The 10 Greatest Race Horses of All Time

Brilliant, precocious, altogether the greatest horse of the 1990s (only Cigar can rival him). His lone loss, ironically to a horse named Upset, came during his 2-year-old season in the 1919 but hardly mars an otherwise dominating career.

Secretariat – 16 wins from 21 starts. Only denied a Triple Crown by a poorly judged ride in the Belmont Stakes by Ron Franklin. Great fillies like Personal Ensign and Ruffian did not make the list simply because I don’t think that on their best day they could beat any of the horses on this list on their best days (see also my article about Rachel Alexandra, about whom I would say the same.) Without further ado, the 10 Greatest Race Horses of All Time:

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Honorable Mentions: Sunday Silence, Easy Goer, Buckpasser, Ghostzapper, Count Fleet, War Admiral, Seabiscuit, Damascus, Cigar, Personal Ensign, Ruffian, Risen Star, John Henry, Swaps. Twice named champion sprinter, and once Horse of the Year, he was among the best from 7 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles.

Miesque – 14 wins from 18 starts. Champion two and three-year old. His heart and intelligence combined with speed and stamina to make him one of the all time great champions.

Affirmed – 22 wins from 29 starts.

Seattle Slew – 14 wins from 17 starts. Perhaps not as consistent as others on this list, but his durability and willingness to take on all comers more than compensates.

Native Dancer – 21 wins from 22 starts.

. There’s fast, faster, and Dr. He might rank higher on this list if not for an unaccountably disastrous performance as the 2-1 favorite in the 1994 Kentucky Derby. Crushed Affirmed in their two meetings a Belmont Park in the fall of 1978.

Spectacular Bid – 26 wins from 30 starts. Fager – 18 wins from 22 starts. His Triple Crown battles with Alydar will never by forgotten. The only gelding on the list, “Mighty” Kelso, as he was inevitably described, was named Horse of the Year an incredible five times from 1960-1964, a feat that will surely never be matched. Only a narrow loss to Dark Star after a rough trip in the 1953 Kentucky Derby blemishes an otherwise perfect career

Dr. 15 of her 16 starts came in Group 1 or Grade 1 races, but her crowning achievement is surely her back to back victories in the Breeders Cup Mile, both in utterly dominant style.

Holy Bull – 13 wins from 16 starts. Those who argue that many non-American horses deserve inclusion will get no argument from me. Beat Spectacular Bid in their only meeting, but was beaten handily by Seattle Slew in their two races.

Needless to say, this list represents one man’s subjective opinions as to the greatest of all time, and the horses represented here are only those who have raced on American soil. His Kentucky Derby win, which came despite being rushed to the lead by Jean Cruguet after an awkward start, may be the greatest ever. The greatest of the great, his triple crown campaign, during which he set official track records at Churchill Downs and Belmont Park, and an unofficial track record at Pimlico, will never be exceeded or even matched. Pity poor Sham, an outstanding racehorse in his own right, who was a game second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before being annihilated with all the rest in Secretariat’s incomparable Belmont Stakes win, during which he set a world record for 12 furlongs that still stands to this day.

Man o’ War – 20 wins from 21 starts. A threat to break the track record every time he stepped on the racetrack, his astonishing 1:57.4 in the 1980 Strub still stands as the record for 10 furlongs at Santa Anita

Kelso – 39 wins from 63 starts. I’ve tried to include the very best of the best without regard to gender or racing surface. The only filly, the only foreign-bred, and the only turf horse on this list, which says something about her greatness. Fager. Undefeated as a 2-year-old, Triple Crown winner at 3. Man o’ War was the first great race horse to really capture the public’s imagination and raise horse racing in the public consciousness

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