A circus truck loses a baby zebra near the farm of a widowed former trainer Nolan Walsh (Bruce Greenwood) and his teenage daughter Channing (Hayden Panettierenote , in one of her several sports-related roles); the zebra, named Stripes (voiced by Hayden's brother Jansen as a baby, then by Frankie Muniz as an adult), grows up believing he's a horse and wants to race (hence the title). On his side are a Shetland pony named Tucker (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) who's helped groom many successful horses, sassy goat Franny (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), a jumper Arabian mare named Sandy (voiced by Mandy Moore), hyperactive and dimwitted rooster Reggie (voiced by Jeff Foxworthy), a nervous big city pelican named Goose (voiced by Joe Pantoliano) and a pair of comic-relief flies Buzz and Scuzz (voiced by Steve Harvey and David Spade). Not on his side are most of the real horses, especially pompous, egotistical champion Sir Trenton (voiced by Fred Thompson) and his son Trenton's Pride (voiced by Joshua Jackson).
Meanwhile, Channing wants to follow in her late mother's footsteps and become a jockey, but her dad doesn't want her to do so as that was what killed her mother. The two underdog heroes must overcome adversity to triumph at the Kentucky Open.
This movie provides examples of:
- Abandoned Pet in a Box: Baby Stripes is left behind in a box at the beginning of the film.
- Advertised Extra: Lightning the dog, who only gets a few minutes of screen time.
- All of the Other Reindeer: Trenton's Pride and other horses, except Sandy, make fun of Stripes until he wins the Kentucky Open.
- Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The theme song for the Japanese version is "I Will" by Hitomi Shimatani.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: There is an actual racetrack in Kentucky called Turfway Park, albeit with a dirt course instead of a turf course.
- Anger Born of Worry: Nolan forbids Channing to ride Stripes again after she returns home from work with him and insists she take his truck to work the next day. Nevertheless, Channing rides Stripes to the racetrack the next morning. After Channing leaves, Nolan notices his truck still in the driveway and finds Stripes missing from the barn. He is deduced to figuring that Channing took Stripes for another ride. Nolan rushes to the racetrack where he finds Channing and Stripes racing several horses. He is understandably horrified to witness his daughter falling off a spooked Stripes and promptly runs to her aid. Nolan asks Channing whether shes alright before chastising her. He continues lecturing Channing for disobeying him as he drives her home.
- Animal Athlete Loophole: There's no rule saying a zebra can't be a racehorse.
- Appeal to Familial Wisdom: An old farm dog lifts his head from napping to see Stripes training, and remarks:It's like my momma always said: "You can put yer boots in the oven, but that don't make 'em biscuits."
- Artistic License Animal Care: Stripes lives on a farm, when in the real world, the Walsh family would never be allowed to own him without proper licensing. Moreover, the only zebra species that even approaches the size of a pony (never mind a quarter horse) is the Grevy's, which is highly endangered. Keeping one as a pet would be legally dubious, and putting it in physical danger by riding or racing it would definitely be a crime.
- Artistic License Biology:
- Horses are faster and have greater endurance than zebras, thus a zebra would be at a disadvantage in a race at the very least, if it could win at all. For this reason they used horses painted like zebras for some shots.
- Real zebras' spines aren't strong enough to carry a human's weight for long, and they are extremely aggressive and skittish animals that rarely tolerate close handling, let alone a saddle, hood, or halter. The Germans managed to use zebras as mounts during WWI, so it is possible, though as soon as the war ended they went back to the vastly preferable horse.
- Ash Face: Goose, after he destroys Chan's motorcycle, somehow causing it to explode. Then Goose, covered in ashes weakly walks back into the barn.Goose: Ya see...Ya call the Goose... and ba-da-bing— [faints]
Tucker: [laughs] Bada-boom!
- Award-Bait Song: Taking The Inside Rail by Sting.
- Babies Ever After: An alternate ending shows Stripes and Sandy having a zorse foal.
- The Big Race: The Kentucky Open in the climax.
- Bird-Poop Gag: Goose laments that his aim with his bird droppings isn't very good. At the end of the film, he succeeds in landing one on Clara Dalrymple.
- Book Ends: In the alternate ending, Sandy and Stripes' zorse foal, like his father, walks up to the gates at Turfway Park. He also asks them what the racetrack is, like Stripes did to Tucker and Franny.
- Challenging the Bully: Inverted, Trenton's Pride challenges Stripes to race at the Blue Moon Races. It does not end well.
- Cultured Badass: The Trenton line listen to orchestral symphonies in their stables and are accustomed to high-tech innovations that maximize their potential.
- Cuteness Proximity: Upon seeing a zebra foal in her dad's barn, Channing resorts to the old, "Can we keep him, Daddy? Can we please?"
- Defeat Means Friendship: After being defeated, Trenton's Pride invites Stripes to hang out.
- Disney Death: Stripes is knocked unconscious by one of Sir Trenton's hench-horses after Sandy is kidnapped.
- A Dog Named "Dog": Subverted with Goose, a pelican.
- Double EntendreTucker: (to Goose) With the size of that pecker, I should've known you'd be a big mouth.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: In order for Channing to ride Stripes to work, Goose destroys her motorcycle somehow causing it to explode!
- Excuse Plot: Non-video game example: they admit in the commentary that Buzz and Scuzz, the flies, were basically there to give them a reason for certain camera angles, like around the hooves and whatnot.
- Evil Has Standards: Sir Trenton's Pride doesn't like Stripes. But when Trenton arranges Stripes' absence from the big race. But Pride just wants to beat Stripes fairly. Stripes beats him.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: Channing's mother, Carolyn, was killed when her racehorse stumbled multiple years prior to the film.
- Former Friends Photo: After Stripes insults Tucker, Franny tells Stripes to "look closer" at a photograph hanging on the wall. Much to his surprise, Stripes recognizes its subjects as Tucker and Sir Trenton. Turns out, Tucker is far more experienced with racing than Stripes thought.
- Happily Adopted: The cozy straw of Nolan's barn is contrasted with Stripes' rainy, dark abandonment.
- Horse of a Different Color: Almost literal, too.
- Interspecies Friendship: Stripes and the other farm animals.
- Interspecies Romance: Stripes eventually hooks up with a horse and they have a foal together.
- Malicious Misnaming: Trenton's Pride calls Stripes "Stripey."
- Maternity Crisis: Stripes' mother gave birth during a storm, while her circus owners were fixing a broken wheel. In all the confusion, he was left in a crate on the side of the road...and they never came back for him. It's a wonder he didn't freeze to death.
- Meaningful Echo: "Don't look back, leave it all on the track!"
- A Minor Kidroduction: Stripes, Trenton's Pride, and Ruffshodd are first seen as foals.
- Noodle Incident: Goose states he moved to Nolan's farm to escape other birds who for some reason have placed a hit on him.Goose: Here's the whole spaghetti sauce. I'm a hit-bird who had a little mishap with Sammy Seagull, Freddie Flamingo, Johnny Storkanado. And now Sammy, Freddie and Johnny are all after me!
- Overprotective Dad: Nolan Walsh! Justified by the fatal racing accident he lost his wife to, Nolan Forbids is paranoid about losing his daughter Channing. To reduce the risk of losing Channing the same way he lost his wife, Nolan forbids her to ride a horse, especially in a race. He naturally objects to the idea of Channing riding their zebra, Stripes, but reluctantly allows it for once since she has no other mode of transportation to get her to work. Nolan reprimands Channing for racing around the racetrack after she falls off a spooked Stripes. He also threatens to get rid of Stripes unless Channing agrees to obey him and never ride Stripes again. Eventually, the barn animals remind Nolan of his glory days as one of the best racehorse trainers. The animals not only help Nolan get over his fear of losing Channing, but also convince him to help train Stripes for the Kentucky Open.
- Rage Against the Mentor: After discovering his true heritage, Stripes insults Tucker.Tucker: Hey, kid, what's your problem?
Stripes: I'm not a racehorse!
Tucker: What's that supposed to mean?
Stripes: I don't belong in the gate!
Tucker: No, no, you're wrong! And I'll tell you why. Racing is for anyone. Anyone with a fire in their heart.
Stripes: What do you know, you little nobody? YOU NEVER RACED! (storms off)''
Tucker: They're all the same.
- Those Two Guys: Buzz and Scuzz.
- Toilet Humor: It wouldn't be a mid-2000s family film without this trope.
- Goose laments that his aim with his bird droppings isn't very good. At the end of the film, he succeeds in landing one on Clara Dalrymple.
- Buzz and Scuzz land in a pile of horse manure.
- Scuzz farts in a cup of espresso.
- Used to Be a Sweet Kid: As foals, Pride invites Stripes to play with him. Then his father forbids it.
- You Are What You Hate: Sir Trenton, who all the thoroughbreds' bigotry can be traced back to, was trained on the dusty, archaic Walsh Farm. It's unclear what changed him, although Franny implies it was growing too proud and forgetting that the hard work of others also helped him succeed.
- You Got Guts: Tucker says this to Stripes when he secretly watches him in the Blue Moon Races.
- Zebras Are Just Striped Horses: Stripes is a zebra that ends up becoming a race "horse".