Horse movies we love -- ''National Velvet,'' ''The Killing,'' and ''Phar Lap'' all make our list

A Day at The Races

Horse movies we love

All about style and victory, greed and speed, horse racing cuts to the core of the American spirit. And no single day of racing is more important than the first Saturday in May, the date of the Kentucky Derby. But since the much-anticipated race lasts only about two minutes, Derby-watchers could use a little more equestrian entertainment for racing fulfillment on Derby Day. Here, then, are the movies about racing that we see as sure bets.

Out of the sanatorium and on to the racetrack, the Marx Brothers run amok. A singer (Allan Jones) buys a Thoroughbred, High Hat, to save the woman he loves (fetching Maureen O’Sullivan) and the asylum she runs from bankruptcy. Although not quite up to A Night at the Opera, this film includes some of the brothers’ classic skits (best: Chico selling racing guides to Groucho). B+

A precocious and adorable butcher’s daughter (Elizabeth Taylor wearing braces) is a little girl with a big dream: to ride her wild stallion to victory in the Grand National, England’s greatest horse race. She gets a lot of help from her wily trainer (Mickey Rooney, who played a similar role 34 years later in The Black Stallion) and her wise mom (Best Supporting Actress Anne Revere). A-

Stanley Kubrick wrote and directed this superbly crafted noir thriller, his third feature. The film chronicles every detail of an almost perfect crime — the robbing of a racetrack — to its heartbreaking conclusion. Sterling Hayden strikes just the right chord as the cool, meticulous mastermind. A

Lloyd Bourdelle (Walter Matthau), a guy whose best friend is a can of Budweiser, is an impoverished Louisiana horse trainer who risks losing the respect of his three sons to stand finally in the winner’s circle. With subtle direction by Martin Ritt (Norma Rae) and based on a John McPhee story, this underpublicized drama ranks among Matthau’s best. A-

A drama for racing aficionados, this is the fact-based tale of Phar Lap, the legendary Australian 3-year-old champion racehorse that died suspiciously in America in the early 1930s. Was it poison, colic, or foul play motivated either by anti-Semitism (Phar Lap was owned by an American Jewish gambler, played by Ron Leibman) or just because the horse won too easily and too often? A-

Richard Dreyfuss plays an addicted gambler who finally has a great day at the races. ”I’m not gambling, I’m winning,” he tells his wife (Teri Garr). Not well received on the big screen, this small comedy of eccentric characters (most notably Jennifer Tilly) who hang out at the track comes off much better on video, where its narrow focus isn’t a big handicap. B

A Day at The Races
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