Skip to Content

Claiming Races to Champions: Seabiscuit, John Henry & More

Published on: May 6, 2024

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Claiming races are special horse races where each horse can be bought for a set price before the race starts. This makes it easier for more people to own a racehorse and keeps the competition exciting.

In this article, we’ll share the inspiring stories of horses that started in claiming races and went on to become racing legends. From John Henry to Seabiscuit, these horses beat the odds and became famous in the racing world. Their stories show that even horses, from simple beginnings, can achieve great things.

Let’s take a closer look at how these horses rose from the basics of claiming races to the top of horse racing, inspiring everyone who follows the sport.

Picture of Seabiscuit and his trainer. He ran in claiming races before he hit his stride.
Seabiscuit and his trainer, Robert Thomas Smith.

Seabiscuit Impacted American Culture During the Great Depression

Seabiscuit’s story is about overcoming the odds and becoming a champion. Although many initially doubted him, he moved up from simple claiming races to become a famous racehorse during the tough times of the Great Depression.

Major Achievements:

  • 1938 Horse of the Year: Seabiscuit won this honor after several high-profile victories, solidifying his status as a top racehorse.
  • Victory in the 1938 Match Race Against War Admiral: This race at Pimlico is among the most famous in American horse racing history. Seabiscuit’s win against Triple Crown winner War Admiral is a highlight of his career.
  • Santa Anita Handicap Win: Known as the “hundred-grander,” Seabiscuit finally won this prestigious race in 1940 after several heartbreakingly close attempts, claiming the largest purse of his time.


  • Seabiscuit symbolized hope and perseverance for many Americans during economic hardship. His ability to overcome odds and his fighting spirit made him a hero to many.
  • His story has been celebrated in books, movies, and documentaries, continuing to inspire people about the possibilities of rising above challenges.

Seabiscuit’s journey from claiming races to national fame exemplifies how determination and heart can lead to greatness. His enduring legacy in American sports and the racing industry reminds us that heroes can come from the most unexpected places.

Picture of the pre race parade of horses in the Arlington Million.
Pre-race parade of horses in the Arlington Million. Source: Marswilsalc, CC BY-SA 4.0

How John Henry Rose from Claiming Races to Become a Racing Icon

John Henry’s rise from the world of claiming races to becoming a legendary figure in horse racing is nothing short of spectacular. Known for his tenacity and endurance, he became a symbol of what’s possible in the world of thoroughbred racing.

Major Achievements:

  • Two-Time Horse of the Year: John Henry won this prestigious title in 1981 and 1984, proving his top form lasted many years.
  • Seven Eclipse Awards: These include honors for Older Male Horse and Turf Horse, highlighting his ability to win on different types of race tracks.
  • Notable Wins: His victories included top-level races like the Arlington Million, which he won twice, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the Santa Anita Handicap.
  • Earnings: Over his career, he ran 83 races, won 39 times, and earned over $6.5 million, making him one of the richest racehorses of his era.


  • John Henry’s journey from claiming races to becoming a horse racing icon demonstrates the sport’s boundless potential. His success story is a powerful reminder that any horse can achieve greatness with the right training and opportunities.
  • John Henry’s story inspires owners, trainers, and fans, reinforcing the belief that greatness can emerge from unexpected places.

John Henry’s story illustrates the incredible journey from humble beginnings to historical greatness, emphasizing the potential and opportunities that exist within horse racing. His remarkable career and enduring legacy continue to influence and inspire the racing community.

Picture of the Kentucky Derby race from 2014.
The Kentucky Derby features the best three-year-old thoroughbreds in the world.

Charismatic’s Unlikely Victory at the Kentucky Derby: A Story of Resilience

Charismatic’s advance from the claiming circuit to the top of horse racing is a remarkable underdog story. Initially unheralded, he surprised the world by winning one of the most prestigious races in the United States.

Major Achievements:

  • Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes Winner: In 1999, Charismatic won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, two of the three races that make up the Triple Crown, against all odds.
  • Third in the Belmont Stakes: He nearly captured the Triple Crown but finished third in the Belmont Stakes due to a career-ending injury during the race.
  • 1999 Horse of the Year: For his outstanding performances, Charismatic was named Horse of the Year and Champion Three-Year-Old Colt.


  • Charismatic’s unexpected rise to fame brought hope and excitement to racing fans and professionals. His story is a testament to the potential hidden in every horse, regardless of their beginnings.
  • His dramatic Triple Crown bid and courageous racing style left a lasting impression, inspiring new generations to believe in the possibility of achieving greatness, no matter the odds.

Charismatic’s story shows that with determination and the right opportunity, any horse can reach the heights of racing glory. His legacy continues to motivate and inspire within the horse racing community.

Picture of a horse race from the 1940s
Running for the big money in the 1940s.

Stymie: From Claiming Race Underdog to Hall of Fame Racehorse

Stymie’s career began modestly in claiming races, but he soon proved to be more than just another racehorse. His rise to prominence in the 1940s is a story of persistence and achievement.

Major Achievements:

  • Career Earnings: Stymie earned over $900,000 during his career, a remarkable sum at the time, making him one of the richest racehorses of his era.
  • Enduring Career: He raced an impressive 131 times, winning 35 of those starts, and frequently competed against top competition, demonstrating remarkable durability and consistency.
  • Hall of Fame Induction: His success and longevity earned him a place in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.


  • Stymie’s ability to compete at a high level for many years changed how owners and trainers viewed the potential longevity of racehorses.
  • His story encourages the horse racing community to consider the long-term potential of horses, especially those starting in claiming races.

Stymie’s journey from the claiming ranks to racing stardom, and his prolonged success on the track have left a lasting impact on the sport, inspiring a new perspective on the career possibilities for racehorses.

Lava Man winning the Hollywood Gold Cup.
Lava Man winning the Hollywood Gold Cup. Source: TheBluZebra, CC BY-SA 3.0

Lava Man: How a $50,000 Claim Led to Multimillion-Dollar Success

Claimed for $50,000, Lava Man surpassed all expectations to become a dominant force on California’s racing circuits. His story is a testament to the hidden potential that can be unlocked in claiming races.

Major Achievements:

  • Grade 1 Victories: Lava Man won several Grade 1 races, including three Hollywood Gold Cups, two Santa Anita Handicaps, and a Pacific Classic, showcasing his versatility and dominance.
  • Earnings: He amassed total career earnings of over $5.2 million, illustrating his high level of performance and consistency.
  • Success on Various Surfaces: Lava Man excelled on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces, proving his adaptability and competitiveness across different racing conditions.


  • Lava Man’s story highlights the remarkable potential of claiming racehorses, inspiring owners and trainers to invest in and develop these often-overlooked competitors.
  • He became a symbol of possibility for many in the racing industry, demonstrating that with the right conditions and training, claiming horses can achieve greatness.

Lava Man’s rise from a claimed horse to a celebrated racing champion underscores the potential that exists within the claiming race system, encouraging the industry to see these races as opportunities for discovering and nurturing future stars.

Conclusion: Discovering Champions in Claiming Races

Claiming races are often seen as just the beginning for racehorses, but they have revealed some of the greatest champions in horse racing history. John Henry, Seabiscuit, Charismatic, Stymie, and Lava Man show us that true greatness often starts in unexpected places. These races provide a unique chance for every horse to demonstrate its potential.

These incredible stories, from claiming races to fame, remind us that every horse has the potential to make history. Success in horse racing isn’t only about pedigree or price; it’s about determination, resilience, and the heart to win.

Engage with Our Community

  • Join the Legacy: Be more than a reader; join our horse racing community. Whether you’re a seasoned enthusiast or a newcomer, sign up for our newsletter for the latest updates and insights.
  • Share Your Story: Have you felt the excitement of claiming races or seen a future champion? Share your experiences on our forum and connect with other fans. Your stories add to our collective journey and celebrate the spirit of racing.
  • Get Involved: Do you have questions or insights about horse racing? Contact us at Let’s explore the thrilling world of horse racing together.

References and Authorities

  • National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame: Learn more about the inductees, including legendary horses like John Henry and Stymie, and explore the history of horse racing. Visit the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
  • The Eclipse Awards: Discover more about the awards, past winners like John Henry, Charismatic, and their significance in recognizing outstanding achievements in the horse racing industry. Learn about the Eclipse Awards
  • Kentucky Derby: Dive into the history and impact of the Kentucky Derby, one of the most prestigious horse races in the United States, famously won by Charismatic. Explore the Kentucky Derby history.
  • Preakness Stakes: Gain insights into the Preakness Stakes, another key race of the Triple Crown series, also won by Charismatic. Read about the Preakness Stakes
  • Santa Anita Park: Discover more about Santa Anita Handicap, one of the oldest and most prestigious West Coast races, won by Seabiscuit and Lava Man. Visit Santa Anita Park’s official site.