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Race horses are the only animals in the world who are able to achieve successful athletic careers on the same level as human beings.
Top race horses gain big winnings, medals and world wide media coverage just like the top jockeys. Of course their winnings are handed over to their owner for safe keeping but that’s a different story.
We have decided to look back on the legendary stallions (and fillies) who have marked history with their performances.
From the biggest to the richest, here is our expertly curated list of the most legendary race horses of all time.
The Richest Horse – Invasor
He walked away with the Breeder’s Cup Classic Trophy in 2006 and subsequently won the Dubai World Cup.
This Argentinian beauty was sold to Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum for $1.4 million in 2005.
During his career, he was used to breed foals for long distance racing. With such a legendary reputation and an impressive income, what a father to live up to…
The National Hero- Man’O War
He set a new standard by winning 20 of 21 races including the Belmont stakes and the Preakness stakes, making him an inspirational figure for horse breeder’s worldwide.
However, beyond his exceptional records in races, Man’O War had an emotional implication for the public. The beloved “Big Red’ became symbolic of a re-birth in US racing.
Notably, when he died, he was the first horse to be embalmed and laid in an open casket. Thousands of grief-stricken supporters drove to the farm where his body was kept to pat the horse and pay their final respects.
The photos of the funeral show an extraordinary national connection with this animal.
His breeder, August Belmont II has also went down in history.
His name is heard every year around the third stage of the US Triple crown as the Belmont Stakes was named after this illustrious trainer’s father.
The Movie Star- Sea Biscuit
Sea Biscuit’s story was made into an academy award nominated film was because his success story was anything but smooth.
The beginning of his career was tragically unsuccessful but after a series of unceremonious losses he was handed over to trainer Tom Smith who pulled him up to scratch.
He was paired up with Jockey Red Pollard and propelled into success through unconventional training methods.
As the film illustrates, a few years after Seabiscuit had become established as a front runner, he suffered a terrible injury and many said that he would never compete again.
However both Jockey and horse recovered together and returned to the tracks at La Jolla Handicap.
Sea biscuit became the subject of a famous film because we all love to see an outsider rise from zero to hero.
The First Millionaire- Citation
Most notably he was the very first horse to raise $1 million. This triumph can partially be attributed to inflation which naturally increased the purse of every race, but beyond those factors, this horse certainly had a rare talent.
He had the longest career of any horse and a fruitful one at that.
In the highly reputable list of the top horses of the 20th century put together by Blood Horse magazine, Citation ranked 3rd behind Man’O War and Secreteriat.
The Arlington Millionaire – John Henry
Other than his hefty fortune, John Henry broke a series of records that left in nation in awe:
- He was the oldest horse to win the Eclipse Award from Horse of the Year at 9
- He won races on 13 different North American race tracks and raced on 18
- He won 25 graded stakes races making him a true champ.
The Best Jumper- Desert Orchid
Like Man’O War the British public fondly called him Dessie and he was a national legend during his time.
His fans included the Queen Mother who met him after he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1989
He was also a true public figure who was seen parading in the streets of London in front of Harrods to promote “The Grey Horse”, his biography.
The first lines of his obituary on BBC website read “Desert Orchid, or simply “Dessie” to his millions of fans, created history by becoming the only horse to win the King George VI Chase four times“. Ain’t that something? Read the full tribute here.
The Biggest Race Horse- Secretariat
He also picked up big wins at the Arlington Millions.
Beyond that, his red coat and large size tugged at the public’s heart strings because they were all reminded of good old Man’O War. For this reason is he often listed as the second most influential horse in US history.
He didn’t escape the Hollywood limelight either, in 2010 Disney released a film about his life and his also has his own dedicated website.
The Most Famous Race Filly- Ruffian
The public called her a fat yearling and a freak but their early judgments were soon made entirely redundant.
After a string of successes at prominent grade 1 stakes like the acorn stakes and the Coaching Club American Oaks, she earned a new nickname: the Queen of Fillies
However, unfortunately her career was short lived, she was awarded the Eclipse Award for outstanding 2 year old Fillies but she never raced as an older horse.
At her 11th race she tore her ligaments and sustained a severe injury. Although she was attended to by a team of expert vets, there was nothing to be done to cure her and she was euthanized shortly after.
She goes down in history as a legendary queen who met a tragic end.
The Aussie Legend-Phar Lap
Phar Lap is Thai for lightening and he didn’t fail to live up to his name, winning 37 out of 51 races. However he was only able to compete 4 years as he died quite suddenly at a young age.
There is an aura of mystery around his death which strongly contributes to his legendary reputation. Conspiracy theorists speculate that he was poisoned by U.S gangsters who controlled many illegal bookmakers and felt threatened by the skill of his powerful racehorse.
If you want more insights into dubious moments on the track, check out our list of the most shocking horse racing scandals.