Any number of “Best Racehorses In History” lists could be made, with each one different and that’s the beauty of our sport. Some people love horses for some strange reason and their favourite horse might not even win a race.
I have taken a look back at some of the greats that have graced the racecourse from different regions and I think I have included most of the big players or who do you think I have missed?
The story of Seabiscuit is hard to put into words and anybody who’s got some interest in racing should definitely watch it if they haven’t done so yet. Although coming from a powerful yard, he started from humble beginnings where he was too small, too lazy and too fat.
Unbelievably for a horse of his ability, Seabiscuit failed to win in his first 17 starts and after his two-year-old campaign, he’d run a total of 35 times producing five wins. Three of these runs came in claiming races where he could have been purchased from $2,500 but there were no takers.
Charles Howard purchased the colt for $8,000 and sent him to Tom Smith who’d picked him out. In less than a year, Seabiscuit was winning the Santa Anita Handicap worth $125,000. In 1938 he met Triple Crown winner War Admiral in the “Match of the Century” and after emerging victoriously Seabiscuit was named the horse of the year. After suffering an injury, Seabiscuit returned to win more top-tier races and was retired in 1940.
Affectionately known as “Big Red” he was the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years when demolishing the Belmont Staes field back in 1973. That victory is widely considered as one of the greatest races in history. After being crowned the champion two-year-old colt, Secretariat was syndicated for a staggering $6 million with the proviso that he’d be retired to the stallion barn at the end of the year. Bearing in mind what he achieved in that season, I’d say it was money well spent.
It’s fair to say that he never quite it the same heights as a stallion but he has proven to be a good dam’s sire with his female progeny responsible for the likes of Strom Cat, A.P Indy and Gone West.
Rags To Riches
The chestnut mare would make this list alone by virtue of being the first female winner of the Belmont Stakes in over a century but she also won the Kentucky Oaks and Santa Anita Oaks along the way. Her Belmont Stakes victory was a career-defining one, where on her first start against the Colts, she stumbled out of the stalls. That didn’t stop her from making taking ground on the leaders and duelling with Preakness Stakes and Horse of teh year winner Curlin.
She suffered a hairline fracture when finishing runner-up in the Gazelle Stakes and was ultimately retired to stud where is has to be said she’s been disappointing.
The triple Gold cup winner just had to make this list, he still has the highest ever Timeform rating of 212 which is staggering when you consider that Kauto Star is on 191. The battles he had with Mill House are things of folklore amongst racing fans.
Not only did he win three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups (1964, 1965, 1966) and the 1965 King George VI Chase, Arkle triumphed in a number of other important handicap chases, including the 1964 Irish Grand National (under 12-0), the 1964 and 1965 Hennessy Gold Cups (both times under 12-7), the 1965 Gallagher Gold Cup (conceding 16 lb to Mill House while breaking the course record by 17 seconds), and the 1965 Whitbread Gold Cup (under 12-7)
He was a true champion and for anyone that’s interested you can see his skeleton at the Irish National Stud in Kildare.
The horse that saved the Grand National, is what springs to mind with many when discussing Red Rum. He was just an absolute superstar and has a grand National record which I say will never be equalled but Tier Roll is having a fair crack at it.
The move to Ginger McCain’s was the making of Red Rum with his training regime consisting of cantering in the sea ideal for Red Rum’s poor feet. after winning the 1973 & 74 runnings of the National, Red Rum incredibly finished runner-up in 75 & 76. One of the greatest sporting achievements was yet to come as Tommy Stack guided a twelve-year-old red Rum to victory in 1977 while carrying top-weight.
The words from the Brendan Grace song say a lot:
“He’s a stayer on the flat but I’ll soon change…I heard the word come down from Ballydoyle that there will be no turning back I want full compliance for the Sun alliance, it belongs to Istabarq!”
John Durkan bought him with Cheltenham in mind but unfortunately, he fell ill and Aidan O’Brien took over training what was to become one of Ireland’s best hurdlers. The son of Saddlers Wells was surprisingly beaten on his first start over hurdlers but after being gelded he was transformed and went on to land the aforementioned Royal & Sun Alliance at Cheltenham.
Istabraq went on to win three Champion Hurdle in a row and it would have probably been four if the foot and mouth disease hadn’t stopped the festival in 2001. In 2002 he went for a record-breaking fourth win in the Champion Hurdle but was pulled up after jumping two hurdles with Chalie Swan not happy with him. It later transpired that he’d pulled muscles in his back and was retired. He will fever be fondly remembered by racing fans and celebrated his 27th birthday at Matinstown Stud.
Much like Seabiscuit, the story of Shergar is hard to explain and even though he was a dual Derby winner, he’ll undoubtedly be most remembered for being stolen from his stable and was never found. At stud he produced one St Leger winner form his first crop and was only entering his second season at stud when he was stolen.
The story has to be read to be believed but following ransom notes and demands of £2 million pounds for his return he never turned up. The thief’s never surfaced either and it remains of the biggest mysteries in the history of Ireland.
The second Frankel stepped foot on the racetrack, the racing public knew they had just seen something special. Sir Henry Cecil’s charge is the best horse of the modern era, winning all of his fourteen starts. During this career, he won 2000 Guineas, St James’s Palace Stakes, Sussex Stakes (twice), QEII, Lockinge Stakes, Queen Anne and the Champion Stakes.
He’s alreday made a very bright start to his stallion career and he’can continue to make his presence felt through his clearly talented progeny.
Nijinsky famously landed the English Triple Crown back in 1970 for legendary trainer Vincent O’Brien. This is a notoriously difficult treble to compete, so much so that it hasn’t been emulated since. The feat is all the more impressive given that he won over six furlongs as a juvenile.
He’s one of the best horses we have seen in the last century and can be found in many a top pedigree.
I’ll put my hands up and admit before researching this article, I’d never heard of Kincsem but after some investigation, she is a very worthy entry on this exclusive list. She incredibly went unbeaten in 54 career starts over four seasons and from five furlongs to two miles five furlongs.even though I’m writing it, I can’t quite understand it. I think a horse can hold that level of form over such a range of distances is mind-blowing.
She won a Goodwood Cup and an Austrian Derby to name but a few races and won races in Hungary, England, Germany and France. She also made her mark in the breeding paddocks, with the dual Derby-winning and stallion Camelot among her descendants.
This great mare was nearly remembered for a jockey error in Europe when Luke Nolen mistook the winning line in the Diamond Jubilee at the Royal meeting in 2012. The Australian sprinter won all of her twenty-five career starts, with twenty of them coming in stakes company. She’s not the best I’ve ever seen but she was undoubtedly the best of her generation.
Five years on from the aforementioned Black Caviar, Winx broke the record of 15 Group 1 wins previously set up Black Caviar. She was bred at Coolmore’s Jerry’s Plains and bought at the Magic Million for $230,000, which looks like a bargain as she has won in excess of $24 million now. Chris Waller and Hugh Bowman have been pinching themselves to be associated with such a mare and she really captured the imagination of the Australian public.
A career in the breeding shed now lies in wait for this wondermare and I for one can’t wait to see her progeny on the track.
Phar Lap came along in the 1930s when Australia was in the depth of the Great Depression but the nation found hope in this horse. He came from quite humble beginnings being bought for $130 dollars as he was skinny and had warts all over his face. On his first four racecourse starts he didn’t even get placed.
His form steadily improved and incredibly in 1930, Phar Lap survived a bullet to win four races in the next seven days at the Melbourne Spring Carnival. He’s mostly remembered for carrying top weight to win the Melbourne Cup. We always wonder what makes these horses great and in his case, we seem to now given that Phar Laps heart was 1.5 times bigger than the normal horse. It gives the phrase “all heart” another meaning!
Controversy surrounded his death in America, where it was rumoured that the mafia poisoned him. Nobody knows exactly what happened but one thing for sure is that he’ll be forever remembered among racing fans, particularly in Australia.