The Top 10 Most Famous Racehorses Ever

Debate still rages as to which thoroughbred is the greatest racehorse of all time today. Those listed here are all in the conversation at least. Whether it’s because of winning streaks, historic feats, unbeaten careers or popularity that transcended the sport of kings, each horse has its own case.

American Pharoah - greatest racehorse
American Pharoah in the 2015 Belmont Stakes by Mike Lizzi (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Top 10 Greatest Racehorses of All Time

10. Yeats

The Ascot Gold Cup has produced its fair share of great Flat stayers on the turf. Sagaro, Le Moss, Ardross, Kayf Tara and latterly Stradivarius are all notable multiple winners, but none can match the record of Yeats with four wins in the Royal meet’s flagship race. The four-time European Champion Stayer was simply the best of his era.

Yeats’ historic quadruple at Royal Ascot from 2006 to 2009 is a rare feat, simply because horses aren’t kept in training that long on the Flat very often.

A prolific sire of jumpers since his retirement, the influence of Yeats on equine thoroughbred stamina is something that you can see in action across the pond today.

9. Winx

Few, if any, famous racehorses in Australia achieved more than Winx. A genuine modern era wonder-mare, she won a record four consecutive editions of the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley. Winx arguably distinguished herself even more at the Sydney racetracks of Royal Randwick and Rosehill Gardens in mile races.

The latter, a scene of some of her greatest triumphs, is set to close but Winx’s legacy is not in doubt. Her 25 Group / Grade I wins is a world record that every thoroughbred following her has it all to do to better.

Given that massive haul of top-level wins, it’s no surprise that Winx was a four-time Australian Horse of the Year and went into their Hall of Fame whilst still racing.

8. Kincsem

A 54-0 unbeaten career taking in races across present day Austria, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Hungary, and Slovakia earns Victorian era mare Kincsem a spot on our list of famous racehorses.

At the height of her fame in 1878, she won the Goodwood Cup, Grand Prix de Deauville and Grosser Preis von Baden in the space of just one month. Such is her enduring legacy that the Kincsem Handicap is still run during the Glorious Goodwood meet today.

As a broodmare, Kincsem had an impact off the track too with her descendants including Camelot, who came so close to a British Triple Crown in 2012.

Many famous racehorses have races honoring them, but Kincsem Park racetrack in Budapest carries the name of this Eastern European equine legend, complete with life-sized statue of her.

kincsem
Image: Kincsem Park

7. American Pharoah

There are other US Triple Crown winners higher up our list, but only one racehorse in the modern era has completed the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred Racing. That is American Pharoah, who added Breeders’ Cup Classic glory to Arkansas Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, and Haskell Invitational wins at Grade I level in 2015.

Bob Baffert became the first trainer to have a Triple Crown winner for 37 years with this horse. American Pharoah clocked the second fastest time for the Belmont in history. He then had legendary battles with Keen Ice at Monmouth Park and in the Travers Stakes, before proving he was the horse of his generation with a track record victory at Keeneland during the World Championships.

6. Black Caviar

Australia’s other contender for the greatest racehorse of all time, Black Caviar was a sprint sensation. With an unbeaten career over four years on the track and 25 races from 2009 to 2013, where she has an edge over Winx is she traveled overseas. Black Caviar came to Royal Ascot for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in 2012 and went back Down Under with a famous win.

After a trifecta of Lightning Stakes victories at Flemington Racecourse, the Victoria Racing Club honored her by renaming the race the Black Caviar Lightning. A four-time World Champion Sprinter and three-time Australian Racehorse of the Year, she was simply the fastest horse on turf on the planet in the early 2010s.

5. Seattle Slew

The second Triple Crown winner on our list, Seattle Slew helped horse racing fans in the US become gripped by “Slewmania” in 1977.

No other thoroughbred in history to that point had won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont without suffering defeat on the track beforehand. Seattle Slew’s descendant Justify emulated this incredible feat in 2018.

A Champion 2-Year-Old and 3 Year-Old Colt, then Champion Older Male Horse in consecutive years, Seattle Slew made a comeback from illness in 1978 and added two more Grade I races to his resume. It was a feel-good moment for the sport and, although he didn’t end his career unbeaten, he won the hearts and minds of Americans.

Seattle Slew
Image: Pawneese/Wikipedia

4. Red Rum

If the Grand National is the world’s most famous steeplechase, then the horse most synonymous with it had to be on our list of the most famous racehorses. Red Rum is the only thoroughbred to win the Aintree showpiece three times. Not only that, but he completed 100 races without falling once.

Trained on the beaches of Southport near the Liverpool racetrack in England, Red Rum triumphed in the Grand National in 1973 and 1974. After backing up, he finished second in 1975 and 1976. Red Rum wasn’t done, though, and regained his crown in 1977. He was still the best known racehorse in the UK more than a decade after his death.

3. Man o’ War

While he didn’t get the chance to win the Triple Crown, Man o’ War is widely credited with reviving thoroughbred horse racing in the USA during the interwar years.

Beaten once as a 2-year-old, he never suffered another defeat in 21 career runs. Man o’ War went straight to the Preakness in 1920 with no prep race and having never contested an event beyond six furlongs.

That was a gutsy move to say the least. Man o’ War ran again 11 days later in the Withers Stakes, then destroyed his rivals in the Belmont. After summer wins at other New York tracks Jamaica, Aqueduct and Saratoga, he returned to Belmont in the fall and won a Grade I match there by over 100 lengths, more than a quarter-mile!

2. Frankel

Famous horses from England in recent times have to include the mighty Frankel, who won almost £3 million in prize money. Unbeaten in 14 career races between 2010 and 2012, his story is even more special as legendary trainer Sir Henry Cecil was battling cancer. The 10 Group 1 victories posted by Frankel made his handler’s final years memorable.

Other than the Eclipse, he won every top mile and 10-furlong race worth winning in the UK. Frankel was European Champion 2-Year-Old and 3-Year-Old Colt, then Champion Older Horse and a two-time European Horse of the Year.

His influence on thoroughbred breeding is really being felt now with stud fees rising to £350,000 after he was named 2021 World Sire of the Year.

1. Secretariat

The top spot couldn’t be any other horse than “Big Red” really.

Secretariat took the 1973 Triple Crown by storm, sending records tumbling as he ended a 25-year wait for a thoroughbred to achieve this feat in the US. The times he posted in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes still stand as the fastest ever to this day.

Secretariat is a member of both the US and Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame as, after the Triple Crown triumph and other Grade I successes, he bowed out in the Canadian International. Earning wide acclaim as the perfect racehorse anatomically, his legacy endures despite the fact he wasn’t unbeaten on the track.

The Last Word on Famous Horses

Many of the equine greats discussed above went on to become stallions and broodmares. Their descendants are competing on the track today. This is why checking a thoroughbred’s pedigree before you wager on horse racing betting sites is a smart play.

If you know a racehorse can trace its lineage back to a champion, and whether the bloodline of the sire (dad) and dam (mom) brings speed and/or stamina to the table then, that’s good to know. It’s part of learning how to bet on horse racing successfully, that’s for sure.

While being a champion on the track is no guarantee of success at stud, the legends showcased here each transcended racing in their own way. When you bet on the best offshore sportsbooks and racebooks, you might spot the Secretariat Stakes, Man o’ War Stakes or American Pharoah Stakes among upcoming events. The sport remembers and honors its greats, and so do we!

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Jamie Clark

Jamie Clark is a horse racing handicapper and expert. Around horses from birth, he became a Sports Journalist in 2010 covering the London Olympics in 2012 and soccer throughout Europe before making Sports Editor of current Entain Group betting brand Coral in 2014. After three years with them, he went freelance and returned to his first love. He now covers horse racing on a global scale, highlighting the best handicapped thoroughbreds worldwide, including on Techopedia.