The best race horses are celebrities in their own right. They’re admired for their strength, speed, stamina and beauty. But which horses are the greatest of the great?
That’s what we’re here to find out! We’re going to gallop through a list of the 17 best race horses of all time. And we’ll find out more about what makes them head and shoulders above the rest.
So trot up to the starting gate – and let’s go!
Best Racing Horses of All Time
Born in 1990, the Thoroughbred Cigar achieved 19 wins from his 33 starts.
The beginning of his career was not particularly promising. He won only twice in his first twelve races, all on turf.
But when he was switched to races on dirt, everything changed. His unbroken run of 16 wins included the Breeders’ Cup Classic of 1995. And he won Horse of the Year in two consecutive years, 1995 and 1996.
At the time of his retirement, he had won more prize money than any other Throughbred race horse. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing.
He was unfortunately found to be infertile, so his stud duties were short lived. But that left him to enjoy a tranquil retirement in Kentucky, where he passed away at the age of 24.
Affirmed was born in 1975, and – unlike Cigar – his racing potential was evident early on. He claimed the crown of champion two-year-old after winning a battery of races.
By the time he was three, he had won the Triple Crown. There would be a wait of 37 years before any horse repeated that feat. (It was American Pharoah who swept the board on that occasion.)
He won Horse of the Year in 1977 and 1978. And he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame.
He had a famed rivalry with Alydar, another champion race horse. Affirmed beat his rival at seven of their ten meetings.
His stud record was impressive too, siring 80 stakes winners. Amongst his offspring were nine champions with career winnings of over $30 million.
He died in 2002 of laminitis and was buried wearing the colors of Harbor View Farm, his first owners.
Kelso was a gelding. Born in 1957, he won the prestigious honor of Horse of the Year on no fewer than five occasions.
He was best known for racing on dirt, where his speed and stamina brought him great success. But he was also a stellar performer on turf. The Washington DC International in 1964 saw him beat the best turf horses of the age.
His results saw him accumulate prize money of nearly $2 million. It was an achievement that wouldn’t be bettered until almost a decade after his retirement. After retiring from racing, he went on to become a hunter and show jumper.
He died aged 26, just one day after a public appearance in which he paraded with other former champions. He is buried in Maryland.
Frankel is a British Thoroughbred. He takes his name from the late American trainer, Bobby Frankel.
He was born in 2008 and retired from racing in 2012, unbeaten in his fourteen races. In 2011, he won the 2,000 Guineas by a margin of 6 lengths. He was the first horse to do since Tudor Minstrel in 1947.
This achievement earned him a rating of 147, the highest ever awarded a race horse by sports data analyst Timeform. And the World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings Committee rank him the greatest race horse of all time.
Following his retirement, he has been enjoying stud duties in Cambridgeshire, the county of his birth. To date, he has sired 20 champion horses.
Chorisbar holds the Guinness World record for the most race wins. The Thoroughbred was foaled in Puerto Rico in 1935.
He notched up an astonishing 197 wins from his 324 races in the decade from 1937 to 1947. And he was placed a further 86 times.
His record saw him win prize money of over $44,000.
6. Black Caviar
Black Caviar was foaled in 2008 and has an impressive 25-race unbeaten record. The Australian Thoroughbred was the WTRR World Champion Sprinter every year from 2010 to 2013. She holds the Australian record for the most group 1 wins by any horse.
She retired in April 2013 and was inducted into Australia’s racing Hall of Fame. There is a life sized bronze statue of her in the town of Nagambie in Victoria.
Since her retirement, Black Caviar has given birth to four foals. The oldest, sired by Exceed and Excel, is a bay filly named Oscietra. Oscietra recently had her second race, which she won after leading from the start.
Orfevre is a Thoroughbred from Japan. He was foaled in 2008 and retired from racing in 2013.
His career highlights included the Japanese Triple Crown. This he won in 2011, the same year he took the accolade of Japanese Horse of the Year.
He was renowned as a talented but temperamental horse. His final race was the Arima Kiren, which he won by an astonishing eight lengths. His official retirement ceremony saw him paraded in front of a crowd of 60,000 fans.
Since retiring, he has sired champions including Lucky Lilac, the winner of the 2017 Artemis Stakes.
The bay colt Citation was born in 1945. During his career, he raced 45 times, winning on 32 occasions. That included an incredible streak of 16 consecutive wins, a record at the time.
Amongst his credits were the American Triple Crown and Hollywood Gold Cup. The latter took his winnings to over $1 million, the first horse in history to break the seven figure mark.
He retired after the Gold Cup, and was put out to stud. His progeny included Silver Spoon, a member of the racing Hall of Fame, and Fabius, winner of the 1956 Preakness Stakes.
He died aged 25, and is buried at Calumet Farm, the home of his retirement years.
Arkle was a bay gelding named after a mountain in Scotland. The Irish Thoroughbred was born in 1957 and had an illustrious career.
His credits include winning three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups and the Irish Grand National. And he was awarded the highest ever Timeform rating for any steeplechaser.
Arkle was sadly injured in a race at Kempton Park, fracturing his pedal bone. He came second despite the injury, but spent four months in plaster and never raced again.
Some years after his retirement he became ill with brucellosis or advanced arthritis. He was put to sleep at just 13 years old.
Foaled in Kentucky in 2004, Curlin was named after Charles Curlin, a slave who had fought in the American Civil War. One of the horse’s original owners was Charles’s great grandson.
In 2007, after a slew of wins including the Preakness Stakes, Curlin was named Horse of the Year. The following year, Timeform called him the world’s best horse on dirt. And that same year, he became the biggest earning North American horse in history.
He was retired in 2009 and put to stud. That breeding season, he covered 131 mares. And his offspring include no fewer than 15 Grade 1 winners.
No list of race horses would be complete without the legendary Secretariat. Also known as Big Red, the American Thoroughbred was foaled in 1970.
He won the American Triple Crown in fine style, setting times for all three races that have never been equalled. He was an icon amongst race horses, winning Horse of the Year twice. He also won the Eclipse Awards for champion turf horse and champion three-year old.
He was retired in 1973 and put to stud. In his first breeding season, there were doubts about his fertility. But after siring a number of foals “unofficially” that year, he went on to sire another 663.
His male offspring never achieved the same success as their father. The females, however, were considerably more successful – both as racers and in breeding. By 1992, Secretariat was North America’s foremost broodmare sire.
Sadly, it was an honor he did not live to see. He had become ill with laminitis in 1989. After a month of unsuccessful treatment, he was put to sleep. His whole body is buried at his retirement home, Claiborne Farm.
13. Desert Orchid
Desert Orchid is perhaps one of the best loved English horses of all time. The grey horse was affectionately known as Dessie to his fans, who loved him for his attacking style and versatility.
He was born in 1979 and ran his first race in 1983. His career saw him win the Whitbread Gold Cup, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Irish Grand National.
He retired in 1991. Later that year he had surgery for a life-threatening case of colic. Happily, he recovered, and went on to raise thousands of pounds for charity with public appearances throughout his retirement.
He died peacefully at 27 years old. His ashes were scattered at Kempton Park racecourse, where a statue stands in his honor.
14. American Pharoah
The Thoroughbred American Pharoah was born in 2012. In 2015, he won both the Breeders’ Cup Classic and American Triple Crown. The feat made him the first ever horse to win Thoroughbred racing’s Grand Slam.
That same year saw him win the Eclipse Horse of the Year and Champion Three-Year-Old. Going out on a high, he was retired at the end of that year.
Since then, he has been on stud duties. In his first season, he sired more than 80 foals from 100 breeding sessions.
In 2022, American Pharoah was inducted into American racing’s Hall of Fame. A bronze statue of him being ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza stands in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Winx is an Australian Thoroughbred born in 2011. Now retired, she holds the record for Group 1 wins, having taken 25 at a range of distances.
She was named the best turf horse in the world in 2016 and 2027. And in 2018, she tied for the honor of best horse in the world. Her career earnings topped an eye watering 26 million Australian dollars. That’s over 18.5 million US dollars.
She was inducted into the Australian Hall of Fame whilst still training in 2017 – a rare honor. She also has two statues, has appeared on an Australian postage stamp, and has a stand at the Royal Randwick racecourse named after her.
16. Kauto Star
Kauto Star was born in 2000 and was a champion steeplechaser. Bred in France, he was bought by Clive Smith and moved to England for the 2004/05 racing season. His stellar career included wins in 2007 and 2009 at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and the Ascot Chase in 2008.
He suffered a fall in training early in 2012 and was retired later that year. By that time, his winnings were a record for the National Hunt – a little under £4 million, or about 7 million US dollars.
There was disagreement over how his retirement should be spent. His owner, Clive Smith, wanted to assess his suitability for dressage. His trainer, on the other hand, felt he should be left in peaceful retirement.
Three years later, Kauto Star suffered another fall in his paddock. This time, tragically, he suffered paralysis. He was euthanized a few days later at the age of just 15.
Ribot is considered by many equestrian experts to be one of the greatest race horses in history.
The bay Thoroughbred was born in 1952 and was undefeated in 16 races. He won in three different countries, on all kinds of track, in all conditions, and over all distances.
He was just as successful at stud, and sired champions including Prince Royal and Molvedo, both winners of Le Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. In Italy, the country of his birth, he was voted Horse of the Century.
He died in 1972 and is buried at Darby Dan in the USA, near two of his sons, His Majesty and Graustark.
The greatest of the great
That brings us to the end of our look at the 17 best race horses of all time! With so many illustrious names to consider, whittling it down to just 17 is a difficult task.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of successful – and beloved – horses. Which of these would make your list of the greatest of all time? Why not comment and tell us what you think!