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Useful Notes / Horse Racing

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"It's Chock-full O' Drugs, followed closely by Stalker, with Old Levis fading fast!"
Commentator Trevor Denman, The Simpsons

In which men (mostly) wear multi-coloured outfits and see how fast they can ride equines. (Very fast, it turns out.) Historically, the three Grade I stakes races which comprise the Triple Crown of American Thoroughbred racing (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes) are the totality of public knowledge about the sport in the U.S. In the UK, substitute the three races which comprise the Triple Crown of British Thoroughbred racing (the 2,000 Guineas Stakes, the Epsom Derbynote , and the St. Leger Stakes) plus the Royal Ascot meet and Grand National steeplechase race.

A frequent complaint against American Thoroughbred racing is that accomplished horses are generally retired from racing early (usually after their third year) to breed with other horses that raced well, in hopes of creating even better racehorses. The reasons are complex but generally involve a bit of financial calculus, comparing the all-but-guaranteed profits to be had on a horse (especially a stallion) in the breeding shed versus the honor and glory to be gained (at risk) on the racetrack. The most famous US-based horses of recent days to continue racing into their fourth years are California Chrome (who was retired in January 2017 as a 6-year-old) and Arrogate (retired at the end of his four-year-old season). California Chrome's bankroll of over $14 million was the greatest ever earned by a North America-based horse before Arrogate rode 2017 wins in the world's two richest races to a new North American record of $17.4 million. Before this pair, the most notable US-based horses in recent years to race beyond three were two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan (justified in his case, being a gelding), Zenyatta (filly/mare tied for the longest streak of consecutive Grade I/Group 1 wins worldwide), and Curlin (whose money record "Chrome" broke).


Another critique is that American Thoroughbreds are excessively inbred. Several breeding lines are especially popular, particularly that of Northern Dancer, a Canadian champion who is the grandsire of the great Storm Cat, and Seattle Slew (the first horse to win the U.S. Triple Crown while undefeated), through his son A.P. Indy.

PETA hates this sport, claiming that the horses in question are too young to be competitively racing.

Thoroughbred racing is also popular in Australia, Great Britain (mainly England), Ireland, France, Japan and (increasingly) in Latin America and Dubai. English racing differs from American racing in several ways: the races are more likely to be on turf (grass); they tend to be longer, horses generally have longer racing careers, and fillies/mares are more often matched against males than they are in the U.S.


Other types of horse racing include the steeplechase (racing on a turf course with regularly-spaced jumps), Quarter Horse racing (very short sprints for horses who maintain their best speed at distances of a quarter of a mile), and harness racing (Standardbred horses trotting or pacing while attached to sulkies: light vehicles in which the driver rides, and arguably the modern form of the ancient sport of chariot racing). In the UK and Ireland, the term "steeplechase" refers exclusively to races run over large fixed obstacles; races that call for jumping over lower obstacles are called "hurdle" races, and both types are together called either "jump" or "National Hunt" racing.

General Notes on Horses

  • An entire (uncastrated) male horse 4 years of age and under is a colt, at least in North America; an entire male horse older than that is a stallion. An entire male horse used for breeding is commonly called a stud.
    • A castrated male horse of any age is called a gelding. A male horse with one or both testicles undescended is a ridgeling. Ridgelings are often gelded before they enter training but not always: the famous stallion A.P. Indy is a ridgeling, as is 2015 U.S. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Ridgelings can also be known as rigs.
  • In North America, a female horse under 5 years of age is a filly; an older female is a mare.
  • This system is apparently different from Australian classifications, where entire male horses of 3 years of age and under are colts, and female horses of 3 years of age or under are fillies.
  • Thoroughbred horses in the Northern Hemisphere have a universal birthdate of January 1 in the year they were foaled. In the Southern Hemisphere, the date is August 1. Most horses are actually born between mid-January and early June in the Northern Hemisphere, and mid-August to December in the Southern Hemisphere.
    • Thoroughbreds may begin racing in the late summer/early fall of their 2nd year.
  • The average Thoroughbred is 16 hands high at the withers. A "hand" is a standard unit of measure for a horse and equals four inches; the withers are the highest point of the shoulder, just before the mane. Thoroughbreds tend to be light-boned and heavily muscled, and some say this is the result of a breeding program which has favored speed over durability and consequently created a fragile horse.
  • Thoroughbred coat colors are bay (any shade of brown with a black mane and tail and black lower legs), dark bay/brown (very dark brown without much distinction of color between the main body and the darker points), chestnut (a range of shades from brown to red with no black at the points), and grey (a base body color that resembles black but shades increasingly to white as the horse ages). Black Thoroughbreds are uniformly black, though they tend to bleach faintly 'rusty' when exposed to sunlight. White Thoroughbreds exist but they are rare. More fancy colors (Palomino for example) exist but are both rare and less popular, since the assumption is that breeders are breeding for color and not speed.
    • Though grey Thoroughbreds are listed as "grey/roan," it is genetically impossible for a Thoroughbred to be roan.
  • The governing body for Thoroughbred registration in the United States is The Jockey Club; similar bodies operate in other countries. In order to be registered as a Thoroughbred, a horse's sire and dam must be registered Thoroughbreds.
    • All Thoroughbreds can trace their line to at least one of three foundation stallions: The Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Barb, and the Byerley Turk.
  • Thoroughbred bloodlines can be found in many of today's sport horse breeds, including the American Quarter Horse (the main breed used for Western riding) and Europe's warmbloods (used in show jumping, dressage, and eventing). Crossing Thoroughbreds with other breeds is also popular, to the point that Thoroughbred crosses may have their own name - for instance, a Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse cross is an Appendix Quarter Horse, and an Irish Draft/Thoroughbred cross is an Irish Sport Horse. Thoroughbred crosses are largely used in the English riding world, although Appendix horses have competed well in Western classes. In addition, many breed stud books allow registry of a horse if one parent is of the breed and one is a Thoroughbred, a testament to the impact Thoroughbreds have had on horse breeding.
  • And yes - to answer an obvious question that comes to the mind of most racing newbies - there are rules about what you can name a race horse. Incidentally in the UK some of the joke names given in various Alan Partridge sports reports on The Day Today have become almost as well known as real horses.
  • Among horse breeders, "brother", "sister", and "sibling" have somewhat different definitions than in the human frame of reference. These terms are only used when two horses have the same "dam", i.e. mother. Full siblings have the same sire (father) and dam; half-siblings are out of the same mare but from different sires. Horses with the same sire but from different mares are simply said to be "from the same sire", with no sibling relationship implied.note 
    • Two horses with different sires may be called "three-quarter" siblings if they are out of the same mare and their sires are father and son to each other.

General Notes on Types of Races

  • Racing surfaces may be groomed dirt, grass (turf), or an artificial mixture of sand, wax, fibers, and other materal called "synthetic" or "all-weather".
    • Synthetic surfaces run under various brand names (Pro-Ride, Tapeta, Polytrack, and others) and were originally designed to provide safer footing for horses. It is not yet known how effective they are.
  • Racing surfaces are exposed to the effects of the weather. A dry but resilient dirt surface is called "fast" — a damp track is "muddy" — a very wet track with standing water over the surface is "sloppy". If a course is packed tight or excessively dry, it is "hard".
    • Likewise on a turf course, the condition may be "firm", "soft", or "yielding".
    • Some horses run better over a softer course than a firmer one; muddy track conditions also expose horses to having mud or water splashed into their faces from horses in front, which can startle them and put them off their game. Horses which prefer a wet dirt track to a dry one are called "mudders" or (especially in Australia) "mudlarks".
  • Races are often grouped by age and sex. Races restricted to 2-year-olds are called "juvenile". Races restricted to females are "distaff". A race for three-year-olds of either sex is a "derby"; a race for three-year-old females is an "oaks".
    • Very few races are restricted to males compared to those restricted to females.
    • However, several countries (most notably Britain, France, Ireland, and Japan) restrict many of their highest-profile races for 2- and 3-year-olds to intact animals (in other words, geldings are banned). All three of the Triple Crown races in Britain and Japan are closed to geldings, as are two of the three traditional Triple Crown races in France and Ireland. On the other hand, if otherwise qualified to enter, geldings can run in any race open to intact males in the US, Canada, or Australia.
  • Races are also grouped by distance: A race shorter than a mile is a sprint. One and a quarter miles (the distance of the Kentucky Derby, among others) is a "classic distance", at least on dirt. On turf (grass), the classic distance extends to a mile and a half (the distance of several of the most famous turf races). Races longer than that are sometimes called marathons and are relatively rare in American Thoroughbred racing.
    • Races may be "flat" or over jumps.
  • Races are organized by the track secretary and are grouped into general categories
    • Maiden — Entry is restricted to horses which have never won a race; to "break his/her maiden" is racing-speak for a horse "winning his/her first race".
    • Allowance — Entry is restricted to horses which meet certain categories (i.e. never won two races, California-bred, etc.)
    • Stakes — Entry is relatively unrestricted but owners must put up a "stake" - a significant starting fee - for the horse to enter
    • Graded stakes - The highest level of competition. Stakes may be Grade I, II, or III (Group 1, 2, or 3 in English racing) with a corresponding increase in the amount 'staked' (and a corresponding increase in the prestige of winning or placing, as well as in the size of the purse).
  • Special subtypes of races also exist
    • Claiming - A horse entered in this race is ostensibly for sale, for an amount set in the race conditions. This equalizes the field, since an owner with an exceptionally good horse will not enter it against cheaper competition unless he or she genuinely wants the horse to change hands.
    • Restricted - This race is open only to certain horses, generally those bred in a state other than Kentucky. Differ from allowance races in that restricted races may also be stakes. Note that in the U.S. and Canada, restricted races (the most notable of which are the races that make up the Canadian Triple Crown) are ineligible for grading, regardless of their prestige.
    • Invitational - This race is open only to horses which have been invited to participate. Generally these are high-level stakes races.
    • Handicap - Each horse carries a varying amount of weight depending on age, gender, and past performance. Horses with a higher chance of success carry more weight.
    • Weight-for-age - Horses of various ages may enter this race. Older horses will carry higher weights than younger.
    • Match - a two-horse race, usually between celebrity horses to decide superiority (such as that between Seabiscuit and War Admiral). There have been no match races run between top-quality horses since 1975, when Ruffian suffered a fatal breakdown in a match race with Foolish Pleasure, which caused public sentiment to turn against match races.
  • As a general rule, female horses entered into races against males will carry less weight (about 10 pounds; in the US Triple Crown races, the allowance is 5 pounds).
  • The amount of weight carried by a Thoroughbred in a race ranges from 105-145 pounds. This includes the jockey, the saddle, and the jockey's equipment other than his/her helmet (which is typically well-padded and quite substantial). If the total is less than the horse's assigned weight, the horse will carry a special weighted blanket to make up the difference.

Important Races and Race Series

  • The Kentucky Derby (1 1/4 miles)- "The Run for the Roses" or "The Fastest Two Minutes In Sports" - Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky - the first Saturday in May (the one everyone has heard of). According to Louisville native Hunter S. Thompson, it is decadent and depraved.
  • The Preakness Stakes (1 3/16 miles) - Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore, Maryland – two weeks after the Derby
  • The Belmont Stakes (1 1/2 miles) - Belmont Park, Elmont, New York (Long Island, just outside New York City) – three weeks after the Preakness
    • These three races comprise the Triple Crown of American Thoroughbred racing. Only 13 horses have won all three — before American Pharoah swept the series in 2015 (just when people were starting to wonder if winning the Triple Crown was just something that didn't happen anymore), the last to do so was Affirmed in 1978.
  • The Kentucky Oaks (1 1/8 miles) - Churchill Downs - the day before the Derby. Restricted to 3-year-old fillies.
  • The Breeders' Cup World Championships - late October/early November - location rotates. A two-day event that serves as a de facto championship event for North American racing, and also drawing many top horses from other parts of the world (mainly those trained in Europe). All races with "Juvenile" in their titles are restricted to 2-year-olds; all others are for 3-year-olds and up. Unless restricted to females, all races are open to horses of both sexes, including geldings. All races are on dirt except the Breeders' Cup Mile and races with "Turf" in their titles. The 2018 edition saw a format change that will presumably continue in the future. The first day, billed as "Future Stars Friday", features all of the races for 2-year-olds, while the second is now billed as "Championship Saturday".
    • Future Stars Friday:
      • Breeders' Cup Juvenile (1 1/16 miles)
      • Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (1 mile)
      • Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (5 to 6 furlongs, depending on track facilities) – new for 2018
      • Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (1 1/16 miles) – females
      • Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (1 mile) – females
    • Championship Saturday:
      • Breeders' Cup Classic (1 1/4 miles)
      • Breeders' Cup Distaff (1 1/8 miles) – females. From 2008 to 2012, this race was known as the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. Despite losing its girly rename, it remained the highlight of "Filly Friday" until that day became dedicated to 2-year-olds, and is still the one most geared toward women, breast cancer awareness, and Pink Product Ploy.
      • Breeders' Cup Sprint (6 furlongs)
      • Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (5 furlongs or 6 1/2 furlongs, depending on track facilities)
      • Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (7 furlongs) – females
      • Breeders' Cup Mile (1 mile, turf)
      • Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (1 mile)
      • Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (1 1/4 miles or 1 3/8 miles, depending on track facilities) – females
      • Breeders' Cup Turf (1 1/2 miles)
    • Defunct Breeders' Cup races:
      • Breeders' Cup Marathon (1 1/2 miles, dirt, 2008–2013)
      • Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint (6 furlongs, dirt, 2011–2012)
  • Jockey Club Gold Cup
  • Travers Stakes
  • The Grand National (4 1/2 miles)- 6-year-olds and up, early April. This is a very famous British jump race, covering no less than 30 jumps, resulting in the unseating of riders left, right and centre and killing a total of 58 horses over the 162 races so far. This race is traditionally part of the London high society Season, and thus a likely setting for any work featuring British aristocrats or (before a certain era) politicians.
  • 2,000 Guineas Stakes (1 mile) – The first of Britain's classic flat races to be run each year, in late April or early May.
  • Epsom Derby (1 1/2 miles) - Britain's richest horse race. Held in early June in Surrey (often on the same day as the Belmont Stakes in the States). Also part of the Season.
  • St. Leger Stakes (about 1 7/8 miles) – The oldest of Britain's flat racing classics, the last one run each year (typically in September), and easily the longest.
    • The above three races make up the British (or English) Triple Crown. The last horse to sweep the three races was Nijinskynote  in 1970. The only horse in recent decades to even attempt a Triple Crown was Camelot in 2012, who finished second in the St. Leger after winning the 2,000 Guineas and Derby.
  • Irish Derby (1 1/2 miles) – Ireland's most famous race, held three weeks after the Epsom Derby and often featuring many horses that ran there.
  • Royal Ascot. Held in Berkshire. Also part of the Season—after all, the Monarch attends.
    • Perhaps best known for "Ladies' Day", a day in which ladies are pretty much required to wear a Nice Hat.
  • Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (2,400 m, about 1 1/2 miles) – France's most famous race and the richest turf race in Europe, held in early October in Paris.
  • Pegasus World Cup (1 1/8 miles) – Currently the world's richest race, held in January at Gulfstream Park in the Miami suburbs. It launched in 2017 with a purse of US$12 million, which was raised to $16 million for 2018. The January timing allows retiring horses to have one last race before heading to the breeding shed (the Northern Hemisphere breeding season starts in mid-February).
  • Dubai World Cup (2,000 m, about 1 1/4 miles) – The world's richest horse race until the Pegasus World Cup came along, it now ranks second with a $12 million purse.
  • Melbourne Cup - "The Race That Stops A Nation"
  • The Canadian Triple Crown composed of the Queen's Plate, The Prince of Wales Stakes and the Breeders' Stakes.
    • Each of the three races is contested at the same distance as its US counterpart (in the same order)—but unlike the US Triple Crown races, all held on dirt, the Canadian races are held on three separate surfaces (Queen's Plate, artificial; Prince of Wales Stakes, dirt; Breeders' Stakes, turf). Also unlike their US counterparts, these are "restricted" races open only to Canadian-breds. The first and last legs are held at the same venue, namely Woodbine in Toronto.
  • The Japanese Triple Crown consists of the following races, all held on turf. Each is roughly equivalent to one of the English Triple Crown races.
    • Satsuki Shō (2,000 m) – Also known as the Japanese 2,000 Guineas; held in April. Longer than its English counterpart.
    • Tokyo Yūshun (2,400 m) – Also known as the Japanese Derby; held in late May or early June.
    • Kikuka-shō (3,000 m, about 1 7/8 miles) – Also known as the Japanese St. Leger; held in October.
  • Japan Cup (2,400 m) – Probably the best-known Japanese race outside the country, it is one of the world's richest races. Held in November on turf in Tokyo.

Horse Racing Honors and Awards

  • The Eclipse Awards, given in late January, honor American horses which have excelled in particular categories. A horse which wins an Eclipse is a "champion".
    • The highest honor is the "Horse of the Year" award. It is generally awarded to males, but some notable females (All Along, Busher, Azeri, Lady's Secret, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and Havre de Grace) are on that rollnote . The incumbent Horse of the Year is Gun Runner.
    • Awards are also bestowed to breeders, owners, trainers, and journalists who have made exceptional contributions to the sport.
  • The European equivalents to the Eclipse Awards are the Cartier Awards. The Canadian equivalents are the Sovereign Awards.
  • The US has a Hall of Fame for accomplished trainers, owners, and jockeys. Most other racing countries have similar institutions.

Horse Racing Statistics

  • Highest earnings on the track: $19.0 million (Orfevre, a Japanese horse)
  • Longest winning streak since modern bookkeeping: 25 (Black Caviar, an Australian horse)
  • Number of horses to win the U.S. Triple Crown: 13 (Sir Barton, 1919; Gallant Fox, 1930; Omaha, 1935; War Admiral, 1937; Whirlaway, 1941; Count Fleet, 1943; Assault, 1946; Citation, 1948; Secretariatnote , 1973; Seattle Slew, 1977; Affirmed, 1978; American Pharoah, 2015; and Justify, 2018)
    • The concept of the U.S. "Triple Crown" was popularized in 1930, the year of Gallant Fox's sweep, but is known to have been used several years earlier.
  • Number of horses to win the English Triple Crown: 15 (West Australian, 1853; Gladiateur, 1865; Lord Lyon, 1866; Ormonde, 1886; Common, 1891; Isinglass, 1893; Galtee More, 1897; Flying Fox, 1899; Diamond Jubilee, 1900; Rock Sand, 1903; Pommern, 1915; Gay Crusader, 1917; Gainsborough, 1918; Bahram, 1935; and Nijinsky, 1970)
    • Some authorities do not count the three World War I-era horses due to the disruption of normal racing routine in Britain.
  • Number of horses to win the Canadian Triple Crown: 12 (Queensway, 1932; Archworth, 1939; Uttermost, 1945; Ace Marine, 1955; Canadian Champ, 1956; New Providence, 1959; Canebora, 1963; With Approval, 1989; Izvestia, 1990; Dance Smartly, 1991; Peteski, 1993; and Wando, 2003)
    • The Canadian Triple Crown was formally established in 1959, though all three legs had been run for decades prior to that. Unlike the situation in the U.S., the horses that swept the Canadian races before 1959 were not officially recognized as Triple Crown winners until 2014.
  • Number of horses to win the Japanese Triple Crown: 8 (St Lite, 1941; Shinzan, 1964; Mr. C.B., 1983; Symboli Rudolf, 1984; Narita Brian, 1994; Deep Impact, 2005; Orfevre, 2011; and Contrail, 2020)
  • Most Grade 1/Group 1 wins: 25 (Winx, an Australian mare)

Famous Horses

  • Eclipse: An undefeated 18th century British racing legend, Eclipse dominated every race he ever ran and is estimated to be an ancestor of nearly every living Thoroughbred. The Eclipse Awards are named in his honour, as is, of all things, the car known as the Mitsubishi Eclipse.
  • Red Rum: 3 times Grand National winner, buried at Aintree racecourse. A British polling firm found in 2007—more than 11 years after his death—that he was still the UK's best-known horse.
  • Shergar: Record length Epsom Derby winner (in 1981). Was famously horse-napped in 1983, possibly by the IRA and generally believed to have been killed. They Never Found the Body and "jokes" about him ending up as dog-meat kept comedy writers going for over a decade afterwards.
  • Phar Lap: Australian (or New Zealand) racehorse with an exceptional record; was said to have been poisoned when he went to compete in the USA.
  • Makybe Diva: 3-time Melbourne Cup winner, one of Australia's biggest local celebrities as a result. Her name is a combination of "Maureen, Kylie, Belinda, Diane, and Vanessa", five women employed by her owner, Tony Šantić. She retired as the biggest money-winner in history who wasn't based in Japan (A$14.5 million, or US$15.5 million using conversion rates during her career), though that distinction has since passed to Arrogate (see below).
  • Winx: 4-time Cox Plate winner, Winx holds the record for most Grade 1 victories (25), had one of the longest winning streaks (33 straight races) in modern bookkeeping, and was rated the best racehorse in the world in the Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings in 2018. In April 2015 Winx, then 3 years old, finished second in the Australian Oaks. From then until her retirement in April 2019, she never lost another race, beating several top-class horses and winning at distances between 1300 and 2200 meters. Notably among racehorses of her caliber, Winx does not have a particularly long stride (she averages at 6.76 meters, compared to Black Caviar's 8.42). Instead, she has a very high stride rate—on average, she can take 170 strides per minute, 30 more than the average racehorse—and she can accelerate in the last furlongs of a race when most horses are slowing down.
  • Man O' War: Considered by many (American) racing enthusiasts to be the greatest racehorse of all time, he ran twenty-one times over a two year period and only lost once...despite regularly carrying handicap weights that would cause PETA to go into epileptic seizures. For the record, although the horse that defeated him was named Upset, this is not where we get the term from; sports papers of the time made comments on how ironic the name was. He did not win the Kentucky Derby (and thus the Triple Crown, since he easily dominated the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes) simply because his owner felt that the first Saturday in May was too early in the year to run a 3 year old horse at considerable distance. In the one race he was allowed to go all out, his jockey looked back to see his opponent more than a quarter of a mile behind and reined him into a canter to cross the wire. He sired Triple Crown winner War Admiral and is the grandsire of Seabiscuit, and remains one of the most influential stallions in the history of the sport's pedigree (genetic lines).
  • Seabiscuit: Depression-era horse known for winning against long odds and the subject of a recent movie; a short and stocky, funny-looking horse with crooked legs that consistently outran "better-looking" horses carrying 30 lbs less. Famous for defeating Triple Crown winner War Admiral (his uncle, incidentally) in the biggest match race in history.
  • Secretariat: If you're American and don't think Man O' War is the greatest racehorse of all time, chances are it's because you think the title belongs to Secretariat. By stallion Bold Ruler, out of Somethingroyal, and winner of the 1973 Triple Crown, he crushed the records of all three races, but is best known for his thirty-one length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Most of his all-time world records still stand; in the Belmont, for instance, no other horse has come within one and a half seconds of equalling him. Coasting out from under the wire after winning the Belmont, he set a track record for the mile and five-eighths. As he was coasting out from under the wire. As in, he wasn't even trying. Won Eclipse Horse of the Year honors in both 1972 and 1973. Is the subject of a 2010 movie, starring Diane Lane as his owner Penny Chenery and John Malkovich as trainer Lucien Laurin.
  • Ruffian: Known as "Queen of the Fillies" and "Filly of the Century," Ruffian was leading at every point of call in every race she ever ran, going undefeated. She was voted Eclipse Two-year-old and (posthumously) Three-year-old Filly of the Year and also swept the Filly Triple Crownnote . Her match race in 1975 with that year's Derby winner Foolish Pleasure was heralded as the "Battle of the Sexes" and more than 50,000 people turned out to watch them face off at Belmont Park. Partway through the race, both sesamoid bones in her right foreleg snapped, and though her jockey desperately tried to pull her up, she kept on running, compounding the damage. Although surgery was attempted, she was subsequently euthanized. Despite her early passing, her impact on the racing world was tremendous; Bloodhorse ranked her the 35th greatest racehorse of all timenote , and Lucien Laurin once said of her, "As God is my witness, she may even be better than Secretariat." She was buried near a flagpole of Belmont Park, the site of her first and last races, with her nose pointing towards the finish line.
  • Charismatic: Was a relative unknown when he entered the Kentucky Derby, with his owner having dropped him to claiming races as a three-year-old. Went into the race at a longshot 31-1 odds and won, then went on to take the Preakness. Was considered a good contestant for the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown, now coming in at 2-1 odds as a favorite, but during the race faded, and came in third - but only due to the fact that his leg had snapped in two places. And still took third. A awesome moment goes to his jockey for jumping off and holding his leg up to avoid him damaging it further, which probably saved his life.
  • Zenyatta: A ''huge'' filly/marenote  who didn't start racing until late in her three-year old year, but more than made up for it by going unbeaten in her first nineteen starts, including victories in the Lady's Secret Stakes (which she won three times, and which has subsequently been renamed after her), the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (since reverted to its original name of Breeders' Cup Distaff) in 2008 and the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2009 (the first female to win the latter, also making her the first horse to win two different Breeders' Cup races). She had a habit of running at the back of the field until the home stretch, at which point she turns on the gas, going wide down the straightaway and flying past the rest of the field with ears pricked and tail streaming like a banner. She won 2009 Older Female Horse of the Year and returned for the track for the 2010 season. Her last race before retirement was the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic. She suffered her first and only defeat in a photo finish, losing by a head to Blame after rallying from last place. In a beautiful bit of irony, she won 2010 Horse of the Year honors over Blame - the only horse to defeat her on the track. Cool fact: Named after The Police's album Zenyattà Mondatta; she is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Jerry being co-founder of the band's label of A&M Records.
  • Barbaro: Won the 2006 Kentucky Derby by six lengths, and was the first serious Triple Crown contender since Funny Cide. Became a national sensation when he broke down out of the gate during the Preakness. Was eventually euthanized due to complications from laminitis, and mourned by much of the horse world. Buried at Churchill Downs with a statue marking his gravesite, but outside the gates—his owners didn't want his admirers to have to pay to see his grave. Given the number of visitors it gets, that's no small thing.
  • California Chrome: One of the more recent Triple Crown prospects, and briefly the biggest money-winner among US-based horses. Not incredibly exceptional as a racer (winning the 2014 Derby and Preakness by 1-3/4 and 1-1/2 lengths, respectively), he nevertheless attracted attention because of his peculiar story, which is so "little-guy-makes-it" Hollywood couldn't have written a better piece of Americana. His owners are, in their own description, "a couple of working stiffs" who put up $10,000 to buy a modestly pedigreed mare and pay a stud fee in the hopes of getting a decent horse; by pedigree alone, he shouldn't even have been in the Kentucky Derby. But there he was, winning the Kentucky Derby and then the Preakness, and then with a serious shot at being the first California-bred horse to with the Triple Crown... until the Belmont, when he couldn't find his top gear and finished fourth. It also helped that he has a kind of charm about him (he loves a particular kind of horse cookie and seems to like cameras). After the Preakness, went on a dry spell for much of the rest of the year, but came back to win the Grade I Hollywood Derby, giving him enough of a résumé to seal Horse of the Year honors. "Chrome" continued racing as a 4-year-old, but missed most of that year due to injury. He came back as a 5-year-old in 2016 and won the world's then-richest race, the Dubai World Cup, giving him the all-time money lead among American horses. Chrome then went unbeaten that season before being beaten by Arrogate in the Breeders' Cup Classic. It was originally planned to be his finale, but when the inaugural Pegasus World Cup was announced, Chrome's interests entered him for one last race. He finished injured and badly beaten, but (thankfully) the injury didn't threaten his breeding future.
  • Arrogate: Speaking of which, the horse that ran down Chrome in the Breeders' Cup Classic came out of nowhere into prominence in 2016. Unraced as a two-year-old, the gray colt first ran in a maiden race in April 2016, finishing third. He then won a longer maiden race in June, and soon won two allowance races. He was then entered in the Travers Stakes, a famous Grade I race, where he broke a track record that had stood since 1979. Arrogate's next race was the aforementioned Breeders' Cup Classic. While he finished behind Chrome for Horse of the Year honors, he claimed the consolation prize of the Eclipse Award for three-year-old males. In his next two outings, he scored wins in the world's two richest races, the Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup, putting him atop the all-time money list for North American horses. However, he wasn't Horse of the Year in 2017 either—after the Dubai win, he was well beaten in his final three races, all at the San Diego-area Del Mar track, while Gun Runner ended the season with four straight Grade I wins, including the Breeders' Cup Classic against Arrogate. After the Classic, Arrogate was retired with a North American record of $17.4 million in prize money. Tragically, he had to be euthanized in 2020 at the age of seven after a sudden illness that he was not recovering from, cutting his stud career short.
  • Rachel Alexandra: The other super-filly of the 21st century, Rachel Alexandra, undefeated since Calvin Borel began jockeying her, pulverised the competition at the Kentucky Oaks in 2009. Two weeks later she beat Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Preakness, and incidentally became the first filly in eighty-five years to win it. She's known for winning by margins so big her dust has settled by the time the rest of the field crosses the wire and for coming within milliseconds of equalling or beating many of today's standing track and race records, including those set by Secretariat. She's not called "super-filly" for nothing. Borel, her regular jockey and two-time Derby winner (Street Sense '07 and Mine That Bird '09), has repeatedly called her "the greatest horse I have ever ridden in my life." She won 2009 Eclipse Horse of the Year as well as Champion 3-Year-Old Filly. On her return to the track in 2010 she had limited success but was unable to duplicate her 2009 form and was retired.
  • Eight Belles: A dark grey filly, she was nominated for Eclipse Champion Three-Year-Old Filly until her fatal breakdown on the track. She was euthanized at Churchill Downs after fracturing both her fetlock joints in the 134th Kentucky Derby; she went down seconds after her second-place finish to that year's winner Big Brown. Her breakdown - and in particular its proximity to Barbaro's fatal breakdown in the Preakness just two years earlier - has raised new questions about the fragility of the top racing Thoroughbred lines. She's now buried at Churchill Downs, with her nose pointed towards the finish line.
  • Native Dancer: Nicknamed "The Grey Ghost," he won 21 of 22 races over three years in The '50s and is generally considered to be horse racing's first major television star. Not a Triple Crown winner because his only career loss came in the 1953 Kentucky Derby, where he only lost by a nose despite being bumped twice and generally having a terrible ride (it was said afterward that his jockey took him "everywhere on the track except the ladies' room"). He won Horse of the Year honors twice, and became the first horse to win that award as a two-year-old.
    • Today, many observers see Native Dancer as the main source of the aforementioned fragility in modern Thoroughbred racers. By one estimate, 75% of all US Thoroughbreds carry his bloodline. By itself that may raise eyebrows; to make it more troubling, two of the most prominent sires from his bloodline—Raise a Native (son) and Mr. Prospector (grandson)—were noted both for blazing speed and unsoundness.
  • Northern Dancer: A smallish Canada-bred bay out of a Native Dancer mare, he won 14 out of his 18 career races, including the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Queen's Plate in 1964. After an injury later that year, he was retired to stud, and became the most influential sire of the 20th century, producing nearly 150 stakes winners, with his first major success being his son Nijinsky (see immediately below). At one point in the 1980s, his stud fee was $1 million, a record to this day, with no guarantee of a love goal. His bloodlines continue to influence the breed today—of the horses specifically named in this listing (besides Nijinsky), he appears in the pedigrees of Makybe Diva, California Chrome, American Pharoah, Rachel Alexandra, Sadler's Wells, Danehill, Galileo, Charismatic, Zenyatta, Wise Dan, Black Caviar, Frankel, Arrogate, and Justify. Several of the more recent horses in this list (among them Justify) descend from him via multiple paths.
  • Nijinsky: A large Canada-bred bay from Northern Dancer's second crop of foals, he was trained in Ireland and won all five of his starts as a 2-year-old in 1969. The next year, he etched himself into racing history by becoming the first horse in 35 years, and the last to date, to win the British Triple Crown. During his Triple Crown run, he also won the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. He then lost his last two races and was retired to stud in the U.S. at the end of that season. Nijinsky was largely responsible for establishing the international reputation of his father at stud, and became a champion sire in his own right. (Note that in the U.S., he is generally called "Nijinsky II"; he was registered in that country with the "II" because an American Thoroughbred was already registered as "Nijinsky".)
  • Sadler's Wells: Another Northern Dancer son, the Kentucky-bred bay had a solid but not spectacular racing career in Ireland. He made his mark as a stallion, producing over 300 stakes winners and 80 Group 1/Grade 1 winners, and earning champion sire honors in Great Britain and Ireland 14 times, France three times, and North America once. Coolmore Stud, an Irish-based breeding operation that has since expanded into the U.S. and Australia, became an international powerhouse mainly on his success at stud.
  • Danehill: A grandson of Northern Dancer by Danzig (himself a leading sire), the Kentucky-bred bay had a racing career much like Sadler's Wells, though based in England and slightly more sprint-focused. He went on to sire more stakes winners (nearly 350) and Group 1/Grade I winners (nearly 90) than any other stallion in history. His most significant legacy is on the breeding business itself—Danehill was the first major "shuttle stallion", annually being shipped between Ireland and Australia to service mares on both sides of the equator. He led the sire charts in Australia nine times, Great Britain and Ireland three times, and France once.
  • Galileo: An Irish-bred bay by Sadler's Wells out of Arc de Triomphe winner Urban Sea, Galileo had an excellent racing career, winning the Epsom and Irish Derbies plus the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 2001. He became his father's successor as Coolmore's star stallion, producing over 50 individual Group 1/Grade I winners, and has been the leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland every year but one since 2008. His most notable product is the undefeated Frankel (see below). Currently has the world's highest stud fee.
  • Kelso: The most successful horse that the general public has probably never heard of, given that he never competed in any of the Triple Crown races. This dark bay gelding competed in 63 races over eight years, winning 39 of them, and was racing's all-time leading money winner at the time of his retirement in 1966. He is one of only four horses to win all three races of the New York Handicap Triple (the Metropolitan Handicap, Brooklyn Handicap, and Suburban Handicap), and still holds the world record for the fastest two-mile race on dirt. He won the Horse of the Year award a record five times from 1960-1964, and was recently rated as the fourth-greatest American racehorse of the 20th Century by Blood-Horse magazine.
  • Forego: A big bay gelding who was an afterthought in the 1973 US Triple Crown races—yes, the same year Secretariat was blowing the field away—he came into his own after "Big Red" was retired to stud, winning Horse of the Year honors the next three years (1974–1976). Won 34 of his 57 races, including 14 Grade I races, winning at distances from 7 furlongs to 2 miles, and frequently carrying over 130 pounds.
  • John Henry: An undersized, sometimes ill-tempered gelding of modest breeding and questionable conformation, he (like Kelso before him) didn't run in any of the Triple Crown races in his 3-year-old year (1978, the year that Affirmed won the last US Triple Crown for nearly 40 years). When he was shipped off to California and trainer Ron McAnally, he developed into one of the best "closers" (stretch runners) of recent decades. In 1981, he became the first (and so far only) horse ever to be unanimously selected as US Horse of the Year.note  Then, as a 9-year-old in 1984, he won Horse of the Year honors again. He ended his career with 39 wins out of 83 races, a North American record of 16 Grade I wins, and over $6.5 million in earnings. Also, soon after he was retired, he became the first resident of what would become the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, living there until his death in 2007.
  • Cigar: Another late bloomer who, in the mid-90s, became arguably the first horse to capture the imagination of the general American sporting public since (at least) John Henry. He didn't win a stakes race until the final race of his 4-year-old season in 1994—which started a streak of 16 straight wins against top-level competition, tying the American record of Citation (below)note . Cigar's record also included a win in the inaugural Dubai World Cup, which eventually became the world's richest horse race for many years. Horse of the Year in 1995 and 1996, he ended his career just shy of $10 million in earnings, an American record that eventually fell to Curlin. He proved to be infertile as a stallion, and lived at the aforementioned Hall of Champions until his death in 2014.
  • Wise Dan: Still another late bloomer who didn't run in a graded stakes until late in his 3-year-old season, the chestnut gelding emerged as one of America's top turf horses as a 4-year-old in 2011. He took it up a notch in 2012, setting several track records, winning multiple Grade I races (most notably the Breeders' Cup Mile), and finishing as Champion Male Turf Horse, Champion Older Male, and Horse of the year. He did more of the same in 2013, including a repeat in the Breeders' Cup Mile, and also became the first horse ever to win the same three Eclipse Awards in consecutive years.
  • Black Caviar, the sensational Australian mare who is the modern record-holder for an unbroken win streak, retiring with a record of 25: 25-0-0-0, probably the greatest modern race mare. Made more impressive by some of her wins coming after shipping literally halfway around the world to the U.K. twice.
  • Frankel, a British stallion who went unbeaten in his 14-race career from 2010 to 2012, including nine Group 1 wins in consecutive starts. The latter record is unsurpassed worldwide, and equaled only by Zenyatta and Irish hurdles horse Hurricane Fly. Equally notable for receiving the highest rating ever awarded by two separate rating organizations—the British publication Timeform (operating since 1948) and the World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings Committee (which began rating horses in 1977). He is a son of Galileo, and a grandson of both Sadler’s Wells and Danehill.
  • Citation: Some turf writers have made the argument that if you gauge by their entire racing career, the greatest Triple Crown winner was not Secretariat but this bay stallion, who won the Triple Crown at three, spent most of his four-year-old year recovering from an injury, and came back at five to win carrying weights up to 130 pounds and losing by a nose only when carrying 132 (giving more than ten pounds to the second-place horse).
  • Kincsem was arguably the greatest racehorse of the nineteenth century and inarguably the greatest race mare of her era, and still holds the record for the longest win streak: the Hungarian filly was undefeated in fifty-four starts, against males and females, in the days when races were often run in heats and could require running more than five miles in one day.
  • Despite game efforts by fillies like the above-mentioned Eight Belles, the Kentucky Derby has been won by only three fillies: Regret, in 1915; Genuine Risk in 1980 (considered a potential threat for the Triple Crown and some still argue fouled out of a victory in the Preakness, and with her second-place finish in that race and the Belmont the best-finishing filly in all three legs of the Crown); and Winning Colors in 1988, who took home the Roses in a wire-to-wire win.
  • Arkle is probably Ireland's most beloved racehorse. He won three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups in the mid-1960s, becoming the shortest priced favourite winner ever, won the Irish Derby with a handicap of 2 1/2 stones (15kg) more than his rivals, and is still overall the highest rated UK and Ireland steeplechase horse. Became known by the nickname "Himself", which says it all really.
  • American Pharoah won the American Triple Crown in 2015. The then 3-year-old ridgling, also notable for having only half of his tail (most likely bitten off by another horse when he was a yearling), became the first horse in 37 years to win that elusive prize, unclaimed since Affirmed in 1978. He lost his first start (finishing 5th in a Maiden Special Weight race), broke his maiden a month later in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity, and didn't lose until the Travers Stakes at the end of August. He then took a break until the Breeders' Cup Classic on Halloween, easily winning his final race (and making him the first Grand Slam winner in history). His time in the Belmont Stakes, 2:26.65, was the second-fastest Triple Crown Belmont in history, following only Secretariat's 2:24; his final quarter in 24.32 was actually faster than Secretariat's. His 5 1⁄2 victory margin is exceeded by only two Triple Crown winners (Count Fleet in 1943, who won by 25 lengths; and Secretariat again, who won by 31).
  • Justify is the most recent American Triple Crown winner, having done so in 2018. The chestnut colt, trained by American Pharoah's trainer Bob Baffert, had an unusual path to greatness, most notably not being raced as a two-year-old (he suffered an injury and was rested for that year). While he entered the Kentucky Derby unbeaten, he faced one of that race's deepest fields in living memory, and also faced the so-called "Curse of Apollo"—no horse unraced as a 2-year-old had won the Kentucky Derby since the aforementioned Apollo in 1882. On top of that, the field faced a horribly muddy track, with nearly 3 inches (7.5 cm) of rain falling on race day, a record for Louisville on Derby Day. It proved no problem for Justify... and neither did another muddy track in the Preakness. He then won the Belmont wire-to-wire, becoming only the second horse to win the US Triple Crown while unbeaten, the first being Seattle Slew in 1977. His connections were planning to run him two or three more times, with his finale to be in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but an ill-timed injury scuttled those plans, and he was retired to future breeding duty without racing again. This made him the first US Triple Crown winner who didn't race after winning the Belmont since Count Fleet in 1943 (who was also retired due to injury). Incidentally, he has no fewer than seventeen Triple Crown winners in his pedigree—Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Count Fleet, War Admiral, Gallant Fox, Omaha, (all US), New Providence (Canada), Perth (France), Lord Lyon, Gay Crusader, West Australian, Gainsborough, Isinglass, Rock Sand, Flying Fox, Ormond, and Nijinsky (all UK).


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