And when you add the thrill of the race and the potential to win or lose life-changing sums at the bookmaker’s counter, it is really no surprise that this is a topic that has entranced film directors from the earliest days of Hollywood.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Today, we stream horse racing from across the globe on our mobile phones, and we likewise visit sites like https://www.unibet.com.au/promotions to wager a dollar or two on the outcome. But despite the changing times and the new tech, our fascination with man and beast combining to beat the sporting odds is undiminished. The following films are from very different eras and genres, but they all have this central tenet in common.
It Ain’t Hay (1943)
If you love Abbott and Costello, you’ll love It Ain’t Hay. The bumbling duo play a pair of improbable heroes who, through a sequence of bad decisions, worse luck and outrageous misunderstandings end up guiding a champion racehorse called “Tea Biscuit” to glory. It is full of classic Abbott and Costello moments, and the race scenes at the end are not to be missed.
The Killing (1956)
There is nothing light hearted about this gritty film noir. Stanley Kubrick wrote the screenplay and directed, and the movie really was ahead of its time, using techniques such as a non-linear chronology that really makes you sit up and pay attention. The plot involves a horse race, an ex-con and, of course, a woman, played by the inimitable Coleen Gray. It seems remarkable that Kubrick wrote this at the age of just 27 and it is even more surprising that this movie is not more widely acclaimed.
Black Stallion (1979)
The Black Stallion and its numerous sequels were essential reading for children in the 1940s and ’50s. Yet it took until 1979 for someone to turn the heart-warming adventure of one boy and his horse into a movie. A dramatic sea rescue, a battle against the odds and Mickey Rooney in a supporting role – what’s not to like? The lead role of Alec Ramsey is played by Kelly Reno, who was just 12 at the time. He gave up acting five years later and now works as a long distance trucker.
Phar Lap (1983)
The word “perfection” is over used, but if you want to watch the perfect racing movie that captures the bond between horse and trainer, watch Phar Lap. It tells the story of a horse that was just too good, and its mysterious death in 1932. To say more would be superfluous, just watch the movie and make sure you have tissues at the ready.
The Cup (2012)
Yes, we all know about Secretariat and Seabiscuit, but this gem stands up against either. It recounts Damien Oliver’s incredible victory in the face of personal tragedy in the 2002 Melbourne Cup and serves as a reminder that in the world of horse racing, truth really is stranger than fiction.