The 6 Best Horse Racing Movies of All Time

Still from Secretariat, 2010
Still from Secretariat, 2010. Disney

Creating a list of the best of anything is always a matter of debate, open to preference and personal Whether you love classic movies, racing or just equines in general, put your feet up, get comfortable and enjoy many of these classics. Keeping a box of tissues handy might not be a bad idea, either. 

It Ain't Hay

If you love old Abbott and Costello movies, this one's for you. Bud plays Grover Mockridge and Lou plays Wilber Hoolihan, a pair of unlikely heroes who come to the rescue when a racehorse gorges on candy and goes legs up.

They replace the runner with a ringer who, unbeknownst to them, is actually a champion named "Tea Biscuit." You won't want to miss Lou Costello climbing aboard as jockey to attempt to guide Tea Biscuit home. 

The movie came out in 1943 and is actually a remake of a Damon Runyon tale first memorialized in the 1935 flick, "Princess O'Hara." Keep alert for a view of 1940s Saratoga and the old Grand Union Hotel. The movie is funny and sad in turns, a not-to-miss ride. 

Kentucky 

Another oldie but goodie, "Kentucky" opens with a Civil War scene that is admittedly not for the faint of heart. Released in 1938, it stars Walter Brennan who won an Academy Award for his role. Loretta Young and Richard Greene also starred in the movie. It's a love story but the racing action is top caliber and not to be overlooked. The movie includes a genuine clip of Eddie Arcaro thundering home aboard Lawrin for his first Derby win, as well as footage of Gallant Fox and Man o' War.

 

The Killing 

Two words say a lot about this film: Stanley Kubrick. He directed and wrote the screenplay in 1956. Think a crusty, hardcore, edge-of-your-seat robbery plot involving a racetrack, an ex-con and, of course, a woman. The plot unfolds in a way that was unique in its time with a timeline that's not chronological, so keep alert.

In classic Kubrick style, there's no bona fide good guy, but there are a few scenes where you'll want to clap a hand over your eyes. 

Phar Lap 

Blood-Horse says, "If there's anything remotely close to a flawless horse racing movie, this is it." It may also be as close to "based on a true story" as any film has come in ages. It chronicles the mysterious death of the phenomenal Australian racehorse Phar Lap in 1932 — possibly by poisoning at the hands of the mob because his winning record was significantly skewing gambling revenues. The movie perfectly catches the bond between handler and horse, and yes, you'll need those tissues. Released in 1983, this movie is a not-to-miss classic for any racing fan. 

Secretariat 

No list can be complete without mention of Big Red. The movie commemorating the champion's life was released in 2010. Diane Lane stars as Penny Chenery, who knew, even before his birth, that Secretariat's breeding was to die for. Chenery goes head-to-head with male peers like the owner of Sham, Secretariat's arch nemesis, on the strength of her gut. The film includes real footage of Secretariat's never-been-repeated romp in the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths to take the Triple Crown in 1973.

 

The Winner's Circle 

This one has a reputation for being dry because it's partially delivered in the form of a narrative, but try to get past that. Man o' War, Whirlaway, Gallant Fox, Phar Lap and Seabiscuit all make appearances in the movie. Released in 1949, it follows the story of a recalcitrant colt — troublesome enough to spend seasons being sold from owner to owner — that nonetheless grows up to excel at the Santa Anita track. The movie makes my list for all the real footage of those racing legends.