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Ranking the Best Racehorses of All Time

Horse racing has been around for quite some time. The first modern horse race took place in 1776 in England, known as the St. Leger race. 

Since its beginnings in the 18th century, people from across the world gather each year to attend various horse races. Although there are thousands of horses that compete in these races each year, there are only a few that stand out to be defined as “history makers.”

Based on their achievements, records, and industry legacy, we’ve compiled a list of the top 7 greatest racehorses of all time.

#7: Kelso: The Unexpected Victor 

Born in April of 1957, Kelso is what we have deemed as the unexpected victor. When he was born, he was considered a runt. He was certainly not what anyone would expect to become a reigning champion in the racing world. 

Affectionately called “Kelly” and “King Kelly”  by his owners, he was a bay gelding. Kelso was owned by the Dupont family, and raced for 8 seasons. Between the years of 1960 and 1966, Kelso established 39 of his 63 records. Kelso Racehorse

Many racehorses in history were known for their looks, but that was not the case for Kelso. As far as looks, Kelso was considered an average horse. However, when Kelso started moving, there was no denying just how impressive he really was.

Some of the most memorable accomplishments from Kelso include:

  • Kelso was voted Horse of the Year for five years straight during the 1960s

  • When Kelso retired, he was the highest monetary earner of all time. This was despite him never competing in a Triple Crown event (he was passed by Affirmed in 1979)

  • Kelso set an American record for a mile and a half turf in 1964 (2:23 4/5), winning the Washington D.C. International. He later went on to set the world record for 2 miles

#6: Black Caviar: Undefeated Champ

Black Caviar was a bay filly. Born in August of 2006, she retired in 2013 with a record of 25-0. Black Caviar was trained by Peter Moody, who was based out of Melbourne, Australia. The highlight of her career is when she traveled to England and won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

Black Caviar Race Horse

Black Caviar was stout in build, but you would never think that when you saw her start to race. Although she was a stocky horse, when she was moving, she was fluid and light. Have you ever heard the famous saying, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee?” This quote was the essence of Black Caviar. She was strong and powerful, yet graceful and extremely agile when she was racing.

Throughout her career, Black Caviar racked up her fair share of achievements including:

  • The first horse outside of Europe to win the European Champion Sprinter

  • She set the Australian record for winning 15 Group I races

  • Named the Australian Champion Sprinter

  • Named the racehorse of the year in Australia for 3 consecutive years (2011-2013)

#5: Zenyatta: The Queen of Racing 

Zenyatta has been referred to as the “Queen of Racing.” She was named after the album titled Zenyatta Mondatta by the Police. Zenyatta was another bay filly that competed during the same time period as Black Caviar. Although Black Caviar broke Zenyatta’s record for the number of consecutive wins, Zenyatta was a powerhouse to be reckoned with. Unlike many other racehorses in the industry, she didn’t race as a two year old. She was born in 2004 and didn’t race until 2007. 

Zenyatta was a very large horse. She stood over 17 hands and weighed over 1200 pounds. In fact, Zenyatta was so big that she was claustrophobic at the starting gate. She was infamous for her pre-race “dancing” routine. Many race watchers reported that during her career she would prance around happily, as if she was putting on a dancing show for the crowds before she competed (we’ll blame this on being a mare and having lots of built-up energy that she needed to dance out).

Zenyatta Race Horse

She raced for 3 years between 2007 and 2010. During those few short years, Zenyatta set many records and acquired many awards including: 

  • First mare to win at the Breeders Cup Classic

  • Awarded Champion Older Female Horse for 3 consecutive years

  • Awarded American Horse of the Year

  • Set new records at Del Mar and at the Lady’s Secret Stakes Race

  • Earned more than $7.3 million in her career

#4: Dr. Fager: The Speed Demon

Throughout the years, Dr. Fager has been awarded the nickname “Speed Demon.” Dr. Fager was a bay stallion, and he raced only two years (1966-1968). Although Dr. Fager was club footed, it didn’t slow him down one bit during his races. His trainer, John Nerud, named him after the neurosurgeon that operated on him after a tumble from a pony gave him some scary symptoms that would require brain surgery.

Dr. Fager Race Horse

Dr. Fager stood at 16.2 hands, and he is still considered one of the fastest racehorses that the world has ever seen. During his racing career, Dr. Fager set record after record including:

  • New track records at the New Hampshire Sweepstakes Classic, Rockingham Special Stakes

  • Set a new American record at the Washington Park Handicap

  • Set a new world record at the Washington Park Handicap

  • Named American Horse of the Year, American Champion Handicap Male, American Champion Turf Horse, and AMerican Champion Sprinter

#3: Citation: Legacy Runs in the Family

Citation was born out of Calumet Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. Back in 1941, the owner of Calumet Farm, Warren Wright Sr., purchased Hydroplane II from Britain. Hydroplane II was mated with Bull Lea, and foaled a bay colt, who would be named Citation. Mr. Wright could be called pretty lucky with the dynasty of horse racing that he created during his time. Within 3 years of being foaled, Citation won the Triple Crown in 1948. Although Mr. Wright bred many champions out of his stables, Citation was the star of the show.Citation Race Horse

Citation became the first horse to ever earn a million dollars. In a quick amount of time, he had established quite the reputation for himself. In fact, during one Stakes race that Citation attended, he was the sole competitor. Not because it was an unpopular race…but because Citation was commanding the horse racing world so much that no one wanted to compete against him.

Citation raced from 1947-1951. During his time racing, some of his accomplishments included:

  • Champion 2 year old and 3 year old colt

  • Triple Crown winner (the 8th winner)

  • Named Horse of the Year in 1948

  • Won 16 races consecutively

  • Named Champion Older Male Horse in 1951

#2: Secretariat: The Epitome of a Dream Racehorse

Although Secretariat didn’t make it to our #1 spot as the best racehorse of all time, he is probably the most widely known racehorse name. Secretariat was a chestnut stallion that raced from 1972-1973. He was foaled in 1970, and he was affectionately referred to as “Big Red.”

Secretariat Race Horse

Secretariat made his racing debut in 1972, and he quickly picked up traction after that. In his first race, he finished fourth. Just 11 days later, he competed in his second race and won. A couple weeks later, he competed again in the third race of his career, and again, he won. Everyone in the horse racing industry was quick to note that Secretariat was special. 

Secretariat has been known as the race horse that had it all. He was the textbook definition of perfect stature and athleticism, and he had a big heart… literally. After Secretariat was euthanized, the veterinarian discovered that Secretariat’s heart weighed in between 21-22 pounds. The weight of his heart was over 2 and a half times the size of the average horse heart.

Secretariat is arguably the most popular racehorse of all time. There was even a movie made about him titled: Secretariat. During the peak of his fame, he received so much mail from fans that his owner hired a secretary to handle it all. They also hired an agency to manage Secretariat’s public engagements. 

Secretariat earned many achievements that resulted in his name being so well-known, including:

  • Set a Kentucky Derby record

  • Won 15 stakes races

  • Named the 1992 leading broodmare sire in North America

  • Won the Triple Crown

  • Featured on the covers of Sports Illustrated, Newsweek and Time

#1: Man O’ War: The Best RaceHorse of All Time

Man O’ War raced from 1919-1921. To this day, he is considered the greatest racehorse of all time. Man O’ War was a chestnut stallion that won 20 out of his 21 races. One of his most notable victories is when he raced and won carrying 138 lbs. 

Man O’ War was a total rockstar on the racetrack, and his appearance matched his abilities. He stood at 16.2 hands, weighed over 1,100 lbs., and had a 72 inch girth. It was commonly known that you could put Man O’ War on any terrain and at any distance, and he would win. Man O’ War comes in as the greatest racehorse in history over Secretariat. The main reason is that Secretariat raced with light weight aluminum shoes, and Man O’ War raced in steel shoes. In addition, Man O’ War often carried extra weight during his races. So, Man O’ War was provided with more challenges, and he still came out on top. Man O' War Race Horse

Other popular feats by Man O’ War include: 

  • Set the one mile and 3/8 record while carrying 128 pounds

  • Won 16 stakes races

  • North American leading sire in 1926

  • Named American Horse of the Year, American Champion 3 Year Old Male Horse and Champion Two Year Old Colt

  • Set a world record for one mile and 5/8

  • Set a new record for one mile and 1/8

FAQ 

Why is Man O’ War better than Secretariat?

Man O’ War typically carried more weight during his races.

Who is the greatest horse in history?

Man O’ War is commonly known as the greatest racehorse in history.

What horse has never lost a race?

Australia based “Black Caviar” retired with a 25-0 racing record.

What horse has beat Man O’ War?

Upset is the only horse to beat Man O’ War.

How much is Secretariat worth?

During his racing career, Secretariat was valued at $6.08 million, which would be over $32 million today.



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