Anticipation for the UK’s horse racing extravaganza, The Cheltenham Festival, is beginning to build.

Horse racing is a British institution and has been for nearly 400 years. It is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down, both literally and figuratively, particularly given the excitement which greeted the recent release of the odds for the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.

Moreover, it is not just within the sporting world that horse racing has seen enduring success. It has also been a reliable subject matter for the silver screen since the film medium’s inception. Within this sub-genre of horse racing films there have been several timeless classics that scored big both at the box-office and during award season.

It was the Marx Brothers who started off the trend, producing the classic comedy ‘A Day At The Races‘, which is often cited as one of their best works. Meanwhile, ‘National Velvet’ – a drama starring a young Elizabeth Taylor and a spirited Mickey Rooney – won two Academy Awards and has remained a firm favourite amongst film buffs.

Films such as the big-budget ‘The Black Stallion‘ and the gritty ‘Phar Lap’ proved that the subject matter was versatile and adaptable through numerous genres. As recently as 2003, ‘Seabiscuit’ once again proved the power of horse racing films, scoring an impressive seven Academy Award nominations. This powerhouse drama was both lauded for its compelling set-pieces and intricate character relationships.

However, since then, this winning streak that began in the early 20th Century and rode, with incredible stamina, through to the early 21st Century has somewhat waned.

Yet, there has still been several excellent horse racing films produced since. Whilst these movies may not have gathered the critical acclaim, or box-office returns, of their predecessors, they still have firmly demonstrated that this sub-genre has plenty of life left in it.

So, to credit these, here are our two modern horse racing films you have to see.

Hidalgo (2004)

Hidalgo is supposedly based upon the true account of adventurer Frank Hopkins, who participated in an epic horse race across the desert. However, the film appears to owe much more to the flamboyance and camp nature of old-school television serials than anything based within reality or fact.

The film stars Viggo Mortensen, who, charged with a largely cartoonish role, manages to inject some unpredictably and roughness within his largely charisma-driven performance. Mortensen, who has most recently been heard commenting on soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, is joined by a superb supporting cast – that includes Malcolm McDowell, JK Simmons and Omar Sharif – who give some gravitas and complexity to their largely clichéd roles. However, Hidalgo is not a film concerned with realism. If anything this a fast-paced romp through the desert with just the right amount of grittiness. The action is largely well-paced and nicely spread out between tight shoot-outs and expansive horse races, whilst the cinematography and editing are highly polished with plenty of neat stylistic touches. The pace, however, can occasionally suffer from one too many sub-plots and asides. Which, whilst appropriate for a film of a more intimate or dramatic tone, is rather detrimental to a film more concerned with spectacle, excitement and speed. However, despite the occasional lapse in pace, Hidalgo is a fantastic and beautifully shot action-adventure which is refreshingly traditional in both its execution and subject matter.

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (2005)

‘Dreamer’ has been identified by many critics as a spiritual successor to ‘National Velvet’, with this warm 2005 family-drama echoing the classic film’s feel-good atmosphere and simple but emotive narrative. Dakota Fanning plays, in similar style to Elizabeth Taylor in ‘National Velvet’, a plucky young horse-lover who is determined to see her beloved, but seen by many as hopeless, mare gallop to victory. The film’s narrative is predictable but executed flawlessly. Whilst seasoned audiences will see every swell and decline coming a mile off, they will still enjoy the quality of their implementation. Meanwhile, Fanning shows – in a pitch-perfect performance – exactly why she was lauded as one of the best child actors of her generation. Her rich performance being startlingly realistic and never slipping into the silted territory usually occupied by actors of her age.