The Most Famous Racehorses in History

Over the years, certain horses have earned the title of “Greats”, their names taking on almost mythical status over the years. Ahead of the Grand National, we look at just a few of these legendary racehorses:
Man o' War

Man o’ War

Born: 1917 Died: 1947
Man o’ War rescued American horseracing in the 1920s, despite competing for just two years. Following his death, he was voted the greatest thoroughbred of the first half of the 20th Century.
Following his brilliant 1919 debut, Man o’ War won three stakes races in 17 days, and when he retired 16 months later, he was a national hero.
Man o’ War won 20 of his 21 races – one by an incredible 100 lengths! He held 5 American records at various distances, earning a then-record $249 465.

Phar LapPhar Lap

Born: 1927 Died: 1932
The monstrous New Zealand-bred Phar Lap (“lightning” in Thai) raced mainly in Australia, winning 37 times in 51 races and setting 8 track records.
Phar Lap was a staggering 17.1 hands and his heart weighed 13.7 lbs, compared to the average weight of 9 lbs.
Phar Lap was invited to the $50 000 Agua Caliente Handicap in Mexico. Racing on dirt for the first time against some of America’s best horses, Phar Lap set a new record winning time.
Phar Lap died suddenly after becoming ill. A plot to kill him was suspected, but never proven.


Born: 1933 Died: 1947
Seabiscuit’s career mainly involved claiming races. At 4, Seabiscuit set records in four Handicaps, won three others and was named Champion Male Handicap Horse.
Seabiscuit beat War Admiral in the 1938 Pimlico Special and was named 1938 Horse of the Year.
Seabiscuit finished with career earnings of $437 730, winning 33 of his 89 starts.


Born: 1945 Died: 1970
Citation won 8 out of 9 races in his first year, and was named Champion Two Year Old.
Citation is ranked at Number 3 in the Top 100 US Thoroughbred Champions of the 20th Century.
He became the eighth American Triple Crown champion in 1949, and the first thoroughbred to win 16 major stakes races in a row.
By the end of his three year old season, Citation had 27 victories in 29 starts and earnings of $865 150. A 15-race winning streak won him Horse of the Year in 1950.
His 1951 Hollywood Gold Cup victory put Citation’s career earnings over $1 million.

Red Rum1977: Red Rum is led to the winners enclosure after winning the Grand National at Aintree racecourse in Liverpool, England.

Born: 1965 Died: 1995
Red Rum’s historic Grand Slam treble in 1973, 74 and 77 is considered one of the greatest British sporting moments of all time.
He suffered from a debilitating, incurable bone disease in his foot for most of his life, and is now buried at the winning post of the Aintree Racecourse.


Born: 1970 Died: 1989
Secretariat was a monster horse, with a heart that weighed almost 22 lbs!
In 1972, his first season, Secretariat claimed eight consecutive victories and was the first of only two 2-year-olds to ever be crowned Horse Of The Year.
In 1973 Secretariat won the Triple Crown, winning the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths in a new world record time. This record still stands, along with his record set at the Kentucky Derby.
Secretariat’s earned a then-record $1 316 808 and sired many outstanding racehorses. He was put down at 19 after suffering from a painful foot disease.

John HenryJohn Henry

Born: 1975 Died: October 2007
John Henry won the 1981 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park to secure his first Horse of the Year title at 6 years old.
In 1983, he became the first racehorse to surpass $4 million in career earnings and he was voted racehorse of the decade for the 1980s.
In his last race, the 1984 Ballantine Scotch Classic, John Henry claimed his 39th career victory and his second Horse of the Year title.
John Henry is ranked 23rd in the Top 100 US Thoroughbred Champions of the 20th Century. He won 39 times in 83 starts, earning $6 497 947.

Desert Orchid1988: S. Sherwood on Desert Orchid jumps a fence during the Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown Park racecourse in Esher, England.

Born: 1979 Died: November 2006
English racehorse Desert Orchid gained iconic status in National Hunt racing for his front-running attacking style, iron will and adaptability.
After being switched to steeplechasing, he won four races in a row at Sandown and Ascot.
In 1986 Desert Orchid won the King George VI Chase by 15 lengths from a number of star names, destroying the field with some of the most spectacular steeplechasing ever seen.
Desert Orchid’s record at right-handed tracks was substantially better than at left-handed tracks, as he tended to jump to his right, especially when tired.
Previously regarded as a two-miler, Desert Orchid’s effort to overhaul the mud-loving Yahoo in the 1987 Cheltenham Gold Cup – on a heavy, three-mile, left-handed track – was monumental, and the race was voted best horserace ever by Racing Post readers.
Desert Orchid won 34 of his 70 starts, earning £654 066 in prize money, and The Desert Orchid Chase is named in his memory. His last victory came in 1991 at 11 years old.
If you liked this article you might also enjoy these: