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It’s not easy for most people to distinguish a racehorse’s gender, especially when it’s running 30 mph down a race track. So they often assume all the horses are male. But is this true? Are all racehorse males?
Racehorses can be either male or female. Mares (female horses) compete against their male counterparts and often win. Some of the world’s best racehorses have been female.
Female racehorses don’t get the respect they’re due. The general perception of male athletic dominance transcends horseracing; however, facts disprove this.
Update: Preakness Stakes 2020: Swiss Skydiver wins to become only the sixth filly to win in 145 runnings.
Male horses have more earning potential.
Over 60 percent of the racehorses in North America and Europe are male. There could be a couple of reasons for this. First, owners hope to find the rare horse that can earn them millions standing at stud after its racing career.
For example, the leading sire in America is Tapit, currently standing for $300,000 a cover. A stud breeds up to 125 mares per year, and at Tapits rates, his annual earnings are over $35 million.
Although owning a million-dollar stud is rare, the dream lives in racehorse owners’ minds that the next horse will be their ticket into the big money breeding business.
A mares gestation period is eleven months.
A mare doesn’t have the same earning potential after retirement; they have an eleven-month gestation period. The earning disparity between retired stallions and mares is vast.
Another reason owners prefer male racehorses is their inherent belief that colts and geldings are faster. To bolster this misplaced belief, they point out that the Kentucky Derby has been won by a filly only three times since its inception in 1875.
In 2013 the Kentucky Derby restricted entrants to three-year-olds that earned a fixed amount of points from qualifying races. Fillies (the term for a female horse four years and younger) can be eligible under the same rules as any other racehorse.
However, since the points systems have been in place, fewer fillies have qualified for the Derby. The reason could be the risk of injury associated with racehorses running at such a young age to earn qualifying points.
Trainers are more likely to aim high-caliber fillies towards the Kentucky Oaks than the Derby. The Kentucky Oaks is a Grade I race restricted to three-year-old fillies with a million-dollar purse. A filly trying to qualify for the Derby could ruin its chances to run and win the Kentucky Oaks.
Mares and fillies have been getting more respect recently in the horse racing community. In 2019 the top-selling yearling at the Keenland auction was a filly that sold for 8.2 million dollars.
Top 10 Female Racehorses (fillies and mares).
10. Regret is the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby.
In 1914 and 1915, Regret rewrote horseracing history. In 1914 she became the first to win all three prestigious two-year-old stakes races, the Sanford Stakes, Hopeful Stakes, and Saratoga Special Stakes.
In 1915, she won the Kentucky Derby and set two new precedents; she was the first filly to win the race and the first undefeated horse to win. Sixty-five years would pass before another filly would win the Kentucky Derby, Genuine Risk won in 1980.
9. Winning Colors was the third filly to win the Kentucky Derby.
Winning Colors raced from 1987 to 1989 and is only the third filly to win the Kentucky Derby. During her two-year-old campaign, she ran twice, winning both times.
Winning Color’s three-year-old season was stellar. She began the season easily, winning the Santa Anita Derby. Her next race was Kentucky Derby, which proved to be a tighter race, but she held off the field of racehorses to win the race by a neck. Winning Colors lifetime earnings exceeded 1.5 million dollars.
8. Black Caviar retired with a record of 25-0.
Black Caviar is one of the greatest racehorses of all time. She ran most of her races in Australia against top-flight competition. Her owners even flew her to England to race in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, a Grade I race.
The Diamond Jubilee sparked international interest and attracted an enormous crowd. Black Caviar won by a head. In 2012 and 2013, Black Caviar was considered the top thoroughbred racehorse in the world.
Black Caviar is a dark bay mare from Australia; she retired with a race record of 25-0. She was 16.2 hands tall and had a top speed of 45.09 mph. She amassed 15 Grade I victories during her career.
When she won the Robert Sangster Stakes-G1, she gained her 20th straight victory and beat the previous Australian record of 19 consecutive wins set almost 100 years before. Black Caviar’s 20th victory also surpassed the international record held by Zenyatta of 19 successive wins.
7. Gallorette competed against the boys and won.
Gallorette was a big chestnut mare. Her racing career spanned five years, from 1944 to 1948. During that time, she started 72 races and won 54, and was Champion Female horse for 1946.
She competed against the boys and won. She beat Kentucky Derby winner Hoop Jr. and the winner of the Belmont Stakes, Pavot. She also came in second in the 1945 Wood Memorial Stakes, running against an open field.
During the 1940s, all the big purses were in the open races. In other words, if Gallorette wanted to run for a sizeable purse, she had to compete against the boys, she did, and she won. She was one of the great racehorses of her time.
6. Lady’s Secret won eight Grade I stakes races.
From 1984 to 1987, Lady’s Secret won 25 of 45 races and placed in 9, earning over 3 million dollars. As a four-year-old, she started 15 races and won 10, including four wins against the best males running during this period.
All ten wins were graded stakes races, and eight were grade 1 races. Eight grade I wins is still a single-season record, only matched by Cigar in 1995. Lady’s Secret won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year and the Outstanding Older Female Horse Award for 1986.
An Eclipse Award is one of the highest honors a horse can receive. It is given in recognition of the outstanding achievements of horses and individuals in North America.
The Eclipse Award winners are determined by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB). A female horse rarely wins an Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.
5. Rachel Alexandra was the first filly to win the Woodward Stakes.
In 2009 Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks Grade I stakes by 20 lengths. She entered the Preakness Stakes two weeks later and outran Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird to win the race. She was the first filly to win the Preakness since 1924.
Rachel Alexandra was an average-looking bay mare standing 16 hands tall. She won 13 out of her 19 career races with 5-second place finishes. She was named Eclipse Horse of the Year for 2009.
In the Mother Goose Stakes, she set a new record for the stakes race and was just a fraction of a second off the track record set by Secretariat. Also, in 2009, Rachel Alexandra won the Grade I Woodward Stakes against older male horses. This win made her the first filly or mare to win the race.
The win of the Woodward Stakes also made her the first 3-year-old filly to win a grade I dirt race against older males in New York since 1887. At this point in Rachel Alexandra’s career, she amassed nine consecutive victories.
4. Personal Ensign won four Grade I as a three-year-old.
Personal Ensign won every race she entered; her final race was the 1988 Breeder’s Cup Distaff bringing her race record to 13-0. She became the first undefeated champion in American racing in over 80 years.
To accomplish this feat required her to come from behind to beat Winning Colors, the Kentucky Derby winner. The race is considered one of the best in Breeders Cup history.
Personal Ensign began winning young, she won the Grade I Frizette Stakes at two, and the Beldame Stakes also a Grade I race at three years old. She won six Grade I stakes races as a four-year-old, including the Whitney Handicap against male horses.
Personal Ensign continued her success off the track by becoming a successful broodmare. Her daughter My Flag became a Grade I winner of a Breeders Cup race, and her grandson War Emblem won the Kentucky Derby. In 1996 Personal Ensign was named Kentucky Broodmare of the Year.
3. Ruffian won every race and by an average of 8 1/2 lengths.
Ruffian was a fantastic racehorse whose career was cut short by a horrific injury suffered in her final race. Her career spanned ten races, all of which she won by an average margin of 8 1/2 lengths. Each stakes race she competed in, she set a new track record.
Ruffian looked like a racehorse is supposed to look; she was a tall, powerfully built dark bay horse. She set a track record in her racing debut and won the race by over 14 lengths. She continued to win and continued to set new records. But she had yet to compete against the male horses.
Foolish Pleasure won the Kentucky Derby, and a match race was scheduled between him and Ruffian to determine the best of the sexes. On July 6, 1975, more than 50,000 people attended Belmont Park, and 20 million viewers watched on television.
When the gates opened, Ruffian hit her shoulder but straightened and took the lead; as she switched leads, she made a bad step and shattered a bone in her leg. She continued to run on the busted leg and caused tremendous damage. Vets couldn’t repair her leg, and they euthanized her.
Ruffian had the talent to win at any distance. If she hadn’t suffered her tragic injury, she might have proven to be the greatest racehorse of all time.
2. Zenyatta is the all-time leader in Breeder Cup earnings.
Zenyatta is a dark bay mare; she won 19 of 20 races entered, including 17 Graded stakes races, of which 13 were Grade I races. Along the way, she defeated four other champion horses and accumulated over 7 million dollars in earnings.
In 2010 at the Vanity Invitation Handicap, Zenyatta won her 17th straight race at Hollywood Park. The win made put her past the records of Citation and Cigar for consecutive victories in unrestricted races at 16. Zenyatta tied the world record set by Rock of Gibraltar for consecutive Grade I wins with the victory.
Zenyatta was the first female horse to win the Breeders’ Cup and is the all-time leader in Breeder Cup earnings. In 2010 she won the honor of being named Horse of the Year.
1. Winx won 25 Grade I stakes races!
Winx is a dark bay mare from Australia; her racing record includes 33 consecutive victories, including a world record of 25 Grade I wins. She ran a total of 43 races with 37 first-place finishes and 3 seconds.
Winx is the world’s all-time money winner, and her 37 career victories match the record of another Australian racing legend, Phar Lap, who raced from 1929-’32. Winx went undefeated from May 16, 2015, to April 13, 2019.
Winx holds most horseracing records; it’s hard to deny that she is one of the top three horses. But a strong argument can be made for Zenyatta or Ruffian as the greatest female horse.
Has a female horse ever won the Kentucky Derby?
Yes, three female horses won the Kentucky Derby. The most recent was Winning Colors in 1988. Genuine Risk won it in 1980, and Regret was the first female Kentucky Derby winner; she performed her feat in 1915.
To read more about the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winners, check out this article: What Horses Won the Triple Crown? Meet 13 Great Champions
Are male horses faster than female horses?
Generally speaking, male horses are faster, taller, and stronger than their female counterparts.
They also outnumber females on the racetrack and hold almost every relevant speed record. But some outliers can run faster than the males, like the ones mentioned in this article.