Your Kentucky Derby pop culture party planner: Because you need something else to do besides watch horses run for two minutes
Old sports writers (mainly Pardon the Interruption host and professional crank Tony Kornheiser) like to remind anybody listening that for most of the pre-World War II era, the biggest sports in America were baseball, boxing, and horse racing.
If you really want to get your 1930s on this weekend, you’ll have that chance: The baseball season is in full swing (LET’S GO METS!), there’s a huge title fight in the boxing world between Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto, and on Saturday evening, the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby begins.
The Kentucky Derby is an excellent excuse for a party, as there are already thematic costumes (silly hats and Colonel Sanders suits) and cocktails (the legendarily undrinkable Mint Julep) already built in. There’s just one problem with throwing a party surrounding the Derby: The race lasts a couple hundred seconds, at most. What else are you to do before you watch the horsies run really fast?
Glad you asked, because we’re happy to provide a full compliment of viewing options leading up to the most exciting two minutes in sports, including a handful of movie and TV options, plus a Derby-related playlist.
The now-canceled HBO show is an obvious pick for pre-Derby viewing, and if you get started early, you can plow through the first and only season of David Milch’s horse-racing epic just in time for the big race to be run. Here’s a tip: Even though they are lovingly constructed and thrillingly staged, go ahead and fast-forward through all the actual horse racing sequences and let Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Farina bark at each other in ominous tones.
If 10 hours of morality on at a horse track is too much for you, fire up the exact opposite of that care of this 1988 comedy starring Bobcat Goldthwait, Dabney Coleman, and Don the Horse. (Yes, the horse has an above-the-title credit.) The plot, such as there is one, finds down-on-his-luck dude Goldthwait coming into possession of a horse owned by his mother. Said equine can not only talk (using the voice of John Candy) but is also excellent at picking stocks. Goldthwait is also trying to woo Virginia Madsen, and for some reason becomes a jockey in the third act. Look, this movie was hilarious to me when I was seven years old, and I still think it’s funny in a shabby ’80s kind of way. If you deeply enjoy jokes about horse sex, this is your Citizen Kane.
Depending on what sort of mood you’re in, the best Marx Brothers movie is either this one or A Night at the Opera. But A Day at the Races has two excellent things going for it: It’s probably Groucho’s best film performance, even though he’s in it less than you remember; and it has that awesome “Tootsi Frootsi Ice Cream” scene, wherein Chico sells Groucho tips on a horse. Go ahead and watch that clip, and be amazed at how slowly it unfolds. It’s crazy how deliberately it’s staged, and it works staggeringly well. It’s also helpful to point out that this clip is longer than the actual race on Sunday.
This 2003 Tobey Maguire vehicle really drives home the crazy popularity of horse racing during the Great Depression. Seabiscuit had a Tim Tebow-like narrative — his size and skills were all wrong for thoroughbred racing, and yet he was one of the most popular athletes of the era. (Let that sink in.) In 1938, Biscuit would have been mentioned alongside Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Joe Louis. Here’s a tip for making this movie, which can get a little ham-fisted, a little more fun: Take a drink every time somebody yells “Come on, Biscuit!” because that is a very silly out-of-context phrase (and it also pops up no fewer than 47,000 times in the film).
Is this the best movie of Roger Moore’s run as James Bond? It’s entirely possible. Christopher Walken plays the villain, Duran Duran provides a stupid-amazing theme song, and there’s a wonderfully ridiculous climax on the Golden Gate Bridge. Also, Walken is a part of some sort of horse-related conspiracy, though admittedly that doesn’t leave much of an impression.
At no point should anybody watch this movie about a zebra who wants to run in a horse race. This is merely included in here to remind you that the zebra is voiced by Frankie Muniz, and that Frankie Muniz used to be in movies. It should also be noted that the tagline for the movie (“Cheer ‘Til You’re Horse!”) totally goes for the horse/hoarse pun—just like Hot to Trot!
Honestly, this is the one you should be watching on Derby Day. Richard Dreyfuss plays a gambler who hits upon an incredible run of good luck, wherein every single bet he places on a single day pays off for him. It’s a sublimely funny story based on an excellent novel called Good Vibes, and also centers around a horse named … wait for it … HOT TO TROT. Maybe Bobcat should win the day after all.
Head to the next page for our official playlist.
The Official EW Kentucky Derby Playlist
The Hold Steady, “Chips Ahoy!”
The Pogues, “Bottle of Smoke”
NEXT: Frank Sinatra, Lana Del Rey, Nappy Roots, and Sawyer Brown!
Sawyer Brown, “The Race Is On”
Frank Sinatra, “Luck Be a Lady”
Lana Del Rey, “Off to the Races”
Nappy Roots, “My Old Kentucky Home”