When it comes to horse racing, fans love a winner. Successful racehorses can have very lucrative careers, while capturing the public’s imagination. While the pursuit of a Triple Crown gets a lot of attention (at least until the Kentucky Derby winner loses), several horses throughout history stand out above the rest.
1. Seattle Slew
Born a diminutive colt no one expected much from, Seattle Slew became one of history’s greatest racehorses. Simply put, no racehorse will likely ever have a year as successful as Seattle Slew did in 1977. That year, he won the Triple Crown (the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Preakness). He also won his six other starts, going a perfect 9-0 for the year.
Not until 2018, when Justify won the Triple Crown and finished the year with a 6-0 record, was another horse able to go undefeated along with a Triple Crown victory.
The Great Depression hit the nation in 1929, which shattered the economy. Americans were desperate for an inspiring comeback story. Enter Seabiscuit. The horse lost 17 career races before winning his first in 1935. Once Seabiscuit got a regular rider, Johnny “Red” Pollard, he began to win much more. In 1937, the racehorse won seven consecutive races.
Seabiscuit’s career highlight was a one-on-one race with 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral. Despite missing his regular jockey due to a broken leg, Seabiscuit defeated his heavily favored opponent in one of the greatest upsets in sports history. The horse was eventually depicted in a 2003 film starring Tobey Maguire (as Pollard), Jeff Bridges, and Chris Cooper.
3. Man o’ War
Before Seabiscuit, there was Man o’ War, one of the most recognizable figures in sports of the 1920s. Man o’ War’s success came between 1919 and 1920 as he won 20 of 21 races. The racehorse’s only loss was at Saratoga, a track he usually dominated. In a bit of irony, the horse who beat him was named Upset.
Man o’ War was known for having a 28-foot stride, which is believed to be the longest of all time. His popularity helped grow the sport in general. In the same way Babe Ruth ushered baseball into a new era, Man o’ War changed horse racing forever.
Secretariat, or “Big Red” as he was affectionately known, may be the finest thoroughbred of all time. In 1973, the racehorse managed to win the first Triple Crown in 25 years. Secretariat’s jockey, Ron Turcotte, described what it was like to ride him, according to CNN:
I’d never been on a horse that could do what he could do. He had a great turn of foot whenever I asked him. From whatever position I was in during a race, I would just put my hand down and he’d lower and gallop and quicken.
Eddie Arcaro is one of the greatest jockeys of all time. He’s also the only jockey to ever win two Triple Crowns. So one can assume that when it comes to racehorses, Arcaro knows what he’s talking about. According to the jockey, the greatest horse he ever rode was Citation. In 1948, Citation won 19 of 20 races while accomplishing the Triple Crown — the last until Secretariat’s win in 1973.