The plot of the movie calls for the horse of the hero/heroine to come in first, the villain's to come in second, and a third party's horse to come in third. How would they make this come about in the movie?

One way I can think of is to identify horses that would come in first, second, and third In "real life," and then assign those horses to the hero, villain, and the third party respectively. Or do the producers have the jockeys produce the desired results, as well as any other "theatrics" that might occur in the race?

Suppose the plot was to have a "long shot" horse lag the field for most of the race, and then have it put on a burst of speed at the end that leads to an unlikely win. Do they use a "fast" horse, have the jockey restrain him for most of the race, and then "gun the engine" at the end?

3 Answers 3


Film makers would not hold an actual horse race to have a race in their film if the actual events on the track were significant. Using stunt riders and horses and a variety of camera positions (possibly including vehicle-mounted cameras), they would film dozens of shots of horses running on the track with the horses positioned where the narrative needed them for each shot, and then they would edit them together to look seamless on film. Most often these scenes will take place at night so that consistency of sun position isn't an issue for a race that only is supposed to take a couple of minutes but consists of shots created over hours or days of filming.

Alternatively, they could film real races and then use dialogue and character reaction to tell the audience what's happening, even if the actual shots of the horses are innocuous. Take this scene from A Bronx Tale:

In this scene all you see are tight shots of some horses in a race and then a close finish. They could have been taken during virtually any horse race. It's the dialogue and reactions by the actors that tell the story of what happens on the track much more than the visuals.

In a case where the events on the track were insignificant to the scene--say a scene where two characters meet at a horse race but talk about something else--the film makers might film the scene at a real horse track while real races were occurring in the background. This would allow them to shoot the scene with a horse race going on but not have to actually be responsible for coordinating events on the track itself.


There are occasions when a 'real' race has to be filmed.

It is still, as ruffdove says, filmed in parts & in such a way that you never see it all at once.

Stunt jockeys & horses can be used to ensure horses stay in the correct relative places & positions. Editing is used to infill in your imagination the events as they unfold.

I had the privilege of spending 3 days at Windsor racecourse, cleverly pretending to be Epsom, for the recreation of the famous Emily Davidson suffragette protest in front of the King's horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby.
Though film was relatively new at the time, the spectacle the race would have provided even on an ordinary Derby day was sufficient to bring the world's cameras to it - so when Davidson was knocked over & killed, the scene was caught on film, moving & stills, from many angles.

Having so much footage of the actual event meant the movie recreating it had to be convincing. In the final cut, there is actually very little you see of it, but each element is actually accurate. Even parts of the crowd are dressed & placed in the right place to match known images - including the racecourse doctor, who happened to be right at the point where she fell, on the day [this was discovered from stills and later pieced together].
That was me ;) I think I'm on screen for about half a second in all, but I was there.

The race itself was filmed from many angles, from 8 movie cameras at once, which made it a fantastic feat of organisation, let alone placing 600 supporting artists & principal cast. Of course, all the intervening close-up action & dialog, even if you see a horse in the background, placement is less vital, but in the wide shots, everything needed to look right.

The stunt itself was done in several sections -
A stunt woman to run out in front of a galloping horse [this in itself took some careful timing, as Davidson on the day ran out as only half the field had passed - several horses managed to avoid her. The King's horse was 3rd to last.
A cutaway to the actress's reaction to the horse bearing down [done without the horse there, of course]
A dummy stood in place for the actual impact.
A large soft 'crash' patch dug into the ground where the horse needed to fall, covered in grass, which all the other horses had to not run through.
A stunt jockey and a horse that was trained to fall on command.

For a movie to actually get something like 6 minutes' footage out of 3 days' filming in itself was quite a feat. Two separate film units & 8 cameras were necessary to work that fast.

Original historic footage -

Analysis -

Italian dub of the entire movie [not sure how long that will survive before being taken down]. The race starts at 1h30m. For all the detail that went into the reconstruction, most of the action is focussed on the movement of the three main protagonists as they move through the crowd.

& just for fun… me ;)
As the horse fell…

enter image description here

…and tending to Emily, centre frame...

enter image description here


While the other answers are very good, and explain the filmmaking process very well, there is another possibility. Retconning.

Staging a horse race where all of the jockeys are all on the same page would be fairly easy. Like any film stunt work, a lot of planning and walkthroughs would take place before they do full dress rehearsals. Then, they would film the actual stunt several times to be able to splice and edit it for the best visual effect.

Or, you can take existing videos of actual horse races. Then, edit the video for visual effect. Then, film the rest of the movie using horses of similar colors to the ones in the video in similar liveries. This would be the most likely, and cheapest, way of having a horse race in your film. Especially when the horse race is only secondary to the actual plot. This may be why most races are shown grainy and in slow motion.

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