There are some horses that are so famous, even those who know exactly nothing about horse racing have heard of them. Desert Orchid, Nijinsky, Red Rum, Arkle – all became celebrities in their own right and in each case, the world mourned their passing. Yet strangely, none of these household names make it into the top lists when you look at career success.
In many sports, it can become almost meaningless to try to define the greatest of all time. Pele or Ronaldo? Fangio or Schumacher? Bradman or Lara? It’s impossible to say. But horseracing is a sport steeped in statistics that has changed very little over the years. Here, then, we can say with some confidence, are the five most successful racehorses ever.
In 1973, this chestnut stallion became the first horse in a quarter of a century to win the Triple Crown. Justify repeated the feat last year, becoming only the 13th horse to do so in more than a century. But for Secretariat, that was just the beginning. By the time he went to stud, he had won an incredible 16 of his 21 races, coming second in three of the others. In his brief career, he generated more than $1.3 million in winnings, a sum that was unheard of in horse racing in the early 1970s.
From the USA of the 70s, we proceed to present day Australia. For the past three years, there has been only one word to describe Winx: Unbeatable. If you’d looked up the Unibet racing odds on any of the Group One races in Australia since 2016, you would have seen Winx head and shoulders ahead of the rest. Her record speaks for itself: 29 consecutive wins, 22 at Group One level is unprecedented, not just in Australia but in horse racing worldwide.
Man O’ War
Here’s the horse that is often compared to Secretariat by American racing fans. He single handedly put horse racing back on the map in the 1920s – in fact, many say he saved the sport from extinction. Born in 1917, there was no cosseting of special dietary regime for this stallion, who won all but one of his 21 races. Yet the one race he never won was the Kentucky Derby.
An unbeaten career record and career earnings just shy of £3 million. Has there ever been a horse like Frankel? When he retired unbeaten in 2012, the BBC’s horseracing guru Cornelius Lysaght argued in his favour over such legends as those mentioned above. Frankel’s wins included the 2000 Guineas, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, the Champion Stakes and the St James’s Palace Stakes, to name just a few.
Fans of horse racing on the big screen will know all about Phar Lap, but his real life was just as extraordinary as the movie. He was described as the horse that was just too good. With 37 wins out of 51 starts, he had only just begun, before his untimely death in 1932, the circumstances of which are still shrouded in mystery almost 90 years later.