Top 10 Race Horses of All Time

Horses listed in alphabetical order.

Arkle

Arkle was the first true super-star of thoroughbred racing. While a lot of his predecessors and contemporaries were considered outstanding athletes in horse racing circles, Arkle was the first race horse ever to be considered newsworthy by people outside of the racing scene. An extraordinarily gifted contender in hurdle and national hunt races, Arkle took the track and the hearts of the spectators by storm. He was awarded a Timeform rating of 212 - the highest rating ever to be given to a steeple chaser. Teamed up with legendary jockey Pat Taaffe, Arkle went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup for three consecutive years (1964-1966), scored victories in more or less every single important steeple chase which came his way - including, the Hennessy Gold Cup, the Irish Grand National and the King George VI Chase -, and was posthumously inducted into the British Steeplechasing Hall Of Fame in 1994. Musician Dominic Behan paid tribute to the legend of the track in his song 'Arkle'; and the Republic of Ireland awarded him his own postage stamp in 1981.

Best Mate

With the days of Arkle and Red Rum gone by, the national hunt scene desperately needed a new equine hero and Best Mate was happy to oblige. The gelding from the training stables of Henrietta Knight burst onto the scene in 2000 as a five-year-old and began immediately to collect high honours, chasing records and precedents set by his famous predecessors. Between 2002 and 2004, Best Mate won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times consecutively, thus drawing even with the legend of Arkle. However, Best Mate managed to do better than his great colleagues in some ways. Out of 22 career starts he never finished worse than runner-up, recording fourteen wins and seven second places - leaving his final race, which he did never finish. Due to health concerns his connections decided to pull Best Mate from the race and retired him after a three year rampage across the leader boards of the sport. After his 2005 death, Best Mate was cremated and his ashes were buried at Cheltenham's winning post.

Brown Jack

A relative late-comer to the racing scene, Brown Jack started competing professionally as a four-year-old in 1928. Trained by Aubrey Hastings (until his death in 1929) he spent his first season racing over hurdles and recording seven victories out of ten starts; including the prestigious Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and the Ascot Stakes. However, in 1929 Brown Jack was switched to racing on the flat, for the unromantic reason that the flat races awarded higher prize money. From 1929 to 1934 Brown Jack unleashed his powers unto the flat racing tracks of the United Kingdom and Ireland. For six consecutive years Brown Jack, and his regular jockey Steve Donoghue, ran to victory in the Queen Alexandra Stakes; he won the Goodwood Cup and the Doncaster Cup in 1930, in 1932 he came second in the Goodwood Cup. Out of 55 starts Brown Jack recorded 18 victories, most of them over gruelling long distances. He is still considered one of the greatest stayers of our time.

Man O'War

The Legendary Man O'War
The Legendary Man O'War.

Almost one hundred years after his first appearance on a race track, Man O'War is still hailed as perhaps the greatest race horse of all time. Man O'War debuted as a two-year-old in 1919 at the Sanford Memorial Stakes; he was the last off the starting line, was put into disastrous disadvantageous positions by his inexperienced jockey and made second place. This second place in his first race was to be his sole career defeat. For the rest of his racing career Man O'War simply could not loose. In 1920 he won the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness Stakes - but was not entered into the Kentucky Derby, meaning he could have been a US Triple Crown Champion, one of the very first in fact. To this day the Man O'War Stakes are run annually in his honour at Belmont Park; a life-size statue of the runner can be seen at Kentucky Horse Park; and Lexington, Kentucky features the Man O'War Boulevard. Man O'War was retired after his three-year-old season in 1920 and went on to be one of the most prolific sires of the North American racing scene; an ideal example being his grandson Seabiscuit, who was sired by Man O'War's son Hard Tack. To this day descendants of Man O'War can be found on the world's race tracks, carrying on the brilliance of their progenitor to audiences of today.

Nijinsky II

Nijinsky at the 1970 Irish Derby
Nijinsky at the 1970 Irish Derby.

Although Nijinsky was foaled on a stud farm in Canada, he was an immensely influential member of the Irish and English horse racing scene. Shipped to Ireland to train with then-Ballydoyle stable trainer Vincent O'Brien as a two-year-old in 1969, Nijinsky burst onto the track in all his glory. In 1969, his two-year-old season, he was named Champion Two-Year-Old Colt in both Ireland and the United Kingdom. In 1970 Nijinsky won the English Triple Crown under genius jockey Lester Piggot, making him the 15th Triple Crown Champion and also - to date - the last horse to achieve this amazing triple victory. A feature film, 'A Horse Called Nijinsky', was produced the same year, narrated by none other than Orson Welles. On 2000 Nijinsky was voted the Horse Of The Millennium in a poll by The Sun newspaper. At the end of his three-year-old season, Nijinsky was retired to a Kentucky farm and went on to enjoy a long and successful career as a stallion.

Phar Lap

Phar Lap winning the 1930 Melbourne Cup
Phar Lap winning the 1930 Melbourne Cup.

Phar Lap is the best-known and most celebrated thoroughbred race horse to ever emerge from the Australian racing scene. As a colt, seemingly a pre-requirement for a legendary racer, Phar Lap was seen as so ill-built and unsuited for a racing career that owner David Davis refused to pay for his training. Luckily Davis' trainer Harry Telford was so desperate to keep the business relationship alive that he agreed to train young Phar Lap for free. In 1929 Phar Lap recorded his first victory in his very first career race under a teenage apprentice jockey; in September of the same year he scored a second place in the Chelmsford Stakes. Although his second performance put him on the map as an able race horse, Phar Lap proceeded to construct a truly stellar career. He won 37 of 51 races between 1929 and 1932; survived an assassination attempt by the competition (only to win the Melbourne Cup three days later), and once remained unbeaten for 14 consecutive races. Phar Lap died under suspicious circumstances in April 1932, although foul-play, namely poisoning, was never conclusively proven. However, the secret of Phar Lap's success was unveiled in the autopsy following his death; his heart was much larger than that of a regular horse. His freakishly over-sized heart is on display at the National Museum Of Australia.

Red Rum

Red Rum is one of very few race horses with an intact, thus far unbeaten record to his name. The bay gelding, who was foaled in 1965 and started racing in 1968, is the only steeple chase contender to win the iconic Grand National at Aintree three times, in 1973, 1974 and 1977 (in 1974 he also recorded a victory in the Scottish Grand National). Although he was originally trained to race over relatively short distances up to a little over a mile, it was the epic races - such as four mile and four furlong Grand National - that he truly excelled in. What makes this outstanding thoroughbred's achievements even more remarkable, unnecessarily, is that Red Rum suffered from bone disease in his foot, a life-long condition which he never allowed to disable him. When Red Rum finally surrendered his fighting spirit and passed away in 1995, he was buried at the winning post at Aintree Racecourse. His last place of rest is a destination for racing fans keen to pay tribute to a true hero of the sport to this day.

Seabiscuit

Few race horses have inspired artists and biographers like United States legend Seabiscuit. A statue of Seabiscuit can be admired at Santa Anita Park, his biography 'Seabiscuit: An American Legend' was released in 2001; and two feature films - 'The Story Of Seabiscuit' from 1949 and 2003's 'Seabiscuit' - celebrate the life of this outstanding race horse. Seabiscuit's story is indeed a tale made for the silver screen. Considered unsuitable for a racing career the small, constantly eating or sleeping colt met his match as a three-year-old when he was handed over to trainer Tom Smith. Smith's belief in the odd horse's ability made possible the transformation of the dud-colt into one of the most memorable contenders of our time. From 1937 to 1940 Seabiscuit won almost every big race the U.S. had to offer - including the inaugural running of the Hollywood Gold Cup. He was named U.S. Champion Handicap Male in 1937 and 1938, and U.S. Horse Of The Year in 1938.

Secretariat

Secretariat winning the 1973 Triple Crown
Secretariat winning the 1973 Triple Crown.

Secretariat (1970- 1989) is one of only eleven race horses to win the United States Triple Crown Of Thoroughbred Racing. The win in this prestigious series in 1973 - made up of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes - was only one of many achievements to make the stallion an unforgettable hero of track. The gorgeous thoroughbred won sixteen of his twenty-one career starts and was showered in honours like no other race horse in the history of the sport. Secretariat was inducted into the U.S. Racing Hall Of Fame in 1974, and into the Kentucky Athletic Hall Of Fame in 2007; streets are named after him in Napa, California and Howell, New Jersey; since 1999 one can purchase Secretariat as a postage stamp; statues in his honour are erected at Kentucky Horse Park and Belmont Park; and Secretariat is currently ranked second in the list of Top 100 Racehorses Of The 20th Century, beaten only by Man O'War. In 1973 - the year of his Triple Crown win - Secretariat was named American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse, American Champion Male Turf Horse, and American Horse Of The Year (a title he also received in 1972).

Yeats

Yeats, who only recently retired in late 2009, is already being proclaimed as the greatest runner of the new millennium. Born in 2001, Yeats spent most of his six year career breaking records and thundering away from his helpless competition. Starting his three-year-old season in 2004, Yeats remained unbeaten for his three starts but was unable to compete in the major three-year-old event of the Epsom Derby because of health concerns; it would be 2005 before Yeats would return to the track. And he returned with a vengeance. Starting in 24 races in his career, Yeats recorded 15 victories, two runner-ups and two third places. However, the stallion's most outrageous feat was his affinity for the Ascot Gold Cup - one of the toughest races of the season, which Yeats won four consecutive years, from 2006 to 2009. Working throughout his career with Ballydoyle stable trainer Aidan O'Brien, Yeats may well turn out the Man O'War of the 21st century.

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