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Top Racehorses in History

Updated on December 9, 2017
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna has worked in the entertainment business for over 20 years, helping to promote special events with celebrities and fundraisers.

As our attention goes to horseracing and the hopes of the next Triple Crown winner like California Chrome or others that set our ear to the race track. In true American style (or world for that matter), we always love a winner. We have had our share of horseracing winners in history. Some as underdogs and some as sure winners, let’s take a look at the top race horses in history.


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 a race, too, which is unheard of in horse racing.


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 race horse. Secretariat career was very short, though. He only raced for sixteen months, but truly won notice of the world by becoming a Triple Crown champion in 1973, which is 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.

John Henry

John Henry was quite a character, too, finding him auctioned off more than once to new owners. John Henry had a very bad reputation for being ill tempered, weak knees and 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 does have a happy ending with 39 wins in 83 races, winning Horse of the Year twice while retiring as the unsurpassed highest earning thoroughbred.

Smarty Jones

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 and had both horses trained for racing. The trainer, John Servis, who worked with Smarty Jones, was a good friend of the departed trainer and his wife. He set a goal and did not stray, winning the Derby.

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Man O' War

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 sires more winners than ever with his lineage surviving still today.

Spectacular Bid

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.


Thought as one of 20th Century best racehorse, Kelso trails fourth place in rankings of the thoroughbred champions in 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. When he retired, Kelso ranked all-time leading money-winner.


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 has an injury but returned to racing in 1950, making his 16th race won in a row.

© 2015 Kenna McHugh


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