Horse racing is one of the few sports that are able to adapt effortlessly to the big screen due to the excellent stories that are played out in real-life within the sport. Throughout history, there has been no shortage of excellent movies based on equestrian sport that have told real life stories. 

Horse racing has so often been able to throw up Hollywood scripts, meaning that the tales have been able to be retold without the need to dramatize the story at any point. But, what are some of the most popular horse racing films that are based on real life stories?


One of the most engrossing films based on real life events was released in 1936, with Thoroughbred being based on the life and career of the legendary Phar Lap. Helen Twelvetrees plays the main role of Joan in the flick, with Frank Leighton and John Longden also starring. Joan buys an unwanted colt named Stormalong, nursing him back to full health before he starts to win races. 

However, when he is listed as the favorite for the Melbourne Cup, a gambling syndicate attend to dope the horse and kill it. True life events inspired the story, with criminals attempting to shoot Phar Lap as he grew to prominence in the 1930s. However, he would continue his dominance to win 37 of his 51 races, which included a victory in the Melbourne Cup. 


Seabiscuit is by far and away the most successful horse racing movie based on a true story, as it received seven nominations at the 76th Academy Awards. The movie is based on the life and career of legendary American runner Seabiscuit, which achieved unlikely heights during the Great Depression in the U.S. The film was released in 2003 and is based on the 1999 bestselling book Seabiscuit: An American Legend. 

Tobey Maguire stars in the lead role, with Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Elizabeth Banks also among the cast involved. The story focuses on the life of Charles S. Howard, who finds Seabiscuit at the lowest point of his life. Their partnership was almost instinctive, with the connections joining forces to land the anticipated ‘race of the century’ against War Admiral. Seabiscuit would later achieve further success on track, including landing the Santa Anita Handicap. The story is not only about three men fixing a broken-down horse, but also of Seabiscuit fixing the men involved with the horse. 


Ruffian was released as a television film in 2007, and it is based on the life of U.S. Racing Hall of Famer Ruffian. The filly would remain unbeaten throughout her career, before heartbreakingly breaking down in a live televised match against Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure at Belmont Park in July 1975. Since the Belmont Stakes is happening in early June it’s a perfect time to watch this movie. You can follow the 2024 Belmont Stakes odds by TwinSpires here.

The flick is an ESPN Original, and it was directed by Yves Simoneau. Sam Shepard stars as Ruffian’s trainer Frank Whiteley, with Frank Whaley, Laura Bailey, and Nicholas Pryor also starring. 

Ruffian was first broadcast on the ABC network in June 2007, before being released on DVD just weeks later. Ruffian remains one of the most talented horses that fans in the U.S. have seen throughout history, winning ten of her eleven starts, and setting stakes records in all eight races that she won. She was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1976, and she ranked as the top filly or mare of the 20th century in the rankings put together by The Blood-Horse Magazine. 

50 to 1

The U.S. Triple Crown has the uncanny ability to tell stories that live long in the memory of horse racing fans, and few in the modern era have been as memorable as Mine The Bird. ’50 To 1’ is a film based on the unlikely tale of the Kentucky Derby winner, who sprung one of the biggest shocks in the illustrious history of the race. 

It was released in March 2014, and was directed by Jim Wilson, who also co-wrote the script alongside Faith Conroy. Skeet Ulrich plays the leading role of Chip Woolley, with Christian Kane, William Devane, and Madelyn Deutch. 

Calvin Borel also stars in the movie, as the jockey plays himself. The film follows a group of misfit cowboys from New Mexico, who embark on a journey of a lifetime after their undersized colt qualifies for the Kentucky Derby. It shows the story of how an underdog can always pull off an upset in the sport of racing, as Mine That Bird defied odds of 50/1 to beat some of the world’s most talented runners on the dirt to win the opening leg of the Triple Crown in 2009. The film gained hugely positive reviews, and showcased why horse racing remains one of the most unpredictable sports in the world. 

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