If you wonder who the best racehorses of all time are, we have the answers. We’ll explore the history of horse racing and take a look at the greatest horses to ever compete in this ancient and revered sport.
Horse racing is one of the oldest sports in the world. According to historical records, the first horse race took place in 4500 BC in central Asia.
The sport gradually spread to other parts of the world, and by the 18th century, it had become a popular pastime in England. Horse racing quickly became a popular spectator sport, and today, people enjoy the sport all over the world.
The greatest racehorses in history thrilled spectators and left a lasting legacy. Famous racehorse names like Secretariat, Man o’ War, and Citation are synonymous with greatness. These horses were not only fast, but they were also stylish and graceful.
They captured the imaginations of racing fans and set a standard for excellence that has yet to be matched.
So, who are the most famous racehorses of all time? Let’s take a look at the greatest racehorses in history.
The Greatest Racehorses in History
There have been many great racehorses in history, but only a few cut above the rest. These are the horses that thrilled spectators, won multiple races, and left a lasting legacy.
Most famous racehorses have won the Triple Crown, which is a series of three races that includes the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.
Winning all three races is a rare feat. Only 13 horses have ever won the Triple Crown, and the last horse to accomplish this feat was Justify in 2018. Among the greatest horseraces of all time, Triple Crown winners stand out as the best of the best.
Some of the most famous triple crown winners include Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. We’ll take a closer look at these horses later on.
Who is the Fastest Horse in History?
Racing enthusiasts will have no trouble naming the greatest racehorse of all time. That title goes to Winning Brew, who holds the record for the fastest time at the Penn National Race Course, Pennsylvania, USA.
In 2008, Winning Brew ran the two-furlong 402 meters (0.4 kilometers) course at an astonishing time of 20.57 seconds. That’s an average speed of 43.97 miles per hour (70.76 kilometers per hour)!
To put that in perspective, the fastest human runners can only reach speeds of around 28 miles per hour (45 kilometers per hour). Winning Brew is truly in a class of his own. Read our article and find out How Fast Can Horses Run?
While Winning Brew holds the record for the fastest horserace, Secretariat holds the record for the fastest time in the Kentucky Derby. In 1973, Secretariat ran the one and a quarter-mile (2 kilometers) race in a time of 1:59.40.
That’s an average speed of 37.58 miles per hour (60.40 kilometers per hour). Once again, Secretariat proved that he was in a class of his own.
These are just some of the most famous racing horses in history. We’ll take a closer look at these horses, and others, later on.
The Best Racehorses of All Time
There have been many great racehorses in history, but only a few have truly left their mark on the sport. The table below lists the greatest racehorses of all time, based on their accomplishments and legacy.
|Name of Horse||Gender||Color of the Horse||Racing Years||Record|
|Black Caviar||Filly||Bay||2009 to 2013||25-0|
|Citation||Stallion||Bay||1947 to 1951||32-10-2|
|Dr. Fager||Stallion||Bay||1966 to 1968||18-2-1|
|Eclipse||Stallion||Chestnut||1769 to 1770||18-0|
|Kelso||Gelding||Bay||1959 to 1966||39-12-2|
|Kincsem||Filly||Chestnut||1876 to 1880||54-0|
|Man O’ War||Stallion||Chestnut||1919 to 1921||21-1-0|
|Ruffian||Filly||Bay||1974 to 1975||10-0-0 (1DNF)|
|Seattle Slew||Stallion||Bay||1976 to 1978||14-2-0|
|Secretariat||Stallion||Chestnut||1972 to 1973||16-3-1|
|Zenyatta||Filly||Bay||2007 to 2010||19-1-0|
Our Top 10 Greatest Racehorses of All Time
Here’s a closer look at the most famous and accomplished racehorses in history.
Arguably the greatest racehorse in Australian history, Black Caviar set multiple records during her career. She retired with a perfect record of 25-0 and won 15 Group I races, an Australian record equivalent to the American stakes races.
Reasons Why Black Caviar is One of the Greatest Racehorses
Some of Black Caviar’s most impressive accomplishments include:
- 25-0 win-loss record
- 15 Group I wins, an Australian record
- The first horse to win the European Champion Sprinter’s title outside of Europe
- Won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, a premier race in Europe
- The majority of wins (60%) were Grade I races, the highest level of horse racing
- Broke the track record at the Lightning Stakes, a record that stood for 25 years
- Won the 2011 Newmarket Handicap, considered the toughest and most prestigious handicap race in Australia
The Black Caviar story is one of hard work, determination, and natural talent. She was a champion on the track and captured the hearts of racing fans around the world.
Coming in at number two on our list is Citation, one of the most successful racehorses of all time. Citation was the crown jewel of the great Calumet Farms stable and won an astonishing 32 of his 45 races.
He was the first horse to ever win one million dollars in prize money and is a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
Reasons Why Citation is One of the Greatest Racehorses
Some of the reasons we believe Citation is one of the greatest racehorses of all time include:
- Won an astonishing 32 of his 45 races
- First horse to ever win one million dollars in prize money
- Won the Triple Crown, becoming the eighth horse in history to do so
- Won 19 of 20 race starts as a three-year-old, an amazing feat
- Won the Arlington Classic, one of the most prestigious races in America
- Won the first running of the Hollywood Gold Cup, one of the most prestigious races in America
- In 1948, he was named Horse of the Year, an honor bestowed upon the best horse in America
- In 1951, Citation won the Older Male Horse of the Year
- Male Handicap Horse champion
- At the age of two, Citation won his first five starts
Dr. Fager is a bit of an enigma on our list. While he only raced for three years, he was truly a great horse. He set multiple world records and was named Horse of the Year in 1968.
Reasons Why Dr. Fager is One of the Greatest Racehorses
Dr. Fager’s accomplishments include:
- While carrying 134 pounds (60.78 kilograms), he set a new world record for the 1:321⁄5 miles
- Named Horse of the Year in 1968
- Won 18 of 22 starts
- Named co-champion grass horse in 1968
- Named champion sprinter in 1967
- Named champion handicap horse in 1969
- Won seven of eight starts and set a new world record for the American seven-furlong
Dr. Fager won four titles in one season, an amazing feat. He was truly a great horse and left his mark on the sport of horse racing.
Eclipse was a genuinely great racehorse, considered one of the best Thoroughbred racing has ever seen. He was undefeated in 18 starts and is a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
Reasons Why Eclipse is One of the Greatest Racehorses
- Eclipse was one of the most dominant racehorses of his time, and his accomplishments include:
- Unbeaten in 18 starts
- Won eleven King’s Plates, a record that stood for nearly 200 years
- Won the Great Subscription Purse race, considered the most important race of his time
- Beat Bucephalus, a great racehorse of his time, in a match race
- The most famous racehorses and successful sires of his time were his offspring. These include Secretariat, Giant’s Causeway, Bold Ruler, Danzig, Storm Cat, American Pharoah, Tapit, and Mr. Prospector
Kelso was a great racehorse of the 1960s, considered one of the best of his generation. He was a five-time Horse of the Year and is a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
Reasons Why Kelso is One of the Greatest Racehorses
Kelso’s accomplishments include:
- Won 39 of 83 starts
- Five-time Horse of the Year, a record that still stands
- Named 3-year-old male champion
- Won 6 stakes races in 1960
- Won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a prestigious race in America
- Set a new world record for the 2 miles (3,219 meters)
- Named Horse of the year five times
- On turf, Kelso set an American record for a mile and a half
- He was the highest money-earning horse of his time
Kincsem was a great racehorse of the 1800s. She raced 54 times and won all 54 of her races, a truly amazing feat.
Reasons Why Kincsem is One of the Greatest Racehorses
Kincsem’s accomplishments include:
- Won all 54 of her races, a world record that still stands
- As a 2-year-old, she won 10 races in a row
- During her 3-year-old season, she won 17 races
- At 4 years old, she won all 15 of her races
- Won 12 races at the age of 5
- Won Europe’s premier race, the Goodwood Cup, at the time. This was a three-year-old horse race
Man O’ War
A legendary figure in American horse racing, many consider Man o’ War the greatest racehorse of all time. He won 21 of his 22 starts. He had a fiery temperament and was a difficult horse to handle, but he was truly a great racehorse.
Reasons Why Man O’ War is One of the Greatest Racehorses
Man O’ War’s achievements include:
- Raced while carrying 138 pounds (62.6 kilograms), the most ever carried by a horse at the time
- Won 21 of 22 starts
- Set a world record for one mile (1.6 kilometers) in 1:35 at the Withers Stakes
- Named American Horse of the Year
- Won 16 stakes races
- In 1926, Man o’ War was North America’s leading sire. In 1928, 1929, and 1937, he was runner-up
- Broke the world record for the mile and 3/8 (2,100 meters) while carrying 128 pounds (58 kilograms) at the Belmonts Stakes
- Broke the world record for the mile and 1/8 (1,600 meters) in 1:49 1/5 in the Dwyer Stakes
- Set a world record for the mile and 5/8 (2,400 meters) in 2:40 4/5 at Belmont
- A 3-year-old American male horse champion
- A 2-year-old colt champion in the United States
Ruffian was an American filly who was unbeaten in 10 starts. She was a truly great racehorse but her career came to a tragic end when she broke her leg in a match race.
Reasons Why Ruffian is One of the Greatest Racehorses
Ruffian’s accomplishments include:
- Won all 10 of her starts
- Won 8 stakes races, setting a new record for each
- Won by an average of 81⁄3 lengths
- Won both sprints and long races
- Set 3 track records and two stake records as a 2-year-old in her first five starts
A bird spooked Ruffian before a race, and she reared up, breaking her leg. She was euthanized the next day. The loss of Ruffian was felt by the racing community, and it generated a lot of attention toward racehorse treatment
A great racehorse of the 1970s, Seattle Slew was the 10th Triple Crown winner in history. He was a tough and determined horse with a great will to win.
Reasons Why Seattle Slew is One of the Greatest Racehorses
- Won 14 of 17 starts
- Won the Triple Crown in 1977, becoming the first undefeated horse to do so
- Won the Marlboro Cup, setting a new track record
- A 3-year-old American male horse champion
- A 2-year-old colt champion in the United States
- Named Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Colt in 1977
Secretariat is one of the most famous racehorses in history. He won the Triple Crown in 1973, becoming the first horse in 25 years to do so. He set new track records in all three races and his time in the Belmont Stakes is still a record.
Reasons Why Secretariat is One of the Greatest Racehorses
- Won 16 of 21 starts
- Won the Triple Crown in 1973
- Set new track records in all three Triple Crown races
- Won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, and set a new track record
- Named Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Male Horse in 1973
- Won and broke the record for the Preakness
- 2-year-old American champion colt
- Awarded Male Turf Horse of the Year
- In 1992, Secretariat was the leading broodmare sire in North America
- Raced and won fifteen Stakes races
- Won the Kentucky Derby, setting a new track record in 1:59 2/5
- Became the first horse to run the Kentucky Derby in under two minutes
Last in our list of the greatest racehorses of all time is Zenyatta. She was a giant mare who was unbeaten in her first 19 starts. She was a popular horse with fans and her come-from-behind style of racing.
Reasons Why Zenyatta is One of the Greatest Racehorses
Zenyatta’s accomplishments include:
- Won 19 of 20 starts consecutively
- Won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2009, becoming the first female to do so
- Set a new track record in the Santa Anita Oaks
- Named Horse of the Year and Champion Older Female Horse in 2008, 2009, and 2010
- Won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Female Athlete in 2010
- First female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic
- The only horse to beat the great Rachel Alexandra in a head-to-head race
- Was the most profitable horse in history, shattering records set by Alysheeba, John Henry, and Tiznow
- In her second Breeder Cup Classic, she was defeated by a neck
- Zenyatta has earned the most money in Breeders’ Cup history
- At 13, she set the record for most consecutive Grade I stakes wins by a female horse, a record she still holds
FAQs About the Best Racehorses Of All Time
Who Was Faster Secretariat or Man O War?
There is no clear answer as to who was the faster horse. Both horses were incredibly fast, and both raced 21 races in their careers. Secretariat won 16 of his 21 starts, while Man O War won 20 of his 21 starts.
Of the 21 races they both ran, Secretariat was second in 3 of them, third in 1, and got off-tracked in 1. On the other hand, Man O War was second in 1 of his races.
In the end, it is hard to compare the two because they raced in different eras. Secretariat ran his races in the early 1970s, while Man O War raced in the early 1920s.
However, most experts believe that Secretariat was the faster horse.
What Horse Sired the Most Winners?
The horse that sired the most winners is Galileo. He is a world-renowned Thoroughbred stallion and has sired many champions. He sired 338 stakes winners, including 228 group winners.
Has Any Horse Beat Secretariat’s Time?
No horse has beaten Secretariat’s time. Monarchos was the closest to breaking the record when he ran the Kentucky Derby in 1:59 4/5 in 2001.
Is American Pharoah Faster Than Secretariat?
No, Secretariat was faster than American Pharoah. American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015, but his time in the Kentucky Derby was 2:03.02. Secretariat’s time in the Kentucky Derby was 1:59.40. In the Belmont Stakes, American Pharoah ran 2:26.60, while Secretariat ran 2:24.
What Killed Secretariat?
Secretariat died of laminitis on October 4, 1989. Laminitis is a disease that affects horses’ hooves and can be very painful. It is unclear what caused Secretariat to develop the disease, but speculation suggests that it may have been due to an infection or a reaction to a vaccine.
What is the Longest Shot to Win the Kentucky Derby?
The longest shot to win the Kentucky Derby was Donerail, who won at 91-1 odds in 1913.
What Famous Race Horse Broke His Leg?
Barbaro, a famous racehorse, broke his leg in the Preakness Stakes in 2006. Eight months later, he died from complications from the injury.
What is the Most Expensive Horse Ever Sold?
The most expensive horse ever sold was Fusaichi Pegasus, which sold for $70 million in 2000.
The Final Say
There are many great racehorses of all time, but the list above includes some of the most famous and accomplished horses in history. These horses have thrilled fans and racing enthusiasts for years, and their legacy will continue to live on.
If you’re a fan of horse racing, then you’ll definitely want to check out some of these great horses. And if you’re looking for a challenge, try to see how many of them you can name!
Did we miss any of your favorite racehorses? Let us know in the comments below!