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13 Female Racehorses That Broke Barriers and Made History

Last updated: July 20, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

I recently bought a yearling filly with a superb bloodline, and I couldn’t have been more excited about her potential. However, when I told my grandson about my new horse, he was less than impressed. He thought I wasted my money because, in his opinion, there had never been any good female racehorses. His skepticism motivated me to prove him wrong and showcase the incredible accomplishments of female racehorses.

As a lifelong fan of horse racing, I know female racehorses have made a significant impact on the sport. Their grace, power, and determination have contributed to numerous record-breaking performances and unforgettable moments on the racetrack. It became my mission to educate my grandson, and others who shared his viewpoint, about the incredible achievements of these exceptional athletes.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the stories of some of the most iconic female racehorses that have made history and broken barriers in the sport. From early trailblazers to 21st-century legends, these mares have left an indelible mark on horse racing, inspiring generations of fans, owners, and trainers alike. Join me as we pay tribute to the extraordinary accomplishments of these phenomenal racehorses.

Early trailblazers in the world of horse racing

Before we delve into the fascinating stories of groundbreaking female racehorses that made history in the world of horse racing, it’s vital to acknowledge the remarkable skill and determination of these early equine champions.

Their astonishing achievements challenged preconceived ideas about female racehorses’ abilities. Two such trailblazing mares, Lady Suffolk and Kincsem, laid the foundation for a long legacy of successful female racehorses.

Lady Suffolk

Lady Suffolk, a grey American Thoroughbred mare, was foaled in 1833 and went on to become one of the most dominant racehorses in harness racing. She won an impressive 24 of her 42 starts and held several records for speed and endurance. One of her most notable achievements was becoming the first trotter to complete a mile in under 2:30, beating the previous record by almost five seconds.

Picture of Kincsem, one of the greatest female racehorses of all time.
schnaebeli, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons-Kincsem

Kincsem

Kincsem, on the other hand, was a Hungarian Thoroughbred mare foaled in 1874. Her name means “my treasure” in Hungarian, and she certainly lived up to it. Kincsem’s incredible career saw her remain undefeated in 54 flat races, a record that still stands today. She was so highly regarded that her owner, Ernest von Blaskovich, refused any offers to sell her, no matter the price.

Her extraordinary racing career included winning the prestigious 1878 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris, making her the first Hungarian-bred horse to do so. Kincsem’s success transcended borders and demonstrated the immense potential of female racehorses on the international stage. She is on my list of the ten greatest racehorses of all time.

Female Racehorses of The Great Depression and World War II

During the challenging times of the Great Depression and World War II, a new generation of female racehorses emerged, showcasing their incredible talent and resilience. Among these were Top Flight, Gallorette, and Busher.

Top Flight

Top Flight, an American Thoroughbred mare, was born in 1929 and went on to become one of the most successful racehorses of her time. She made history as the first filly to win the prestigious Pimlico Futurity in 1931. Her incredible accomplishments on the racetrack proved that female racehorses could compete with the best of their male counterparts.

Gallorette

Gallorette, foaled in 1942, was one of the greatest female racehorses. Ranked number 45 in the top 100 racehorses and 3rd filly overall, Gallorette was known for her tenacity and durability. Over the course of her career, she won 21 of her 72 starts, including an impressive victory in the 1946 Metropolitan Handicap, where she defeated some of the best male racehorses of her time.

Busher

Busher, born in 1942 as well, was an outstanding female racehorse known for her impressive winning streak, which included champion titles such as the 1945 Santa Anita Derby and the 1945 Hollywood Derby. Her success on the racetrack had a significant impact on post-war racing, proving that female racehorses could thrive even in the most challenging circumstances.

Busher’s remarkable achievements served as a beacon of hope and inspiration for the racing community during a tumultuous time in history. She is ranked number 40 in the top 100 racehorses and is the second-ranked female racehorse.

The Age of modern female racehorses

As we move into the modern era of horse racing, we continue to witness the awe-inspiring achievements of female racehorses. Ruffian and Winning Colors emerged as two exceptional mares who captured the hearts of racing fans and contributed to lasting changes in the sport.

Ruffian

Ruffian, an American Thoroughbred mare born in 1972, was a phenomenal racehorse with an undefeated record in her first 10 races. Throughout her career, she shattered numerous records, setting new standards of excellence for future racehorses to follow.

Her breathtaking performances showcased her remarkable talent, but unfortunately, her career was cut short by a tragic accident during a match race against Foolish Pleasure in 1975. Ruffian’s untimely death spurred a renewed focus on safety measures in horse racing, ensuring her legacy would live on in efforts to protect the well-being of future racehorses.

Here is a YouTube video about the great racehorse Ruffian.

YouTube video

Ruffian’s incredible accomplishments also earned her recognition in The Blood-Horse magazine, which ranked her 35th in its list of the top 100 U.S. Thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century, making her the highest-rated filly or mare on the list.

Furthermore, Sports Illustrated included her as the only non-human on their list of the top 100 female athletes of the century, ranking her 53rd. These accolades, along with her record-breaking achievements, make Ruffian one of the most famous racehorses of all time.

Genuine Risk

Genuine Risk, an American Thoroughbred mare born in 1977, was an outstanding racehorse who made history with her achievements in the Triple Crown races. In 1980, she became the second filly ever to win the Kentucky Derby and the first to do so in 65 years since Regret’s victory in 1915. Her historic win showcased the potential of female racehorses in the most prestigious races.

In addition to her Kentucky Derby victory, Genuine Risk also finished second in both the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, making her one of only five fillies to place in all three Triple Crown races. Her exceptional performances in these highly competitive races highlighted the capabilities of female racehorses.

Winning Colors

Winning Colors, an American Thoroughbred mare born in 1985, made history with her performance in the 1988 Kentucky Derby. She became the third filly to win the prestigious race, following the footsteps of Regret (1915) and Genuine Risk (1980). Her impressive victory showcased the potential of female racehorses in the most elite competitions.

Winning Colors’ triumph in the Kentucky Derby served proved that female racehorses could compete against and defeat their male counterparts at the highest level. Her impact on the sport and the perception of female racehorses continues to be felt in horse racing.

Lady’s Secret

Lady’s Secret, born in 1982, was the daughter of the legendary racehorse Secretariat. She was an exceptional racehorse in her own right and made a significant impact on the racing world. During her career, she won numerous prestigious races, including the 1986 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and was awarded the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Older Female Horse the same year.

With a total of 25 wins in her 45 starts, Lady’s Secret was a dominant force on the racetrack. Known as “The Iron Lady” for her toughness and durability, Lady’s Secret embodied the spirit of resilience and determination. Her impressive achievements and tenacity on the track solidified her status as one of the all-time greats in the sport.

Picture of the great female racehorse, Rachel Alexandra
Lee Burchfield, via Wikimedia Commons-Rachel Alexandra

The 21st century and beyond

As we entered the 21st century, the legacy of female racehorses continued to grow, with outstanding mares like Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and Black Caviar leaving their mark on the sport.

Rags to Riches

Rags to Riches, an American Thoroughbred mare born in 2004, also made a significant impact on the world of horse racing. In 2007, she became the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont Stakes, one of the prestigious Triple Crown races.

Her historic victory over Curlin, the eventual two-time Horse of the Year, highlighted the capabilities of female racehorses to compete against and defeat top-notch male competitors. The significance of Rags to Riches’ Belmont Stakes win cannot be overstated, as it demonstrated the strength of female racehorses in the sport.

Zenyatta

Zenyatta, an American Thoroughbred mare born in 2004, boasted a record-breaking career, winning 19 of her 20 races. She was known for her electrifying come-from-behind victories and her famous rivalry with Rachel Alexandra, another exceptional racehorse of her time. Zenyatta’s incredible achievements made her a fan favorite and further solidified the status of female racehorses in the sport.

Rachel Alexandra

Rachel Alexandra foaled in 2006, took the racing world by storm with her stunning performances, including a victory in the 2009 Preakness Stakes, making her the first filly to win the race in 85 years. She also earned Horse of the Year honors in 2009, becoming the first filly to do so since 1942.

Black Caviar

Black Caviar, an Australian Thoroughbred mare born in 2006, also left an indelible mark on the racing world with her undefeated record of 25 wins in 25 races. Her international accomplishments included victories in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in the UK and the TJ Smith Stakes in Australia.

Black Caviar’s incredible career highlighted the ever-growing potential and prowess of female racehorses on a global scale, setting the stage for more history-making performances in the years to come.

Picture of my chestnut filly.  I have high hopes for her.
My chestnut filly.

Conclusion

The history of horse racing is a testament to the incredible accomplishments of female racehorses who have demonstrated their ability to compete alongside their male counterparts. These exceptional mares, ranging from early pioneers like Lady Suffolk and Kincsem to modern-day icons such as Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and Black Caviar, have shown that talent and determination in the world of racing are not limited by gender.

In addition, the presence of female-only races further amplifies their earning potential, transforming the perceptions of skeptics like my grandson, who now appreciates the true potential of female racehorses in this competitive sport.

After sharing the inspiring stories of these extraordinary equine athletes with my grandson, he has become more receptive to the potential of our new filly. We remain optimistic and enthusiastic about what the future holds for our own filly and the countless other gifted female racehorses yet to leave their mark on the world of horse racing.