the history of horse racing, numerous famous champions have been born - some
famous for their multiple
wins and staggering purses, their impressive lineage, ability to
raise the spirits of a nation, or all of the above combined!
Let's take a look at some of the most famous race horses - whether wartime
heroes or contemporary idols, all are winners from start to finish!
Man O War - (1917 - 1947)
famous and legendary Man O' War is credited for
rescuing American horse racing in the 1920s. Born in 1917, he made
his racing debut two years later, winning three stakes races in just
Man O' War gained fame and the reputation of being a "sure thing" in
circles, which made other horse owners wary of putting their own
horses up against him. In fact, Man O' War lost just one race during
his career, the Sanford Memorial Stakes, largely due to early
practices which involved the horses circling the starting line. When
the race began, Man O' War had his back turned, but still managed to
As a sire, he produced over 64 stakes winners and 200 champions, including the famous War Admiral. One of his offspring also went on to sire
When he died in 1947, Man O' War lay in state for several days in a
specially designed casket lined with his racing colors. He is buried
at Kentucky Horse Park where a statue was erected to mark his grave.
Man O' War has also been the subject of several books, and was
inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in
1957. His line traces back to the
Phar Lap - (1926 - 1932)
Phar Lap (which means
"lightning" in Thai) became famous and a national icon in Australia, where he
primarily raced during his four-year career. The monstrous horse
measured a staggering 17.1 hands high while his heart weighed 13.7
pounds, significantly more compared to the average horse heart
weight of just 9 pounds.
Phar Lap netted 37 wins across 51 races, and set eight track records
before his mysterious death in 1932 after suddenly becoming ill.
Many speculated that U.S. gangsters, who feared the famous champion would
trigger big losses for their illegal bookies, had poisoned the
horse. Forensic investigations conducted over 70 years later would
go on to prove that Phar Lap did ingest a large dose of arsenic
shortly before his death, though the source was never proven or
found. Phar Lap has a movie
that was made about him.
Seabiscuit - (1933-1947)
Though the grandson of Man O' War,
Seabiscuit did not initially show a lot of promise as a racehorse,
but all of that would change in 1936 under the guidance of new
trainer Tom Smith and new jockey Red Pollard. The next year, the
team won 11 of the 15 races entered, despite the fact that Pollard
had lost an eye in a training incident.
Seabiscuit's fame and popularity soared, raising spirits during the
depression and building extreme momentum for a race against another
legend, War Admiral in 1939 billed as the "Match of the Century" in
which Seabiscuit proved victorious. Famous he retired from the racing world
in 1940, but his story later inspired several books and films,
including the 2003 major motion picture "Seabiscuit," which was
nominated for seven Academy Awards.
War Admiral - (1934 - 1959)
As the son of another legendary horse (Man
O' War), War Admiral had the bar set high from the get go.
Born in 1934 in Lexington, Kentucky, War Admiral's coat was such a
dark color of brown that many believed he was actually black. Though
initially he did not respond well to the starting gate, War Admiral
rose to the challenge, and fame earning the nickname and nabbing both the
Triple Crown along with the Horse of the Year honors in 1937.
In 1958, he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall
of Fame, and also ranks in the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions
of the 20th Century as determined by a panel of experts assembled by
Citation - (1945 - 1970)
Some racing fans rank
Citation on the same
plane as Man O' War, if not higher. Born in 1945, Citation entered
the track two years later and won his very first race in Havre de
Grace, Maryland. The 1948 Triple Crown winner also became the first
U.S. horse to win one million dollars.
He was also a 1959 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
inductee, and a life-sized statue of the famous champion was erected in his
honor at Hileah Park in Florida. Dwayne Wallace, Chairman of the
Cessna Aircraft Company, was also inspired by the horse's impressive
career, selecting the name "Citation" for the new business jet and
even using a horse show background in the logo!
Arkle - (1957-1970)
Arkle , famous as a steeplechaser, he was the greatest steeplechaser ever to
jump fences. He carried huge weights and nearly always gave 35
pounds of weight to the other horses he raced against and still beat
them. He never fell and was very rarely beaten. No other
steeplechaser can be compared to Arkle, he was, quite simply the
best steeplechaser there has ever been.
Red Rum - (1965-1995)
Red Rum won three Grand National
steeplechases in Britain in 1973,1974 and 1977 and was second in
this race in 1975 and 1976. Famous, he had a massive fan club and was much
loved by millions of people all over the world. He was voted sports
personality of the year in 1977. Red Rum's incredible record will
NEVER be beaten.
Secretariat - (1970-1989)
Secretariat was born in 1970 and at first he was considered "too
pretty" to be a good racehorse. During his first season in 1972, he
proved any early doubters wrong, claiming eight consecutive
victories and becoming the first of only two, 2 year olds to ever be
crowned Horse Of The Year. The following year 1973, he won the
Triple Crown, and took the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, a new world
record time which still stands today, along with his record set at
the Kentucky Derby.
Secretariat was mourned by millions following his death in 1989, and
given the rare honor of being buried whole - normally, just the
head, heart, and hooves are laid to rest, though in Secretariat's
case, his heart alone weighed around 22 pounds, nearly twice the
size of a normal horse!
He was one of only three non-humans ranked on ESPN's "100 Greatest
Athletes of the Twentieth Century", and was also honored in 1999 by
the United States Postal Service who issued a stamp bearing his
likeness. A film has been made
about this magnificent horse.
Ruffian - (1972-1975)
With a short and spectacular career - "a true shooting star" - this
beautiful black filly called Ruffian rose quickly to fame and captured the hearts of millions and she won
every race she was entered into besides her last race in which she
lost her life for the love of racing. This poignant tale is brought
to us on film as well.
Affirmed - (1975 - 2001)
Affirmed was one of the most lucrative
racehorses of his time, becoming the first thoroughbred in North
America to bring in over two million dollars during the span of his
By far, his most defining moments occurred during 1978, when he
Triple Crown and also proved triumphant over Seattle Slew at the
Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap, marking the first time two
Triple Crown winners faced off against each other.
Affirmed also had an intense rivalry with fellow racer, Alydar,
another famous race horse, which came to a head during the same year at the Travers Stakes in
Saratoga, New York. With his usual rider Steve Cauthen out due to
injury, Affirmed was helmed by replacement rider Laffit Pincay, who
cut off Alydar, causing the horse to check and bringing about
Affirmed's disqualification from his first place win.
John Henry - (1975-2007)
The 1980s were all about
John Henry, voted
the racehorse of the decade and also becoming the first to surpass
$4 million in career earnings in 1983. He was named after the
"steel-driver" folk hero as a result of the equine's tendency as a
youngster to tear down steel water and feed buckets off of stall
walls and stomp them flat.
In addition to his 39 wins, he became the only horse to nab first
place twice for both the Arlington Million and Santa Anita Handicap.
Now famous, after his last race at the 1984
Ballatine Scotch Classic, he
retired in 1985 as the world's richest thoroughbred.
Smarty Jones - 2001
Talk about an impressive family tree! Not
only is the famous Smarty Jones a third-generation descendant of the legendary
Mr. Propsector, but also related to numerous recent Triple Crown
hopefuls such as Funny Cide, Afleet Alex, and Fusaichi Peagasus.
Born in 2001, his roots also traces back to such greats as
Secretariat and even the mighty Man O' War, and this pedigree likely
had something to do with Smarty Jones taking top honors at both the
Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2004. Both wins along with
his Sport Illustrated cover combined all set off a national frenzy for the
champion, Smarty jones was thought to be a sure win for the Triple
Crown. Surprisingly, he came in second after a stunning upset by
36-1 outsider called Birdstone.
Barbaro - (2003 - 2007)
In 2006, the now famous Barbaro
undefeated, and his 6½ length margin of victory at the event
marked the largest in nearly 50 years. Prior to this win, he had
also nabbed top honors at the Florida Derby, Holy Bull Stakes, and
Tropical Park Derby.
His impressive record had many believing he was the most serious
Triple Crown threat to hit the track in years, but two weeks
later at the
Preakness Stakes, Barbaro fractured three bones in his right
hind leg, bringing his racing career to a devastating halt. While
his right leg would go on to heal after multiple surgeries, Barbaro
later developed laminitis, a painful hoof condition, in both his
His death in 2007 created an outpouring of grief from fans across
the nation, as well as the establishment of an equine health fund by
his owners in his honor.
Black Caviar - 2006
Unbeaten in 25 starts. This already famous
great filly was officially rated the best sprinter in the world.
was foaled 18 August 2006 and is an Australian Thoroughbred
racehorse undefeated in 25 races, a success record not equalled for
over 100 years. She is considered to be the best sprinter in the
world, having been named
WTRR World Champion Sprinter in 2010. On 31 March 2011 Black
Caviar was rated one of the top Thoroughbred racehorses in the world
(with a 136 rating) for the first quarter of 2011 by Timeform.
Sports writers Phil Rothfield and Darren Hadland named Black
Caviar the best female athlete of 2012 as
part of their annual top 50 moments of the year column.
Black Caviar was retired from racing after her 25th win in the
month of April 2013, with a record
not equalled. She is "Simply The Best", and we will miss viewing her