I am not a winter person. I grew up in Florida, so my idea of cold is when the mercury dips below 70 degrees on the thermometer. So of course I thought it would be brilliant for me to pick up sticks and move to the Northeast, where things like snow and ice and sleet – sleet! – exist. No. Wrong. Bad Penelope.
You see, there are some people up here who think that strapping knives onto one’s feet and journeying out onto frozen water is fun.
They call it “skating.” I refer to it as insanity on ice.
I will not do that. Nor will I subscribe to the practice of tying sticks to boots and jumping off of a mountain.
No, my winter sport involves watching other people do athletic feats onscreen as I eat things that are bad for me whilst huddled under a blanket.
So while the weather outside is frightful, it’s the perfect occasion to watch some truly wonderful horse racing movies. Below are my top 10 favorites, but please be sure to add yours in the comments if I left any of them out!
This movie is a cute film based on a story of a horse that overcame huge adversity to succeed on the racetrack. It’s a drama for people who don’t know much about horse racing and a comedy for those that do. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I will watch the heck out of this movie. But if you’re looking for verisimilitude in the plot you may want to move a little further up this list. The movie is a ton of fun, though, and Dakota Fanning is absolutely adorable in it.
9. “And They’re Off”
This mockumentary is hilarious, and features Sam Gamgee (AKA actor Sean Austin) as a down-on-his-luck horse trainer and Saturday Night Live’s Cheri Oteri as the jockey that sort of believes in him. It’s a great way to spend a gross winter day with some of the funniest comedians working now.
Walt Disney’s “Secretariat” is, well, the Disney version of the Secretariat story. So there are a few details about the story that will drive racing purists insane; but if you’re looking for an absolutely beautiful movie that you can watch with your family, this is it. Diane Lane is awesome as Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery, and John freakin’ Malkovich plays trainer Lucien Laurin. “Secretariat” is a perfect way to spend a snow day, and if it inspires anyone to learn more about the true history of the horse known as Big Red, then so much the better!
Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird’s victory in the 2009 run for the roses was truly a Hollywood ending, so it was no surprise to me when the story was made into a feature film in 2014. I got a chance to see this movie in theaters, and I hope you’ll give it a try if you come across it. It’s funny, uplifting, and features some strong performances from actors Christian Kane and Skeet Ulrich.
6. “National Velvet”
This movie is iconic – Liz Taylor’s first starring role made me pretty sure that I, too, could take an unwanted horse and win the Grand National some day. Thankfully, my parents are clever people who know better than to allow their 6-year-old to attempt such things; but to this day “National Velvet” remains one of my favorite racing movies.
I will watch this every time it comes on TV, OnDemand, Netflix, whatever. Every. Time. Oh, and I’ll cry.* The horse at the center of the film may not be a Thoroughbred, but he’s a true fighter and the movie’s action and adventure will keep everyone entertained.
*To be honest, I cry in all of these movies. Because ponies.
4. “The Black Stallion”
Did you know that “The Black Stallion” was produced* by Frances Ford Coppola? I didn’t until I was making this list. But this is a wonderful movie not just about horse racing but also about the unbreakable bond between children and their animals. Plus, it also features one of the most boss helmet covers in the history of cinematic horse racing, and I implore someone to try to register a tasseled headdress as part of their silks.
*Special thanks to reader MarionDee, who pointed out to me that the movie was produced and not directed by Coppola!
This is just a great movie about a gutsy horse and his human connections struggling to succeed during America’s Great Depression. Grab your tissues and get ready to feel all of the feels, because “Seabiscuit” is truly one of the greatest horse racing movies ever made.
2. “Let It Ride”
Can you believe that it’s been 25 years since “Let It Ride” came out? Whether you’ve seen it a million times or if it’s new to you, this is probably the most fun you’ll ever have watching a racing movie. It’s got some classic lines, and the film never gets old despite the fact that it has a little age on it. Watch it. Laugh. (That counts as an abdominal workout in the winter, you know.)
1. “The First Saturday in May”
My favorite horse racing movie is also a documentary. Focusing on the trail to the 2006 Kentucky Derby, the film perfectly captures the wonder, heartbreak and excitement of having a horse that could make it to the run for the roses. At times “The First Saturday in May” is exhilarating; at other times, it’s hard to watch. But the people and horses at the center of this film will make you fall in love with the sport all over again, and the movie perfectly showcases the love and devotion between the equines and their caretakers as each horse strives for a place in the Kentucky Derby.
Remember what I said about the tissues? Get two boxes for this one.