In the modern age of film, directors have been able to bring some magical and historical moments to life right before our eyes. The endless need for nostalgia and the telling of great stories is a part of the human psyche and over the years there have been some really good films that have dealt with historical figures in horse racing as well as tackling adaptations of fictional novels, such as National Velvet. With a bit of a lull happening right now in the Kentucky Derby Prep Season, it’s a great time to look at a couple of the greatest horse racing films of all-time!
The modern version of Seabiscuit, directed by Gary Ross, was an attempt to separate legend from reality, while maintaining the basic nature of the remarkable story. The film has plenty of star power with Tobey Maguire, Chris Cooper, and Jeff Bridges, but it’s the story itself that carries the film and captivates the viewer. We seem to love a story where the broken become fixed and even go on to become heroes. Seabiscuit has plenty of that as it tells the tale of an undersized horse, an oversized jockey, and an owner who was suffering in the years after the death of his son. All of this converged to create a feel good story for America, during the Great Depression, which was a time when those feelings were hard to come by. The acting in this film is wonderful and the cinematography really does seem to take you back in time. This is a film the whole family can enjoy and be inspired by.
2010’s Secretariat is a fantastic telling of the story of this amazing horse, his owner, and the struggle that went into making him a champion. Diane Ladd brings an air of grit to Penny Chenery and she carries the film even more than the racing action. Secretariat’s exploits and greatness on the track are well documented, but many people don’t know the story behind the story and that’s where this Disney produced film takes us. We get to feel the disappointment and pain that Chenery felt trying to be taken seriously in a sport mostly dominated by men. Along with that, we also get to share in her glory and affirmation in the good times and see the price that was paid by those in her family who were uncertain of what Chenery was trying to accomplish. Ladd is terrific as she shows the difficulty of trying to stand by what you believe in while balancing that with the responsibility of family. Often times, a story that involves a sports figure being as dominant as Secretariat doesn’t have the ability to move us or prove to be inspirational, but that’s not the case here. Director Randall Wallace manages to pull suspense out of the story and makes us care what happens off the track as much as what is happening on it.
We can’t recommend these two films highly enough to anyone who has an interest in horse racing or just film in general. Seabiscuit and Secretariat are well crafted stories that take hold of the viewer’s heart and command attention from beginning to end. Both of these films are suited for the entire family and will leave you happy and hopeful upon their conclusion, so grab a bucket of popcorn and fire up the DVD player for a great night of entertainment!