Friday, May 6, 2016

Horse Racing Films of the 1940s and 1950s

And they're off! Flying around the first bend is Seabiscuit, followed by The March Hare, with Riding High scrambling into third position. And what's this? National Velvet is trailing behind by nearly a furlong! She'll have a long way to catch up if she wants to win. 

With the Kentucky Derby, the most popular horse race in the U.S classics, coming up this Saturday, what better way to get into the hoof of the moment then by watching some winning horse racing films. Can't think of any good ones off the top of your head? Well then, you've come to the right place.

Below we lined up some of the finest racing flicks of the 1940s and 1950s, and ranked them based on their track performance. Select a title you are familiar with, or gamble on a long may just be a winner! Across the leaderboard you'll find : 


Win - National Velvet ( 1945 ) - The timeless Enid Bagnold classic comes to vivid life in this Technicolor MGM adaption starring Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Donald Crisp and Anne Revere. It's all about the story of a young girl determined to get her "Pi" into the Nationals and to win at that. This is the Triple Crown winner of racing pictures. 

Place - The Story of Seabiscuit ( 1949 ) - A "thorough"ly entertaining fictional account of the life and times of the great Seabiscuit prior to his winning the Triple Crown in 1937. Actual footage of Seabiscuit's win at the Kentucky Derby top off the grand finale. Shirley Temple, Lon McCallister and Barry Fitzgerald star. 

Show Boots Malone ( 1952 ) - This is the horse-racing picture for true horse-racing fans. Boots Malone captures life at the track the way it really was. William Holden plays a cynical agent for a young jockey who wheels and deals with everyone and everything to get what he wants ( yes, this is Holden being Sefton at the racetrack ). An unexpected ending just adds to the splendor of this entertaining film. 


Riding High ( 1950 ) Bing Crosby stars in this remake of Broadway Bill ( 1934 ), directed by Frank Capra. Crosby lends more of a laid-back vigor to the part of the determined horse trainer who bet everything on his beloved horse winning the Kentucky Derby. Coleen Gray and Charles Bickford co-star. 

The March Hare ( 1956 ) This colorful British comedy is set in Ireland and stars Cyril Cusack as a drink-loving trainer who whispers a "magic word", obtained from the fairy queen, to his horse before each big race. A sideline romance between Terence Morgan and Peggy Cummins, and a slew of great British character actors ( Martita Hunt, Wilfred Hyde White ), make this a gem. 

My Brother Talks to Horses ( 1947 ) - What a trainer would give for an inside tip direct from the horse's mouth! Peter Lawford counts himself fortunate to have a little brother who not only knows what horses talk about, but can converse with them, too. MGM's popular child actor Butch Jenkins stars as the pint-sized horse whisperer.

The Return of October ( 1948 ) - Uncle Will ( James Gleason ) loved horses to death, so its no wonder that after he died he was reincarnated as a least that's what his niece Terry ( Terry Moore ) claims, and it's up to Professor Bassett ( Glenn Ford ) to disclaim her theory to the court when she is tried for insanity. The Return of October has a charm about it that is hard to resist, especially since that Irish charmer himself, Albert Sharpe, also stars in the film. 
The Red Stallion ( 1947 ) - A young man ( Ted Donaldson ) finds an orphaned colt in the woods and trains him to race in a big derby hoping to raise enough money to pay off his grandmother's ( Jane Darwell ) ranch debts. This is one of those routine family films to come out of an independent studio but it's very entertaining and boasts a strong cast. 


Glory ( 1955 ) - Margaret O'Brien and Walter Brennan star in this story of a young woman yearning to win a big race with her philly "Glory". This coming-of-age film was made as an attempt to launch Margaret O'Brien's adult career, but it never took off. Lawrence Welk's lovely Champagne lady Norma Zimmer dubs O'Brien's singing voice for her three musical numbers. 

Sorrowful Jones ( 1949 )Sorrowful Jones is not a winning horse, but a cheap bookie ( Bob Hope ) who finds himself playing nursemaid to a little girl after a man leaves her as a marker for a bet. This comedy united Lucille Ball and Bob Hope onscreen for the first time. They became fast friends and played together many times afterwards. 

It Ain't Hay ( 1943 ) - Bud Abbott and Lou Costello star in this comedy remake of Princess O'Hara ( 1935 ) in which a street vendor finds his nag has been replaced with a thoroughbred no less!

Thunderhead - Son of Flicka ( 1945 ) - This charming Technicolor picture is a sequel to the popular My Friend Flicka ( 1943 ) and also stars Roddy McDowall. Now the English lad is training Flicka's son to become a race horse. 

Derby Day ( 1952 ) - Instead of focusing on the famous race at Ascot, this film turns the spotlight on the people attending the race, namely three different groups who each find their lives turned around on Derby Day. Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding teamed up for the sixth and last time in this highly entertaining drama. 

Blue Grass of Kentucky ( 1950 ) - This Monogram quickie tells the story of Blue Grass, a "secretly" bred horse of the finest stock who is entered to win at the Kentucky Derby despite his owners doubts of his racing ability. Bill Williams, Frank Morgan, and Jane Nigh star in this Kentucky drama. 

Pride of the Blue Grass ( 1954 ) - The 1950s saw a host of horse-racing remakes, and this time around Allied Artists brought back Pride of the Blue Grass ( 1939 ) in "thrilling color". Since an Irishman is a prerequisite for any great horse picture, Barry Fitzgerald's brother Arthur Shields was tossed in for good luck. 

Boy from Indiana ( 1950 ) - Lon McCallister had a difficult time growing from juvenile parts into manly roles due to his short stature. Leading men are not often shorter than their leading ladies, and so he was often cast opposite short women and playing the part of.....a jockey! In this film, Lon ditches the harness racing equipment to raise a colt who becomes champion racer Texas Dandy ( played by JoJo ). 


Scattergood Rides High ( 1942 )  - A boy nurses his favorite horse, Starlight, back to health to win the Governor's Race and save his father's business. Guy Kibbee and Jed Prouty are the only "name" actors in this budget family drama from Pyramid Productions.

The Rainbow Jacket ( 1954 ) - For a jockey, being banned from the track can be the worst thing that can happen to you, especially when horse racing is in your blood like it is in Tyler's ( Edward Underdown ). To satisfy his longing to be back in the saddle, he trains a young lad to be a champion jockey just like he was. 

Sporting Blood ( 1940 )  - Louis B. Mayer often claimed that if you have a good story, film it again...and again. This remake of Sporting Blood came but nine years after the original film and stars Robert Young as the young man who sets out to spite a fellow stable owner by marrying his daughter ( Maureen O'Sullivan ). Hardly sporting, old bean. 

Easy Come, Easy Go ( 1947 ) - No, it's not the Elvis's the Sonny Tufts comedy-drama set at the tracks. This film goes on record as featuring the largest cast of Irish descendants ( until The Quiet Man was made ). If one good Irishman makes a racing picture, then why not through in 12...or 20? Barry Fitzgerald, Arthur Shields, Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, Frank Faylan and Diana Lynn are just some of the cast. 

The Fabulous Suzanne ( 1946 )This amusing Republic quickie features a young Barbara Britton ( best remembered for playing the scatter-brained Mrs. Brown in the television series My Favorite Martian ) as a waitress with a surefire "system" for winning at the racetrack. Otto Kruger and Rudy Vallee also star. 

That Gang of Mine ( 1940 ) - Horse racing was a major sport in the 1940s. So much so, that even the East Side Kids made a film about it. Muggs ( Leo Gorcey ) finds his dream of becoming a jockey about to come true when he meets up with an old man who has a champion race horse. 


So You Want to Play the Horses ( 1946 ) - Joe McDoakes couldn't stay away from the race track either, and thought he would share some betting tips with his viewers in this amusing short film. 


  1. What a marvelous article! You reminded me of some old faves and gave me quite a number of others to look out for.

    Thrills, murder and perpetual movie jockey Frankie Darro show up in "Charlie Chan at the Race Track".

    PS: Sadly, "Riding High" was a black and white flick.

    1. Oh yes, there were so many racing films made in the 1930s I didn't even want to tackle that decade. That particular Charlie Chan film is one of my favorites, however. I recall Michael Shayne made a good one too. Thanks for correcting me about Riding's been a while since I've seen it last!

  2. What dunderhead in the front office decided not to enter The Marx Bros. classic "A Day at the Races" into the race? :-)

    1. That's 1937, Quiggy! Post Header's too old to race.

    2. I guess I need new glasses. I missed that part.

    3. I guess I need new glasses. I missed that part.

  3. Wow!! So many horse movies I didn't realize there were!!!! You gave me some good tips to new movies that I should check out! Cute blog, thanks!

  4. Derby day (1952) - Does anyone know the name of the derby winners name Please?

  5. I was hunting for the old movies about a Harness Horse Dan Patch, ken curtis played a small part in it. I saw it once long ago an can't remember the name.

    1. Hmm...let me look into this. There was a film made in 1949 called "The Great Dan Patch" but that starred Dennis O'Keefe. I don't remember Ken Curtis being in there. I'll see if I can dig up the title.


  7. Is this a medical website?? I am looking for harness racing in the 50's
    not how to cure diseases.