The best racehorses take on a legendary nature as they race on through time. We all recall those tense top-tens glued in front of the screen or at the course, as we wonder if they’ll make it. Never mind the horse’s partners – the top jockeys – who masterfully led their equine counterparts to make history.
But what defines the best racehorses of all time? We’ve narrowed it down to our top ten, those majestic beasts that had long-standing triumphs, consecutive victories, and memorable histories. Read on to find out more about these fantastic horses.
#1 Seabiscuit (23 May 1933 – 17 May 1947)
Breed: American Thoroughbred, male, foal of sire Hard Tack and the mare Swing On.
Seabiscuit won 33 of 89 races and was the top-money winning racehorse until 1942. In 1937, Seabiscuit truly came into his own, winning the San Juan Capistrano Hardcap, followed by six wins in a row. The year also saw an infamous financial competition between War Admiral, the leading three-year-old, and Seabiscuit, which saw Seabiscuit finish as the top earner of the year.
Seabiscuit’s total earnings were $437,730, making him one of the best racehorses ever for financial earnings in the early 40s. The horse was a source of inspiration to many during the Great Depression. Seabiscuit was smaller than average thoroughbreds at 15.2 hands high and gained a reputation as an underdog due to his stature, health, and initial poor performance during his formative years.
#2 Black Caviar (18 August 2006 – Present)
Breed: Australian Thoroughbred, female, foal of sire Bel Esprit and mare Helsinge
Black Caviar claims 25 undefeated races, winning her first two races as a two-year-old by six lengths at the Blue Sapphire Stakes. Earning over $2 million, Black Caviar was 2010 – 2013 WTRR World Champion Sprinter for four consecutive years, also winning the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in 2012, and breaking the Lightning Course record in 2013.
In 2013, Black Caviar retired for her breeding season, which has seen her breed seven foals to date. Four of them now race, with one in training with her previous trainer Peter Moody. Black Caviar made both the careers of trainer Peter Moody and Luke Nolen, who raced in all but one of her starts.
#3 Kincsem (17 May 1874 – 16 March 1887)
Breed: Hungarian Thoroughbred, foal of Cambuscan and mare Water Nymph
Kincsem is Hungarian for My Treasure and is renowned for the longest victory streak of a racehorse in history. 54 races undefeated, with the next best victor Black Caviar at 25. Kincsem was foaled in Hungary and is considered a Hungarian National Treasure. Kincsem toured Europe, winning the Grand Prix de Deauville, the English Goodwood Cup, and many others.
Kincsem only had five foals, with two going onto race and also producing further offspring. Modern descendants include Camelot and Polygamy. Kincsem earned 199,7540 florins, the equivalent of 2.56 million euros in 2020. Kincsem might just earn the title of the most consistent and best racehorses in the world.
#4 Man o’ War (29 March 1917 – 1 November 1947)
Breed: American Thoroughbred, foal of sire Fair Play and mare Mahubah
Man o’War was voted as the best American racehorse of the 20th Century by many magazines of the time, including ESPN. Winning 20 of 21 races, he earned the equivalent of $3,223,000 over his career. The New York Times even named the horse the athlete of the year in 1920. In 1920, Man o’War won multiple victories against horses of his age, despite a huge weight handicap in comparison to his contemporaries. He retired to stud in 1921, where he sired War Admiral, a contemporary of Seabiscuit. He proved to be a father to a prolific line of horses, with lineage in most American pedigrees today.
#5 Citation (11 April 1945 – 8 August 1970)
Breed: American Thoroughbred, foal of sire Bull Lea, and mare Hydroplane
Citation was the first horse to win $1 million, and was the eighth winner of the American Triple Crown. Citation was undefeated in 16 races in a row. In his first season as a two-year-old he won eight-starts and was named a champion two-year-old. Citation had nearly 20 wins by the end of his third year. Injury plagued his fourth year, but he entered into one final race aged six in order to claim the title of the first horse to earn over $ 1million.
#6 Frankel (11 February 2008 – present)
Breed: British Thoroughbred, foal of sire Galileo and mare Kind
Frankel was unbeaten over fourteen races and was ranked as the best racehorse in the world in 2011. He was winner of the Classic 2000 Guineas, the St. James Palace and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. Frankel was ranked as the best racehorse in the world by the World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings. He went on to become the leading sire in the UK and Ireland by 2021.
#7 Cigar (18 April 1990 – 7 October 2014)
Breed: American Thoroughbred, foal of sire Palace Music and foal Solar Stew
Cigar was a two-time winner of the horse of the year, winning 16 consecutive races and becoming the highest-earning horse in racing history. In his earlier seasons, Cigar did not win at high stakes, not hitting his stride until his fifth year, where he won the Pimlico Special, Breeders Cup, and even the coveted Dubai World Cup with a $4 million purse. The total earnings of Cigar were almost $10 million. He was infertile so not able to sire, so enjoyed retirement until 2014, when he passed away at age 24.
#8 Spectacular Bid (7 February 1976 – 6 June 2003)
Breed: American Thoroughbred, foal of sire Bold Bidder and mare Spectacular
Spectacular Bid was the winner of the 1979 Kentucky Derby and record holder for fastest 1¼ miles on dirt. He only lost four out of his 30 races, and won $2,700,000, a record at the time. He won the Marlboro cup and was later named the Horse of the Year. Spectacular Bid became a syndicated stud at $22 million, and in his lifetime sired over 250 winners, including almost 50 stakes winners that made a total of just under $20 million dollars.
#9 Affirmed (21 February 1975 – 12 January 2001)
Breed: American Thoroughbred, foal of sire Exclusive Narrative and mare Won’t Tell You
Affirmed was the eleventh winner of the American Triple Crown, winning fourteen Grade One stakes and being named champion in all three of his racing years. After Affirmed won the triple crown, he reigned as champion for over 36 years, until the next winner American Pharaoh took the title. He gained an infamous rivalry with Alydar, who he would meet in ten races over the course of his racing career. He earned almost $2.4 million.
#10 Secretariat (30 March 1970 – 4 October 1989)
Breed: American Thoroughbred, foal of sire Bold Rule and mare Somethingroyal
Secretariat was the ninth winner of the American Triple Crown and famous for maintaining the record in all three races. The Belmont Stakes victory was considered the greatest of all time, which he won by over 30 lengths. Winner of the Marlboro Cup, American Horse of the Year, and leading Broodmare sire in North America, Secretariat leaves a legacy of many modern racehorses, and sired over 600 foals total.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the best racehorses of all time. Their prolific skills are seen in many modern racehorses today, and we look forward to seeing which equine titans emerge in the next decade.