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10 Top Racehorses in History

Updated on April 24, 2019
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna has worked in the entertainment business for over 20 years, promoting special events with musicians, celebrities, and dignitaries.

Racing Horse Winners

Whether we love online horseracing or live horseracing, we praise a winning pony anytime and anyplace. We hope for a Triple Crown winner because historically the odds are against the pony.

In history, horseracing winners draw our attention because of their unique breeding or racing style. In true American style or in the world, we always love a winner. Once a horseracing name is announced as the winner, we praise the pony and tune into the radio, television, podcasts, social media, and newspapers. As the old saying goes, the winner is the talk of the town.

We anticipate the next race and hope the pony is the next Triple Crown. We haven’t had very many Crown winners but still, they are legends - some as underdogs and some as sure winners. Books are written about them, and movies are made about them. They are legends but do we remember them after they retire. In all, let’s take a look at the top racehorses in history and see if you can recall the great ones.

1. Justify

Sure Fire Winner

Bob Baffert, who trained American Pharaoh as the 2015 Triple Crown winner, trained Justify. Justify seemed to come from out of the blue as the thirteenth Triple Crown winner in America. The thoroughbred racehorse gained popularity at his first start of racing on February 18, 2018. His success continued with two more wins that included the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, which mean Justify qualified for the 2018 Kentucky Derby and on that race. Then, he won the 2018 Preakness Stakes and the 2018 Belmont Stakes to sweep the Triple Crown.

The racehorse is the second horse to win the American Triple Crown with an undefeated record. Justify is a progeny of six American Triple Crown winners. He is even a progeny of Nijinsky, an English Triple Crown winner.

2. Seabiscuit

Quite a Character

Quite a character is the best way to describe Seabiscuit. Known for being a Hollywood story that made two movies within four generations, Seabiscuit was an ungainly colt and was hidden from the owner when he came through the stables. The underdog of a horse was sold to Silent Tom Smith. Smith trained Seabiscuit well, and together they won a lot of races – 33 wins out of 89 races. Seabiscuit came out of retirement and won another race, too, which is unheard of in horseracing picks.

3. Secretariat

Very Short But Noticeable Career

Twice Secretariat was named Horse of the Year. Some compared him to the great Man O' War because Secretariat became a common name in every family circle as a horse that proves what it is to be a great racehorse.

Secretariat career was very short, though. He only raced for sixteen months, but truly won the notice of the world by becoming a Triple Crown champion in 1973, which was the first in twenty-five years. He won, unprecedented, 31 lengths, setting a world record to this day. He won 16 times out of 21 races, and a motion picture was produced about his story in 2013.

4. John Henry

Very Bad Reputation

John Henry was quite a character, too, finding himself auctioned off more than once to new owners. You see, John Henry had a very bad reputation for being ill-tempered. He weak knees and became violent off the track.

When he met Bob Donato as the new owner, he was ready to concentrate on his racing and flourished. The story of John Henry is a happy ending with 39 wins in 83 races, winning Horse of the Year twice while retiring as the unsurpassed highest earning thoroughbred.

5. Smarty Jones

Trainer and Wife Killed

Smarty Jones has an interesting story that Hollywood would love to produce. The trainer and his wife were killed (murdered) when Smarty Jones was just foaled.

He was one of two horses not sold off by the owner after the tragedy. The owner had both horses trained for racing. The trainer, John Servis worked with Smarty Jones, and he was a close friend of the departed trainer and his wife. Servis was determined to have Smarty Jones be a winner. He set a goal and did not stray, winning the Derby.

Favorite Racehorse Story

Which real life racehorse story do you like the best?

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6. Man O' War

Embalmed With Racing Colors

Here is the most famous, unprecedented horse ever in racing history, Man O’ War. When he passed away, in 1947, he was embalmed with his racing colors, so 2000 racing fans came to say “good-bye” to the greatest horse ever.

His stats are unbelievable and have never been matched. He had 20 wins in 21 races. Man O’ War set 8 records: 2 American records, 3 track records, and 3 world records. After he retired, he sired more winners than other racehorses. His lineage is surviving today.

7. Spectacular Bid

Impressive Stats

Spectacular Bid was given Horse of the Year on his last year of racing (1978 – 1980) and was a Triple Crown hopeful, only losing terribly at the Belmont Stakes.

His stats are impressive with 26 wins in 30 races. Spectacular Bid even has some track records his owners (Madelyn Jason and her mother, Mrs. William Gilmore) can be proud of.

8. Kelso

Long Career

Thought as one of 20th Century best racehorses, Kelso trails fourth place in rankings of the thoroughbred champions in the US.

He was clearly a contender with 39 wins out of 63 races. Kelso had a long career (1959 – 1966), competing in eight straight seasons. The fans loved watching him race because no matter how far back the racehorse was he'd cock his ears and came racing, passing all his competition. He was light on his feet and loved to win. When he retired, Kelso ranked all-time leading money-winner.

9. Citation

First Horse to Become a Millionaire

Citation (1947 – 1951) was one of the few American horses to win the Triple Crown. He took the eighth American win of the coveted spot.

Citation also made history as the first horse to become a millionaire. The successful racehorse was trained by Ben Jones and his son, Horace A. "Jimmy" Jones, boasting 16 straight wins in a row. In 1949, Citation had an injury but returned to racing in 1950, making his 16th race won in a row.

10. Seattle Slew


Taught Trainers and Owners

Seattle Slew raced in the 1970’s and was think of as a thoroughbred horse born for triumph. He lived up to the proclamation by winning the Triple Crown. He nabbed Horse of the Year in 1977 and placed a seven-furlong track record at Hialeah Park Race Track by taking a win by nine lengths.

Slew became a legend off the racetrack as well. He studded some famous winners like Landaluce, Surfside, Slew o' Gold, and Rags to Riches.

Slew was a big influence on the breeding and training horses while serving a critical inspiration to horse owners, trainers, and jockeys. He out lived so many veterinarian evaluations and predictions that Slew taught horse lovers a horse will leave this earth when the horse is willing.

Once Again Cheer

The next winning pony will turn our ears to the horse track, and we will once again cheer and hope for another Triple Crown winner. The winner will make horseracing history, and we will be reminded how much fun it is to watch a live horserace.

© 2015 Kenna McHugh


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