08th Mar2016

Horse Racing Movies Based on True Events

by ApolloXL5


In 2003 Universal Pictures released Seabiscuit, an Oscar-nominated film about horse racing in Depression-era America. Based on a true story, the film had the feel good factor, and perhaps introduced many to the thrilling world of horse racing for the first time. Seabiscuit, the horse, was undersized and unfancied, yet thrilled America with wonderful victories in many races, with the film astutely capturing the atmosphere of the time. However, Seabiscuit was not the first – and perhaps not the best – movie about the sport of kings.


Champions (1984) stars John Hurt as Bob Champion the legendary English jockey who had great success in the 1970s and 1980s. The film portrays Champion’s battle against testicular cancer and how he overcame the disease to win the 1981 Grand National. John Hurt – as ever – is brilliant in the role as the star jockey, giving a nuanced performance that highlights what it takes to be at the top of a professional sport and the determination needed to overcome such a dreaded illness. The fact that it is based on a true story adds to the resonance of the movie. As an aside, if you would like to see something truly special, you can watch the 1981 Grand National and Bob Champion winning the race aboard Aldaniti on Youtube – no movie can recapture the raw emotion of that incredible victory.

In 2010, Disney released the film Secretariat, a true story based around the travails of training horses. Starring John Malkovic and Diane Lane, the movie charts Penny Chenery’s (Lane) journey into the unknown world of training race horses. Aided by veteran trainer Lucien Laurin (Malkovic), Chenery was able to train one of the finest race horses in history, Secretariat. The horse became America’s first Triple Crown winner for 25 years and Chenery became a trailblazer for women in what was once a male-dominated industry.


It may surprise you to learn how many horse racing movies based on true events are out there: Phar Lap, an Australian movie following the success of champion race horse Phar Lap mixes fine drama and feel-good action with the grit and toil of the Great Depression. Dreamer, a family flick shows how faith can overcome adversity in the true story of the rehabilitation of racehorse Mariah’s Storm, who went on to win 3 Arlington Stakes races. Ruffian (2007), follows the real story of a champion filly taking on the male horses. Many of the films have similar themes, notably women struggling to be accepted in male-orientated businesses and the inspiration of the underdog horse in the Depression era.


Of course, the real drama of horse racing can best be seen on the racing course, big events like the Gold Cup and the Grand National offer incredible action that are worthy of the big screen, and you never know you could see the next Seabiscuit or Secretariat in action.


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