Top 10 Greatest Racehorses of All Time. Two You May Not Know


Any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon are affiliate links and I earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks in advance – I really appreciate it!

 

Recently some friends and I discussed the greatest racehorses of all-time. We agreed on many of the horses, but disagreed about others, so I decided to do some research and compile my list for all to see.

HorseRecordColorSexYears raced
Man O’ War21-1-0ChestnutStallion1919-1921
Secretariat16-3-1ChestnutStallion1972-1973
Citation32-10-2Bay Stallion1947-1951
Zenyatta19-1-0BayFilly2007-2010
Dr. Fager18-2-1BayStallion1966-1968
Black Caviar25-0BayFilly2009-2013
Seattle Slew14-2-0BayStallion1976-1978
Kelso39-12-2BayGelding1959-1966
Kincsem54-0ChestnutFilly1876-1880
Eclipse18-0Chestnut Stallion1769-1770
Ruffian10-0-0 (1DNF)BayFilly1974-1975

Some racing enthusiasts may argue that any list of successful races horses must include Seabiscuit, Count Fleet, or a handful of others. Still, I limited the list to the ten greatest racehorses of all-time.

If you’re interested in checking out some racehorse art or other memorabilia, you can find them by clicking here.

Top Ten Greatest Racehorses of All-Time.

After putting the list together, I noticed a few interesting things; first, only two colors are represented bay and chestnut. Next, there were some very impressive fillies and only one gelding.

Man O’ War

Man O’ War was purchased at the Saratoga yearling sale by Sam Riddle for $5,000, roughly S90,000 in 2020. Man O’ War had a fiery temperament, making him a difficult horse to break and train.

His prowess on the race track was unmatched and captured the heart of the racing public.

Why Man O’ War is the greatest racehorse.

  • Man O’ War raced carrying 138lbs, the most of any horse at that time.
  • Man O’ War could win at any distance and over any surface.
  • Set the record for one mile in 1:35 4/5 at the Withers Stakes
  • Set the record for one mile and 3/8 at the Belmonts Stakes carrying 128 lbs. 2:14 1/5
  • Set a new record for one mile and 1/8 at the Dwyers Stakes in a time of 1:49 1/5
  • Sets new world record for one mile and 5/8 at Belmont in a time of 2:40 4/5
  • Set a track record carrying 138 lbs
  • Man O’ War won sixteen stakes races.
  • Man o’ War was the North American leading sire in 1926 and was runner-up in 1928, 1929, and 1937. 
  • American Champion Two-Year-Old Colt 
  • American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse
  • American Horse of the Year 

Interesting facts about Man O’ War:

  • Man O’ War skipped the Kentucky Derby because Mr. Riddle felt the distance was too long for young horses.
  • Man O’ War won the Belmont Stakes by 20 lengths and set a World Record.
  • Man O’ Wars’ only loss came because he was facing the wrong direction at the start; he still came in second place.
  • Man O’ War once won a race by 100 lengths, a feat never matched.
  • Man O’ War sired 64 champions.
  • Man O’ War died one month after his long time handler died.
  • Voted co-athlete of the year in 1920 by the New York Times, sharing the honor with Babe Ruth
  • Had an unusually long stride, some say the longest of any racehorse.
  • Man O’ War raced carrying 138lbs, the most of any horse at that time.
  • Man O’ War could win at any distance and across turf or dirt.

Secretariat

Secretariat had it all, perfect physical conformation, huge heart, and competitive nature; the racing gods must have built him. When owners talk about racehorse conformation, they describe Secretariat.

Picture of a statute and tribute to Secretariat, one of the greatest racehorses of all time,

Why Secretariat is one of the greatest racehorses.

  • Ran the greatest triple crown races of all time
  • Set a Kentucky Derby record in 1:59 2/5. The first horse to run a mile and a quarter under two minutes.
  • Won the Kentucky Derby running each quarter of a mile faster than the previous, only horse ever to accomplish this feat. He ran thirty-six miles an hour past the stands the first time and thirty-nine at his second pass.
  • Won the Preakness and broke the track record.
  • Set world record in the Belmont Stakes winning by 31 lengths.
  • Won 15 Stakes races.
  • Became only the ninth horse to win the Triple Crown Champion 
  • Awarded Champion Two-Year-Old Colt 
  • Awarded Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse 
  • Awarded Champion Male Turf Horse
  • Awarded Horse of the Year in 1972 and 1973
  • Name leading broodmare sire in North America in 1992

Interesting facts about Secretariat:

  • Secretariats stride angle was 110 degrees; Man O’ War was 88 degrees.
  • A coin toss determined the owner of Secretariat.
  • Secretariat always started slow and got faster as the race went on.
  • In Secretariat’s first race, he got hit hard and almost fell; he got straight and still finished fourth.
  • First horse unanimously voted horse of the year as a two-year-old
  • Secretariat was syndicated for six million dollars; the money was used to pay federal taxes owed by its owner. Secretariat saved the farm.
  • Secretariat ran third in the Wood Memorial, his last race before the Kentucky Derby.
  • Secretariat was on the cover of Time magazine, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated in the same week. No entity had ever been featured the same week in all three magazines before Secretariat.
  • Secretariat’s heart was 18 to 20 lbs; the average heart of horses is 8 to 12 lbs.
  • Secretariat was euthanized because of complications from laminitis at 19 years old.

If you’re interested in learning more about Secretariat, you may find this article helpful: Was Secretariat the Fastest Horse to Ever Race?

Citation

Citation was a product of the great horse racing stables, Calumet Farms. Calumet Farms was a horse racing dynasty at the time, and Citation was their crown jewel.

Portait of the great racehorse, Citation,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11488978

Why Citation is one of the greatest racehorses.

  • Citation was the eighth Triple Crown winner.
  • Won his first five races as a two-year-old.
  • Citation won 16 races in a row.
  • Won 19 of 20 races as a three-year-old
  • Champion 2-Yr-Old Colt
  • Champion 3-Yr-Old Colt 
  • Champion Male Handicap Horse
  • 1948 Horse of the Year
  • 1951 Champion Older Male Horse

Interesting facts about Citation:

  • Citation was the first horse to earn a million dollars.
  • Citations’ regular Jockey went missing on a fishing trip shortly before the Kentucky Derby and was never found.
  • Eddie Arcaro became Citations’ jockey.
  • In one Stakes race, he had no competitors. He was so dominant no one wanted to race against him.
  • Citation took a year off after his three-year-old season because of an injury.

Zenyatta

Zenyatta was a big mare with an excellent pedigree. But because she of a skin disease she contracted before the annual yearling sale, she sold for only 60,000 dollars.

Picture of Zenyatta running down the racetrack,
By Raistlinsdaughter

Why Zenyatta is one of the greatest racehorses.

  • Zenyatta has the North American record for consecutive wins at nineteen races.
  • She holds the record for consecutive graded stakes victories.
  • Zenyatta set the world record for most consecutive Grade I stakes wins at thirteen.
  • Set a new track record at Del Mar.
  • Set a new stakes record in the Lady’s Secret Stakes race
  • Zenyatta was the first mare to win the Breeders Cup Classic.
  • Her lone loss was by a neck in her second Breeder Cup Classic.
  • Zenyatta was the all-time money earner breaking the records of John Henry, Alysheeba, and Tiznow.
  • Zenyatta was the all-time Breeders Cup money earner.
  • Named Champion Older Female Horse
  • Awarded Horse of the Year

Interesting facts about Zenyatta:

  • Zenyatta was named after “the Police” album Zenyatta Mondatta
  • Zenyatta was a big horse, weighing over 1200 pounds and standing more than seventeen hands tall.
  • Zenyatta contracted a skin disease shortly before the yearling auction she was entered to be sold.
  • She didn’t race as a two-year-old.
  • She often pranced in the paddock. Some people commented that Zenyatta seemed to dance for the crowds before each race.

Dr. Fager

Dr. Fager is likely the most talented twentieth-century racehorse you’ve never heard of. He amassed a series of records and may have had the best season of any racehorse in history.

Dr. Fager's Historic World Record Mile - 1968 (1:32 1/5)

Why Dr. Fager is one of the greatest racehorses.

  • 1967 Champion Sprinter
  • 1968 Horse of the Year,
  • 1969 Champion handicap horse,
  • 1968 Champion sprinter,
  • 1968 Co-champion grass horse
  • Set a new world record in the mile at 1:32​15. He performed this feat carrying 134 pounds.
  • Set the American record for seven furlongs

Interesting facts about Dr. Fager:

  • Won four titles in one season: Horse of the Year, Champion handicap horse, champion sprinter, and co-champion turf horse.
  • Dr. Fager was club-footed.
  • Dr. Fager was named after the neurosurgeon that saved the life of its trainer.
  • Dr. Fager missed the Kentucky Derby because he was sick.

Black Caviar

Black Caviar is the second filly on our list but is the first from Australia. She was undefeated in twenty-five outings, and she didn’t shy away from the competition. She traveled to England and won their premier race, the Diamond Jubilee.

Why Black Caviar is one of the greatest racehorses.

  • She retired with a record of 25-0.
  • Black Caviar was the Australian Champion Sprinter
  • Black Caviar was named Australia’s racehorse of the Year in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
  • She won Europe’s premier race, the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in England.
  • Black Caviar was named the European Champion Sprinter, the first horse to win the award outside of Europe.
  • She won 15 Group I races, which is similar to U.S. stakes races. This is an Australian record.
  • Sixty percent of her wins were in Grade I races.
  • Black Caviar broke the course record at the Lightning Stakes that had stood for twenty-five years.

Interesting facts about Black Caviar:

  • The two great fillies Black Caviar and Zenyatta’s raced during the same period.
  • Black Caviar broke Zenyatta’s record of consecutive wins.
  • Although Black Caviar was durable, she did tear a muscle during her win of the Royal Ascot and had to take some time off to recover.
  • When Black Caviar was shipped to England to race, she wore a compression suit for the thirty-hour trip. The suit was worn to help blood circulation.

Seattle Slew

Seattle Slew was the tenth Triple Crown winner but the first horse to win it undefeated. His bravado and success captured the imagination of the public.

Picture of Seattle Slew,

Why Seattle Slew is one of the greatest racehorses.

  • Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown.
  • He was named Champion Juvenile Colt
  • Seattle Slew was Champion Three-Year-Old and Older Male Horse in 1976, 1977, and 1978.
  • Seattle Slew was named American Horse of the Year for 1977.
  • Won ten major stakes races

Interesting facts about Seattle Slew:

  • Seattle Slew was not a pretty yearling and had a turned out front foot.
  • Seattle Slew was purchased for just $17,500 at a yearling sale.
  • One of the owners of Seattle Slew was a lumberman from Washington state. Seattle Slew was named after the city of Seattle and a play on the word sloughs, a term used to describe a slow-moving waterway used to transport heavy logs. 
  • Seattle Slew contracted a career and life-threatening illness in his prime. The illness was attributed to an injection that missed the vein.
  • Seattle Slew recovered and ran a 1 1/8th mile in 1:45​4⁄5, just shy of the world record by 2/5ths of one second.

Kelso

Kelso is the most durable twentieth-century horse on our lists. He raced in sixty-three contest, and faced the toughest competition of his time, and usually won.

1963 Whitney Handicap - Kelso

Why Kelso is one of the greatest racehorses.

  • Kelso beat more Hall of Fame racehorses than any horse ever has.
  • Kelso was named Three-Year-Old Champion Male.
  • He won six stakes races in 1960 and won the American Horse of the Year award.
  • Set a world record for two miles.
  • He set an American record for a mile and a half on turf.
  • Kelso set nine track records
  • He won horse of the year honors five times, the most of any racehorse.
  • Upon his retirement, he was the highest money earner of all-time.

Interesting facts about Kelso:

  • Kelso was called Kelly by his owners.
  • He was gelded because of his temperament; it didn’t help.
  • Kelso was considered a runt when he was young.
  • Kelso was the grandson of Triple Crown winner Count Fleet.
  • Kelso raced for eight seasons.

Eclipse

Eclipse is one of the greatest racehorses in Thoroughbred racing, and his impact on the sport is still present 250 years after his birth. Many of the world’s greatest horses have his blood pumping through their hearts.

Why Eclipse is one of the greatest racehorses.

  • He competed in eighteen races during his life, winning them all, and often was ridden to the track.
  • Eclipse also won seven heats for a total of 25 wins.
  • Eclipse won eleven King’s Plates.
  • Eclipse won the Great Subscription Purse race—the most prestigious race of its time.
  • Eclipse beat the great racehorse Bucephalus in a match race.
  • A sampling of famous racehorses and successful sires that trace their lineage to Eclipse include Bold Ruler, Secretariat, Mr. Prospector, American Pharoah, Danzig, Storm Cat, A.P. Indy, Giant’s Causeway, and Tapit. 

Interesting facts Eclipse:

  • Eclipse was foaled during a solar eclipse on April fools day in 1764.
  • He was sold to a sheep farmer.
  • Eclipse was worked hard and used by poachers before his racing career began.
  • Races were sometimes four miles long. In his eighteen races, he covered over 60 miles for an average distance of 3.3 miles.
  • Eclipse didn’t run his first race until he was five years old.
  • Eclipse retired from racing because no one wanted to race against him any longer.
  • It’s believed that over ninety percent of Thoroughbred racehorses have Eclipse in their pedigree.
  • An Eclipse Award Trophy is presented to the winner in each Thoroughbred racing division. It is voted on by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers Association.

Kincsem

Kincsem was a Hungarian born filly. She holds the record for most wins of any unbeaten horse in the history of the sport. She took on all comers and beat them.

Why Kincsem is one of the greatest racehorses.

  • Kincsem was undefeated in 54 races. A record never matched by another racehorse.
  • Kincsem won Europe’s premier race at the time, the Goodwood Cup. This was a race open to all horses over three years old.
  • Kincsem won ten races as a two-year-old.
  • Kincsem won seventeen during her three-year-old campaign.
  • Kincsem won fifteen races as a four-year-old.
  • Kincsem won twelve races during her five-year-old season.

Interesting facts about Kincsem:

  • Kincsem won races in England, France, Germany, and of course, Hungary.
  • Kincsem’s owner tried to sell her as a yearling, but she was rejected because prospective buyers thought her inferior.
  • Kinscem was a finicky horse; she only ate hay or grain from her stables.
  • Kinscem had a companion cat that traveled with her. Legend has it that Kinscem would refuse to move unless her cat was nearby.
  • Kinscem often traveled long distances by rail and ship to her races, which resulted in her losing weight.

Ruffian

https://youtu.be/k26CVuvWtTE

Ruffian is extra on my list and is my favorite racehorse of all time. Her story is both uplifting and tragic.

Why Ruffian is one of the greatest racehorses.

  • Ruffian was undefeated in every race she completed.
  • She won eight stakes races.
  • Every one of her stakes victory was a new record.
  • She won by an average winning margin of 8​13 lengths.
  • She could win sprints or distance races.

Interesting facts

  • Ruffian led in every race she raced.
  • Equaled the track record in her first race.
  • In her first five races as a two-year-old, she set three track records and two stakes records.
  • In a much-anticipated match race, Ruffian was spooked by a bird and suffered a devastating leg injury.
  • Ruffian was euthanized after all hope for her recovery was lost.
  • The death of Ruffian brought a lot of attention to the treatment of racehorses.

FAQ

What is the best horse racing breeds?

The best breed for horse racing is thoroughbreds, they’ve been bred to run for centuries. Quarter horses also race and typically compete at shorter distances and at a faster pace. Other breeds that race is the American Paint Horse, Arabian, and Appaloosa breeds.
To learn more about the horse breeds that race check out this article: The Fastest Horse Breeds in the World and the Races They Run

What is the top speed for race horses?

The top speed of any racehorses is 55 mph achieved by a quarter horse running in a 440 yard race. The top speed of a thoroughbred racehorse is 43.97 by Winning Brew.
Winning Brews time is recognized by Guinness World Records as the fastest racehorse speed, I assume they are not including quarter horse racing. You can read more about the top speeds of racehorses in this article: The World’s Fastest Horses: Top Speeds and Common Traits

Related articles:

Miles Henry

I love animals! Especially horses, I've been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn't make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines. Miles Henry

Recent Posts