At the age of 2, Secretariat was crowned Horse of the Year for his remarkable racing history. He only finished out of the top 3 one time during his career, and that was his first race.
Sea Bird II was the greatest European racehorse of the 20th century and quite probably the greatest thoroughbred ever to have graced the turf anywhere in the world. I have been involved in horseracing for 53 years and I've only seen two other horses who can be compared to Sea Bird II : Ribot the unbeaten Italian champion and the American wonder horse Secretariat. But for me Sea Bird II was the best of them all.
This Italian horse raced in Europe in the 1950's and remained unbeaten in 16 races. He raced as a 2-year old, 3-year old and as a 4-year old and nothing could ever get near him. Ribot won two Prix de l'arc de Triomphe's in Paris and came over to Britain to win the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. He was effective on any surface and was as tough as teak. Ribot can most definitely be classed as one of the greatest racehorses of the 20th century.
1948 Triple Crown Champion. Rated "best three year old ever" by Eddie Arcaro. Won 27 of 29 at three and could have won the other two but was held back. Defeated the two horses he lost to above in later races. Won 16 in a row. Could run on any kind of track. Ranked "a pound better than Secretariat" by Richard Stone Reeves the famous equine painter who knew all the horses.
1960-1964 Horse of the Year, five time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner for 2 miles against the best horses in the world. Still holds record for 2 miles and also holds record for 1 1/2 miles on turf at 2:23 4/5 faster than Secretariat's Belmont, carried over 130 lbs 24 times. Handicap Triple Crown winner. Won 39 of 63, placing in the money 54 times. Ranked best horse of any age by Eddie Arcaro who rode two Triple Crown winners, Citation and Whirlaway. Not to take away from other greats, Secretariat, Man O War or Citation, Kelso proved himself for six years against the 60,000 throroughbreds in the world by becoming the highest money winner. No other horse in history duplicates Kelso's record.
Seattle Slew was the 1977 Triple Crown winner and only triple crown winner that had been undefeated prior to winning the crown.
One of the best racehorses of all times, Forego was voted the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year for three years straight: 1974, 1975 and 1976. His total lifetime earnings topped $1,900,000.
Raced 22 times, won18, two seconds, one third, one disqualification in the Jersey Derby. Elected to the Racing Hall of Fame three years after retirement. He gave you chills from the wind as he raced by.
This amazing racehorse had 29 starts, 22 wins, 5 second place wins, and 1 third place win. He earned $2,393,818 during his career.
Rarely has one horse had an impact in international horse racing comparable to this great mare. Before the Breeders’ Cup, the Dubai World Cup and the Japan Cup made multi-hemispheric horse traveling a reality, Dahlia was a one-horse road show. And what a show! She won G1s in five countries (France, Ireland, England, Canada and the US); the first horse to do so. She was the first mare to top $1 million in earnings. She won down the 5f straight course at Deauville and won multiple G1s from 10f to 12f, racing clockwise and anti-clockwise, defeating Derby winners and Arc winners. She was the UK Horse of the Year at three and four and earned divisional champion honors in Europe, Ireland and the US. There have been few greater female thoroughbreds than Dahlia at her best!
British racehorse only ever beaten once in 17 races and that was over 10 furlongs. Never beaten when racing at a mile.
One of the all- time greats and only ever beaten once,and even then was desperately unlucky and should have won.
This great French mare is still the only horse to win a Breeders’ Cup race three times – the BC Mile in ’08, ’09 and ’10. And she finished third, beaten one length, in the ’11 BC Mile. In her homeland, she won the G1 Prix Rothschild down the Deauville straight mile four years in a row. She won 14 G1s, the most by any mare bred in Europe. And she won G1s, in open company, in France, the US and England. She won every year she raced, 2 through 6, and finished off the board only once in her illustrious career, 27 – 17-6-3, for earnings equivalent of USD7,176,551.
Thought by many to have been France's greatest thoroughbred, Gladiateur won at the highest level on both sides of the English Channel both years that he raced. He won the English Triple Crown of classics in 1865 as well as France's most prestigious race for three-year-olds, the Grand Prix de Paris. The highlight of his four-year-old campaign was returning to England and winning the Ascot Gold Cup. He retired with a 19 - 16-0-1 record and the unanimous, undying admiration of the French racing public.
The toast of French racing in the early 1970s, US-bred Allez France was a G1 winner at two, the French fillies’ Triple Crown winner and Arc runner-up at three, the Arc winner at four, and Prix Ganay winner at four and five. She was France’s Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, Champion Older Mare twice, and Horse of the Year in 1974. She won 13 of her 18 starts in France including eight G1 victories. She beat her great contemporary Dahlia the six times they met on French soil but she could not match Dahlia’s globe-trotting success. Allez France lost all three of her starts outside France (one in England and two in the US).
The first three-year-old filly to win the Arc (1931). She beat the best colts in her age group, in what are now G1 races, both years she raced, at two and three. And she scored multiple G1 victories over the best older horses at three. A great filly – one for the ages!
In a short but sensationally successful career, Regret proved to be one of America’s greatest female racehorses. She was unbeaten at two, still the only filly to have won Saratoga’s storied trio of juvenile stakes: the Saratoga Special, Sanford and Hopeful. She beat colts in all three races including that year’s top juvenile male Pebbles. In her first start at three she beat Pebbles again, this time in the Kentucky Derby – the first filly to win the Run for the Roses. In her only other start at three she beat Belmont Stakes winner and champion colt of that year, The Finn, in the Saranac. Thus she was unbeaten at two and three, beat colts in all five starts and defeated the champion colt of each year. She suffered her first defeat, and only off-the-board finish, at four. But she came back to win three of her four starts at five, her only loss being by a nose in the Brooklyn – a race that featured three KY Derby winners and two Horses of the Year, and was run in US record time. No female ever finished in front of her.
Was there ever a better racehorse, anywhere, than Ormonde? The English-bred colt won at the highest level in his homeland every year he raced (2, 3 and 4) and retired having won all 16 of his starts including the 1886 English Triple Crown. He beat the best horses of his age group and his era, at distances from 6f to 16f, often giving his high-class opponents significant weight advantages.
A dual G1 winner as a juvenile in France, she was that country’s Champion Two-Year-Old-Filly in 1986. At three she won the English 1,000 Guineas and the French equivalent, the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, before devastating a field of mostly older males in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Hollywood Park in a track record 1:32 4/5. At four she continued to win at the highest level in France before returning to the US to score another devastating victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs – the first horse to win two BC races. She never finished off the board (16 – 12-3-1) with 10 of her 12 wins being G1s. In her three seasons of racing she won nine end-of-year Champion awards on two continents.
Irish-bred Pretty Polly was one of the great mares of all time. Her 24 – 22-2-0 record included an undefeated nine-race juvenile season in England when she twice beat top colt St. Amant (who would win the 2,000 Guineas and Derby the next year). At three she won the 1,000 Guineas in record time, the Epsom Oaks and then deprived St. Amant of the Triple Crown by beating him in the St. Leger in record time. Her 15-race win streak ended with a harrowing trip to Paris and a second in the Prix du Conseil Municipal while giving weight to older males. At four she won the Coronation Cup, in record time that stood for 23 years. At five she won the Coronation again but suffered her second defeat when runner up in the Ascot Gold Cup, her last race.
Kizil Kourgan was a contemporary of the great English filly Spectre. They raced against each other only once, in the 1902 Grand Prix de Paris - France’s richest and most prestigious race at that time. The result was a decisive victory for Kizil Kourgan. She also won the French fillies’ Triple Crown: the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (equivalent of the 1,000 Guineas), Prix de Diane (Oaks) and Prix Royal-Oak (St. Leger). In addition to beating the best colts in the Grand Prix de Paris and the Prix Royal-Oak, she did likewise in the prestigious Prix Lupin. Kizil Kourgan was sometimes referred to by the English as “the French Sceptre” – and Sceptre was sometimes referred to by the French as “the English Kizil Kourgan.”
No list of the best ever racehorses is complete without the filly Sceptre very high up. She is still the only three-year-old to win four English classics outright: the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Oaks and St. Leger. [Formosa won the same four classics in 1868 but dead-heated in the 2,000 Guineas]. Sceptre finished fourth in the 1902 Derby after being left at the start. Several times she competed in major events one and two days apart, such as the two Guineas, the Derby and Oaks and the Coronation Stakes and St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. A dual Stakes winner at two and a four-time Classic winner at three, she went on to win the Hardwicke, Jockey Club, Duke of York and Champion Stakes at four.
A well known horse about which a modern movie was made. Seabiscuit held many track records and was known as one of the fastest horses ever.
All Along was one of the greatest female thoroughbreds of all time. Bred in France, she won her only start at two. At three she won, among other prestigious Stakes, the classic Prix Vermeille and was runner up in the Japan Cup! But at four she amply demonstrated her uniqueness. In a 41-day period she won the Arc, the Canadian International, Aqueduct’s Turf Classic and the Washington DC International – for which she was named Horse of the Year in both the U.S. and France, and U.S. Champion Female Turf Horse. Her four starts at five included a third in the Arc and a close second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. She retired as the highest earning female in thoroughbred history ($3,018,420).
As a two-year-old filly in France in 1934, Corrida beat colts in the Prix Morny (now G1). At three she raced poorly in the English 1,000 Guineas and Oaks but returned to France for a fast-finishing third (neck x neck) in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. She won the Arc the next year, 1936, and again in ’37; the only female to win France’s greatest race twice. At four she returned to England and won the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot. She also won at the elite level in Germany and Belgium and retired in ’37 as Europe’s richest mare. She disappeared during WWII and her ultimate fate remains a mystery.
Sysonby was America’s first “great horse” of the 20th century. He was the Champion Two-Year-Old Colt of 1904, winning five of six starts. It is widely recorded that after his one defeat – third in the Futurity Stakes - his groom admitted drugging him. In his first start at three he took on older horses in the Metropolitan and dead-heated with a five-year-old to whom he gave 10 lbs. He was never headed in his remaining eight starts of 1905. He didn’t race in what subsequently became coveted as the Triple Crown races, but he beat the KY Derby winner of that year both times they met (each time by five lengths) and the Belmont winner (also by five lengths). He was named Champion Three-Year-Old Colt of 1905 and Horse of the Year. He died before he could resume racing in 1906. His skeleton is on display at the American Museum of Natural History in NY. A panel assembled by Sports Illustrated in 1992 to determine “the greatest [U.S.] horses in racing history” ranked Sysonby #6.
Think of the great horses that have raced in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe since it was inaugurated in 1920. Now consider that as a three-year-old filly Danedream ran the 12f of the Arc – Europe’s most prestigious open-company thoroughbred contest – in faster time than any competitor in the event’s history! And she romped away from a top-class field to win by a near-record margin of five lengths (the record is six). At four she came back and beat another high-quality field in Britain’s equivalent of the Arc, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. She also won the Italian Oaks and the G1 Grosser Preis von Berlin at three, and the G1 Grosser Preis von Baden at three and four, and was Europe’s Champion Three-Year-Old Filly. A horse well worthy of being on this list!
Twice Horse of the Year, winner of Belmont, BC Classic 07, Dubai world Cup, and more grade I races - campaigning two years as 3 and 4-year old.
Ksar was the first horse to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe twice – in 1921, as a three-year-old, and again in 1922. He won what became G1 races each year he raced (2, 3 and 4), including the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) and the Prix Royal-Oak (St. Leger). He retired with career stats of 15 – 11-3-0. Some reports say he surpassed Isinglass’s world record earnings but other reports dispute that. It is indisputable, however, that Ksar was one of Europe’s greatest racehorses in the period between the World Wars.
Britain’s top juvenile of 1892, Isinglass went on to win the Triple Crown the following year. But coming back in distance from the 12f of the St. Leger, he ended his three-year-old campaign with the only defeat of his career when runner-up in the 8f Lancashire Plate. At 4 he won the Princess of Wales’s, Eclipse and Jockey Club Stakes. And he won the Ascot Gold Cup at 5. He retired 12 – 11-1-0, winning at distances from 5f to 20f, winning what are now G1s each year he raced (2, 3, 4 and 5), and earning 58,655 pounds which stood as the world record for 28 years (surpassed by Zev in 1923) and the UK record for 57 years (surpassed by Tulyar in 1952). This was a great racehorse!
Dalakhani won the Arc as a three-year-old colt, as well as the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) and the G1 Prix Lupin. He'd also won the G1 Critérium International at two. Only defeat in his nine career starts was runner-up to a stablemate, beaten half a length, in the Irish Derby. Dalakhani was Europe's Champion Three-Yer-Old Colt , and Horse of the Year, in 2003.
She was only the second filly to win the KY Derby when she did it in 1980. And it was no fluke; she never saw the fence, racing three- and four-wide the whole way. She finished second in the Preakness after being nearly flattened on the home turn by the winner Codex. Her jockey lodged an objection, which six-time Preakness winning jockey Eddie Arcaro – part of the ABC TV coverage team – said should have been upheld but was not. She followed this with a strong second in the Belmont to become the only filly ever to finish on the board in all three races of the Triple Crown.
He won against two Triple Crown winners in one race!! He won against Seattle Slew and Affirmed in the same race, in the Jockey Gold Cup in 1978
Flying Fox followed in his grandsire Ormonde’s hoof steps by winning the English Triple Crown (1899). His outstanding two-year-old record of 5 – 3-2-0 included wins in the New Stakes, Stockbridge Foal Stakes and Criterion Stakes. He was unbeaten in his six starts at three. In addition to winning the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger he beat top quality older horses in the Eclipse, Prince of Wales and Jockey Club Stakes. After his owner died, Flying Fox was sold in early 1900 to a French breeder who paid 37,500 guineas for him – at that time the highest price ever paid for a horse at auction.
The 1920s was a vintage decade in the U.S. for great thoroughbreds. Hall of Famers Man o’ War, Exterminator, Reigh Count, Zev, Grey Lag, Crusader and Blue Larkspur were all Horses of the Year during the ‘20s. Two other Hall of Famers also raced in that decade: 1919 Triple Crown winner Sir Barton raced his last season in 1920 and 1930 Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox raced his first season in 1929. But Sarazen achieved something none of these greats did. He was the only one of them to be awarded Horse of the Year twice (’24 and ’25).
Although his impact on the breed as a prepotent sire is beyond measure, Nearco certainly deserves consideration among the “Best Racehorses of All Times.” Bred by the legendary thoroughbred geneticist Federico Tesio, this colt was the dominant two- and three-year-old on the continent in 1937 and ’38. He won all 14 of his starts, including Italy’s premier contest for juveniles and its equivalent of the 2,000 Guineas and Derby at three. Nearco concluded his career by winning his only race outside Italy, the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp. He won at distances from 5f to 15f.
Perhaps America’s greatest thoroughbred of the 19th century, Hindoo had 18 straight wins as a three-year-old in 1881 including the KY Derby and the Travers. He won at the highest level each year he raced (2, 3 and 4), compiling formidable career stats of 35 – 30-3-2 and retiring in 1882 as America’s highest earning thoroughbred to that time. He was retrospectively named Champion Two-Year-Old Colt of 1880, Champion Three-Year-Old Colt of 1881 and Champion Handicap Horse of 1882. No list of great thoroughbreds is complete without him.
A foal of 1928, Twenty Grand belonged to one of the great crops of U.S. thoroughbreds. Twenty Grand, Equipoise, Jamestown and Mate were known as the “big four” of that crop, which also included Vander Pool who won his first 15 starts. Although Twenty Grand was a two-time victor over Equipoise at two, Equipoise and Jamestown were adjudged Co-Champion Two-Year-Old Colts for 1930. But at three Twenty Grand dominated his illustrious peers. After a troubled trip and finishing second to Mate in the Preakness (then the first race of the Triple Crown), he won the KY Derby by 4 lengths (in race and track record time) and the Belmont by 10 lengths before beating older horses in the Saratoga and Jockey Club Gold Cups. Twenty Grand was retrospectively named Champion Three-Year-Old Colt AND Horse of the Year for 1931.