect to the horses and their stories, backing them to defy the odds and adoring those who continue to triumph. The constant showing of odds simply relays how impressive the horse has become.

With boxing being the only exception to the rule, there isn’t another sport that so perfectly delivers the storylines of feel-good and against-all-odds that make for a superb showing on the big screen.

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