Well, were within days from the most exciting two minutes in sports history and last year at this time I took a little bit of time to share some movies related to the “sport of kings” that would get everybody in the mood for the Derby; as if anybody in the state needed any extra horse racing.
None the less, to be frank I felt that I didn’t display a true history of film to go along with a history of the Derby, as such I thought I’d take each decade of the Derby’s existence and assign a film so to speak that was released in that decade.
The problem is the Derby is actually older than film, the first derby was won in 1875 by Aristedes, and the first “motion picture” debuted in May of 1895, and this film had nothing to do with horses.
For any film historians, yes there were film experiments and a handful of short films, particularly by Thomas Edison and his company prior to the 1890’s, however 1895 was really the birth of any sort of modern film as we would recognize it today.
All that said, I’m beginning with the 1890’s, the first decade I could find a film with any sort of relation to equines, along with the movie, I’m including the winning horses and various other facts from that era.
Movie: Buffalo Dance, this short, black and white, silent film documents Native Americans performing a ritual “dance” which features horses in addition to the Buffalo. This like many early films is hard to find, however horses are a major part of this time frame and this culture.
Derby winners: 1890: Riley, 1891: Kingman, 1892: Azra, 1893: Lookout, 1894: Chant, 1895: Halma, 1896: Ben Brush, 1897: Typhoon II, 1898: Plaudit, 1899: Manuel, 1900: Lieut. Gibson
In this era, the Derby had two multiple winning jockeys Isaac Murphy, who won in ’90 and ’91 and Willie Simms who won in ’96 and ’98.
Movie: The Great Train Robbery, this is a true horse race, while our “bandits” attempt to ride into and away from their crime. The film itself is considered influential in several key ways mostly how it was shot. It is a twelve minute long silent Western, that is currently in the national film registry.
Derby winners: 1901: His Eminence, 1902: Alan-a-Dale, 1903: Judge Himes, 1904: Elwood, 1905: Agile, 1906: Sir Huon, 1907: Pink Star, 1908: Stone Street, 1909: Wintergreen, 1910: Donau
One jockey had back to back wins in this decade; Jimmy Winkfield who won in ’01 and ’02.
Movie: A Modern Musketeer, again we take horses to an adventure level in this 1917 film where horses are used to “update” the classic Three Musketeers tale.
Derby winners: 1911: Meridian, 1912: Worth, 1913: Donerail, 1914: Old Rosebud, 1915: Regret, 1916: George Smith, 1917: Omar Khayyam, 1918: Exterminator, 1919: Sir Barton, 1920: Paul Jones
Sir Barton was honored with a street named after him in Lexington.
Movie: Just Tony, this film from 1922 features the first horse cinema star, Tony, who received equal billing as his human counterpart in a series of films, and his name was clearly used in the title for this and several other films where he starred; Just Tony was the first of these.
Derby winners: 1921: Behave Yourself, 1922: Morvich, 1923: Zev, 1924: Black Gold, 1925: Flying Ebony, 1926: Bubbling Over, 1927: Whiskery, 1928: Reigh Count, 1929: Clyde Van Dusen, 1930: Gallant Fox
Several jockeys won more than one Derby in this decade, Linus McAtee won in ’29 and ’27, Earl Sande won in ’23, ’25, and ’30, and Albert Johnson won in ’22 and ’26. Gallant Fox was a Triple Crown winner.
Movie: A Day at the Races, the Marx brothers take on horse racing in this classic romp as only they can, this 1937 comedy has long been looked at as one of the best entries into the Marx’s film cannon.
Derby winners: 1931: Twenty Grand, 1932: Burgoo King, 1933: Brokers Tip, 1934: Cavalcade, 1935: Omaha, 1936: Bold Venture, 1937: War Admiral, 1938: Lawrin, 1939: Johnstown, 1940: Gallahadion
Arguably the most famous horse of this decade War Admiral was a triple crown winner, as was Omaha. Trainer Herbert J. Thompson won back to back Derbys in ’32 and ’33, another trainer Jim Fitzsimmons also won two in the decade in ’35 and ’39.
Movie: National Velvet, still looked at as a pinnacle in film history National Velvet has a Kentucky Derby backdrop in it’s view of what horse racing is.
Derby winners: 1941: Whirlaway, 1942: Shut Out, 1943: Count Fleet, 1944: Pensive, 1945: Hoop Jr., 1946: Assault, 1947: Jet Pilot, 1948: Citation, 1949: Ponder, 1950: Middleground
Jockey Eddie Arcaro won three Derbys in the decade, in addition there were four notable horses who achieved the triple crown, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, and Citation.
Check out tomorrow when I take a look at the 50’s through to today.
Image courtesy of Amazon