There is a royal majesty that surrounds the ‘Thoroughbred’ aka ‘Racehorse’ that is unique among all other members of the animal kingdom. These creatures are a testament to the transcendent wonder of the natural world. Their anatomy typically consist of 1,ooo pounds of streamlined muscle and statuesque symmetry packed into a 5 1/2 foot by 5 1/2 foot frame (Taller than most horse breeds). Human beings create sporting pageantry by riding them around a track as fast as nature allows, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 miles per hour. Their stamina is notable and allows them to run at a pace of 16 mph for nearly 60 miles. Thoroughbred racing is a big deal for the wealthy equestrian crowd. Over 100,000 people witness the annual ‘Kentucky Derby’ event that takes place at the esteemed ‘Churchill Downs’ racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. It stands as the pinnacle of the racing season, and they’ve been running it since it’s 1875 inception. Throughout the history of thoroughbred racing there have been many great horses, and among them there have been a few that have become legendary. Idiots Guide presents a look at 10 of the greatest racehorses of all-time. Not all of these animals have accomplished the rare feat of winning the ‘triple crown’, however each of them are legendary for various reasons.
The Amazing 10…
#10. American Pharaoh / Triple Crown: 2015
2015 was the year of the ‘Pharaoh’ as this exceptional horse won numerous awards including the ‘Triple Crown’, the ‘Breeders’ Cup Classic’, the ‘Eclipse Award’ for Horse of the Year, as well as being named the Champion 3 year old. His feats of victory made him the first horse to win the American ‘Grand Slam’ of horse racing. Pharaoh is a product of Ahmed Zayat of Zayat Stables, and was trained by the legendary Bob Baffert.
#9. War Admiral / Triple Crown: 1937
In the 1930’s ‘War Admiral’ was winning races, in fact most of them. In 26 career starts he was the victor in 21 of them. In 1937 ‘War Admiral’ became just the 4th horse to win the esteemed American ‘Triple Crown’, while also being named ‘Horse of the Year’. In 1938, he was victorious over his blood rival ‘Seabiscuit’ in the what was at the time often called the ‘Race of the Century’. His career earnings of $273,240 was a staggering amount especially for a depression era racehorse.
#8. Dr. Fager / Triple Crown: N/A
1968 was the year Dr. Fager held the world of horse racing in the palm of his hoof. This horse had arguably the single greatest horse racing season in the history of horse racing. He won no less than 4 titles in 1968, while being the ‘Horse of the Year’, the Champion Handicap, Champion Sprinter, and the Co-Champion grass horse. It seemed as if there was an award, that Dr. Fager had won it in 1968. In fact, 8 of his 13 major victories occurred in 1968. If for no other reason Dr. Fager is firmly seated on this list of immortal horses.
#7. Native Dancer / Triple Crown: N/A
Also known as the ‘Grey Ghost’, Native Dancer is one of the most accomplished thoroughbred race horses in history. A status cemented by his simultaneous rise through the new medium of the era, television. His 3 year racing career saw a run where he was victorious in 21 of 22 races, including 9 consecutive wins as a 2 year old. His purse earnings of $230,495, as a 2 year old set a world record. From 1952 through 1954, Native Dancer lost just one single race, the 1953 Kentucky Derby. This is the only reason he wasn’t an official ‘Triple Crown’ winner. Nevertheless, Native Dancer is one of the greatest horses, ever.
#6. Spectacular Bid / Triple Crown: N/A
From 1978 to 1980 Spectacular Bid was the race horse to reckon with. He won ‘Eclipse Awards’ in each of those seasons. In 1979 he won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, however an unfortunate foot/hoof injury on the morning of the Belmont Stakes cost him the coveted ‘Triple Crown’ honor. In 1980 he was named American Horse of the Year. That same year in the Santa Anita Park Grub Stakes mile and quarter race, he ran it in a world record time of 1:57.8. A record that continues to stand today. In total, Spectacular Bid won 26 of 30 career races and earned set several track records and earned a then record $2,781,607 in prize purses.
#5. Kelso / Triple Crown: N/A
Kelso’s career saw no less than 20 major victories. From 1960 to 1964 he was named American Horse of the Year by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. That’s five consecutive years for those keeping score at home. He dominated the sport for those five years like no other horse before. Even more astonishing was his longevity, as 5 years is about 2 years longer than the average champion horse runs with success. Needless to say, Kelso is considered among the greatest racehorses ever.
#4. Seattle Slew / Triple Crown: 1977
1977 was that magical season for the amazing thoroughbred race horse called ‘Seattle Slew’. That year he went undefeated on his way to becoming just the 10th horse to win the ‘Triple Crown’. Ironically, early in his career ‘experts’ didn’t see his potential due to his homely aesthetic appearance, as a result he missed out on important horse auctions. In the end, when given the opportunity Seattle Slew blew the oppositions doors off. He ran off 14 wins in 17 starts, including his 1977 Triple Crown run. His career earnings climbed to over $1 million (USD). Not bad for the horse they said was ‘too ugly’…
#3. Man o’War / Triple Crown: N/A
Over the years, Man o’War’s legend has continued to grow as this Thoroughbred is widely considered to be one of the greatest race horses in history. This turn of the century horse ran off a whirlwind 20 victories in 21 races netting impressive prize purses totaling approximately $250,000. A large part of Man o’War’s legend was his weight ‘handicap’ at the time. It was acknowledged, and I suspect true, that he had ‘handicap weight’ of 130 pounds in an effort to even the odds than did other horses, thus conceding as much as 32 pounds to the competition. That’s how fast he was. By the end of his career Man o’War had compiled 16 major victories including 2 of the 3 Triple Crown races in 1920. A supremely athletically gifted Thoroughbred and an all-time great.
#2. Citation / Triple Crown: 1948
By the end of his 4 year career (1947, 1948, 1950 and 1951), Citation was the first horse to win more than $1 million in prize purses. In 1948 he became the 8th esteemed winner of the ‘Triple Crown’. That same year he also won the ‘Pimlico Special’. Citation is one of just three North American Thoroughbreds to win 16 consecutive major stakes races. 1948 was his best year winning 9 major races including the 3 Triple Crown events. This horse is hands down, one of the greatest to ever run around the ovals.
#1. Secretariat / Triple Crown: 1973
In many ways the amazing Thoroughbred known to the world as ‘Secretariat’ was a lightning rod of success that was for a moment, there, and then just as quickly, he was gone. His career lasted a very brief two years (1972 and 1973), however, in that time Secretariat became a legend. He is perhaps professional horse racing’s most popular, and celebrated race horse. His career saw prize purse winnings of over $1 million and he was victorious in 16 of the 21 races he competed in. In 1973, the 2nd of his 2 year career, as a 3 year old colt, he captured the ‘Triple Crown’ becoming the 9th Thoroughbred in history to do so. Secretariat set track records at almost every track he raced on. The good news? Secretariat sired 653 foals, with 57 of them going on to be stakes winners. The bad news is that he died in 1989. What a special horse he was…