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8 Must See Movies for Horse Lovers and Racing Fans

april love barbaro churchill downs derby diane lane disney dreamer elizabeth taylor first saturday in may horse kentucky kentucky derby laura hillenbrand mariah's storm mine that bird national velvet phar lap seabiscuit secretariat shirley jones thoroughbred

What's your favorite movie about racehorses? Is it Dreamer (2005) with Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning, loosely based on the story of Mariah's Storm (best known in reality as the dam of superstar Giant's Causeway), or do you prefer the old

Mariah's Storm (Tony Leonard photo)

classics like Kentucky (1938) with Walter Brennan and Loretta Young?

There are two Seabiscuits to choose from (but why not watch both?) - one based on the excellent bestseller by Laura Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit, 2003) and the other an entertaining vehicle for a teen-aged Shirley Temple and the always horsey Mickey Rooney (1949's The Story of Seabiscuit).

Rooney's best known racing movie might have been the hugely popular National Velvet with a young Elizabeth Taylor convinced her pet horse could win the Grand National.

More recently, racing fans were treated to the story of Secretariat (2010), with Diane Lane as Penny Chenery. While many Riva Ridge fans were left wondering why Secretariat's stable mate was completely ignored in the story line, it was nevertheless well regarded by the general public and brought the legendary Big Red to life for a whole new generation of fans.

Lexington is full of people with a fun story about being an extra in DreamerSeabiscuit or Secretariat, and more than a few members of an earlier generation can share similar tales from when Pat

Boone and Shirley Jones were here to film April Love in 1957. A trotting horse film, two great Thoroughbred nurseries, Calumet and Hamburg, were used as the main settings. It's a treat to step back in time and see a glimpse of Lexington when Versailles Road was still a narrow tree-lined lane.

Another true story film that is generally well-regarded among racing fans is the 1983 film Phar Lap. Starring Tom Burlinson and Martin Vaughan, it told the story of the New Zealand-bred Australian champion race horse who died under mysterious circumstances shortly after arriving in North America in 1932. Phar Lap's mounted

Tom Burlinson in Phar Lap (
Tom Burlinson in Phar Lap (

hide is on permanent display in Australia's Melbourne Museum while his recently re-articulated skeleton can be viewed at New Zealand's National Museum Te Papa.

Racing fans can also look forward to seeing the story of 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird on the big screen. Released this spring, the movie, 50 to 1, stars Skeet Ulrich, Christian Kane and William Devane in the true story of an unlikely winner of the Run for the Roses and his crew.

If documentaries are more your cup of tea, check out First Saturday in May, a project from brothers Brad and John Hennegan that followed six of the top contenders for the 2006 Kentucky Derby.

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