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Hollywood goes off to the races with horse movies RICHARD CROUSE METRO CANADA Published: October 08, 2010

Seabiscuit3What do Elizabeth Taylor and Diane Lane have in common? Besides earning the title World’s Most Desirable Woman (Lane, officially, in 2004, and Taylor, pretty much all the way through the ’60s and ’70s), they’ve both shared the screen with a 1,600-pound leading man.

No, it wasn’t Marlon Brando, it was a horse, of course. Both have starred in movies featuring four-legged cast mates — Taylor most famously in National Velvet, Lane in this weekend’s Secretariat, the story of racing’s most famous thoroughbred.

Secretariat may be the most storied real-life horse to be portrayed in the movies, but he’s not the only one. Remember Phar Lap? The biopic of his life and career — he was the most famous Australian animal athlete of all time, so well known that his heart, preserved at the National Museum of Australia, is their most requested exhibit — was not a hit in North America despite a 100 per cent Rotten Tomatoes rating, but was popular in Australia and New Zealand where the horse is a national treasure.

Faring better at the box office was the inspirational equine movie Seabiscuit, a Depression-era story about a charger that won races and lifted spirits. Dubbed “Three Men and a Horse” by one writer, the story of a jockey (Tobey Maguire), a businessman (Jeff Bridges) and a wise old cowboy (Chris Cooper) connected with audiences and sold a hefty 5.5 million copies on DVD.

Memorable quote? “The horse is too small, the jockey too big, the trainer too old, and I’m too dumb to know the difference.”

More fleet of foot than the racehorse sports movies is the Disney comedy The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit. Based on the novel The Year of the Horse by Eric Hatch, it mixes Mad Men-style advertising executives, a cute kid and a horse named after a stomach pill with stars Kurt Russell, Dean Jones and Dick Van Dyke Show regular, Morey Amsterdam.

Coming around the homestretch are two horse movies starring Hollywood stud Robert Redford. In The Electric Horseman, he’s a washed-up rodeo star “just walkin’” around to save funeral expenses.” He’s a bit on the decrepit side, but Redford did all of his own riding stunts in the film. Redford is back in the saddle in The Horse Whisperer, playing a horse trainer with a special touch. Memorable quote? “Truth is, I help horses with people problems.”

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