Who are the most famous horses in history? And what makes them great? The answers to these questions are highly subjective and debatable, but we will narrow down our list to those with unbeatable streaks and large purses. In this article, we will uncover the top 21 historic horses who made outstanding achievements and massive earnings – making them notable and legendary.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the list of the most famous horses who gained prominence through horse racing and Hollywood appearances.
Secretariat is an American thoroughbred born in 1970 that is undeniably one of the most famous and most magnificent horses of all-time. He was the first horse to win Triple Crown in 25 years. In 1973, he created a record-breaking victory by completing 31 lengths clear of the Belmont Stakes – one of the greatest races in history. Secretariat set a new course record by accelerating each quarter-mile and crossing the finish line at 1:59 2/5 in the Kentucky Derby. He was acknowledged as the “Horse of the Year” twice and the first two-year-old who received the same award via a unanimous vote in the Eclipse Award. He was also a media superstar featured on Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated and named one of ESPN’s 100 Greatest Athletes of the Twentieth Century.
Foaled: March 30, 1970, Caroline County, Virginia, US
Owner: Meadow Stable
Trainer: Lucien Laurin
Earnings: $1.3 million
Record: 21: 16-3-1
Kincsem is a Hungarian thoroughbred who won 54 races and set the record as the most successful horse of all-time. She is a national icon in Hungary who raced against male and female horses across Europe for four seasons. In 1877, she gained several significant wins that include the following:
- Hungarian Two Thousand Guineas
- Hungarian One Thousand Guineas
- Hungarian Oaks, Hungarian St Leger
- Austrian Derby
- Grosser Preis von Hanover
Foaled: March 17, 1874, Kisber, Hungary
Owner: Erno Blaskovich
Trainer: Robert Hesp
Earnings: 199,705 fl
Record: 54: 54-0-0
Citation is an American thoroughbred who won 19 out of 20 races while accomplishing the Triple crown (the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes). He was also the first horse to win 1 million dollars. In four seasons from 1947-1948 and 1950-1951, he had 32 wins out of 45 races, finished second in ten, and placed thirds in two. Eddie Arcaro, a two-Triple Crown winner and one of the greatest jockeys of all time, said that Citation was the greatest horse he ever rode.
Owner: Calumet Farm
Trainer: Ben Jones and Jimmy Jones
4. Seattle Slew
Despite being a tiny colt when foaled, Seattle Slew became one of the greatest racehorses. In 1977, he set the record for winning the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Preakness Stakes) and six other starts, garnering a perfect 9-0 for that year.
Foaled: February 15, 1974, Lexington, Kentucky, US
Trainer: William H. Turner Jr. and Douglas R. Peterson
Earnings: $1.21 million
Record: 17: 14–2–0
5. Man O’ War
Man O’ War, also affectionately named Big Red, is a legendary American thoroughbred who earned success by winning three stake races in seven days and a total of 20 out of 21 races he ran. His only defeat was in Sanford Memorial Stakes, where he was not given a chance to reposition before the race started, but he still managed to finish second to a horse named Upset. In 1920, he was named “Most Outstanding Athlete of the Year” by the New York Times. He has produced over 64 stakes winner and 200 champions, which include legends such as War Admiral, Secretariat, Seabiscuit, Hard Tack, Battleship, and more successful progeny – making his bloodline one of the greatest.
Foaled: March 29, 1917, Nursery Stud, Lexington, Kentucky, US.
Owner: Samuel D. Riddle
Trainer: Louis Feustel
Record: 21: 20-1-0
Arkle is an Irish thoroughbred who had significant successes in steeplechasing. He is a three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in 1964, 1965, 1966, and he proved victorious in King George VI Chase in 1965 and the Irish Grand National in 1964.
Foaled: April 19, 1957, Ballymacoll Stud, Naul, Dublin, Ireland
Owner: Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster
Trainer: Tom Dreaper
Record: 35: 27-2-3
Frankel, the “Unbeatable Wonder Horse,” had a perfect racetrack record. He competed for 14 races from 2010 to 2012 and won every single race. His wins at the St. James’s Palace Stakes in 2011 and Queen Anne Stakes the following year made him synonymous with a Royal Ascot and an undefeated European champion. He was dubbed as Usain Bolt’s equine version and an iconic British racehorse.
Foaled: February 11, 2008, Banstead Manor Stud, Cheveley, Suffolk, UK.
Owner: Khalid Abdullah
Trainer: Sir Henry Cecil
Earnings: £3 million
Record: 14: 14-0-0
8. Best Mate
Best Mate is an Irish-bred steeplechaser with handsome looks and a three-time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2002, 2003, and 2004. In 2002, he won King George VI Chase. This gelding is associated with National Hunt’s great double act, which includes Henrietta Knight and her late husband, Terry Biddlecombe. Best Mate is a revered steeplechaser whose ashes were buried near the finishing post after his tragic death.
Foaled: January 28, 1995, Freffans Little, Moyfern, County Meath, Leinster, Ireland
Owner: Jim Lewis
Trainer: Henrietta Knight
Earnings: £1.02 million
Record: 22: 14-7-0
Seabiscuit was an epitome of hope and aspiration during the Great Depression. Despite being the grandson of Man O’ War, he was criticized in his early years for being lazy by his trainer Sunny Jim, and he never won any of his first 17 races. But it all changed in 1936 when he had a new trainer Tom Smith and a new jockey Red Pollard. His form sky-rocketed between 1937 and 1938. And he won 11 out of 15 races even if Pollard had lost an eye in a training accident. He became more popular when he and War Admiral faced off in the “Match of the Century” in 1939, where he became victorious. His incredible story inspired several books and films, including the Academy Award-nominated movie “Seabiscuit” in 2003, which narrates his life.
Foaled: May 23, 1933, Lexington, Kentucky, US.
Owner: Charles Howard
Trainer: “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons and Tom Smith
Record: 89: 33-15-1
10. Black Caviar
Regarded as the best sprinter racer, Black Caviar managed to gain victory in 25 races without any defeat. Her significant wins include the Newmarket Handicap in 2011, Diamond Jubilee Stake in 2012, and the Lightning Stakes in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
Foaled: August 18, 2006, Gilgai Farm, Nagambie, Victoria, Australia
Owner: G.J. Wilkie, K.J. Wilkie, C.H. Madden, J. Madden, et al
Trainer: Peter Moody
Earnings: $8 million
Record: 25: 25-0-0
11. Red Rum
‘Rummy’ is a three-time Grand National winner, first in 1973, 1974 and 1977 as runner-up in 1975 and 1976. Another major victory was in the Scottish National in 1974. He appeared on the broadcast for BBC Sports Personality of the Year, which is a public survey that acknowledged him as the best-known horse in 2007 for garnering an average of 45%. Thus, he’s ahead and way more popular than Black Beauty(33%) and Shelgar(23%) at that time.
Foaled: May 3, 1965, Kells, County Kilkenny, Ireland
Owner: Noel le Mare
Trainer: Ginger McCain
Record: 100: 24-15-23
12. Phar Lap
Phar Lap is a New-Zealand bred and Australian-trained racehorse whose name means “lightning” in Thai. He’s a big horse measuring 17.1 hands high while his heart weighs 13.7 pounds, a significant difference from an average horse’s heart weight, which is 9 pounds. During Phar Lap’s four-year career, he primarily raced in Australia, where he became a National Icon and garnered victories in the 1929 AJC Derby and Victoria Derby and the Melbourne Cup in 1930. He won 37 out of 51 races in his career and set eight track records before suddenly becoming ill and dying in 1932. His death at only six years old has been mysterious. Some speculated that someone poisoned him, and 70 years later, a forensic investigation was conducted to prove that Phar Lap did ingest a large arsenic dose before his death. However, they never found proof to support the claim.
Foaled: October 4, 1926, Seadown, Timaru, New Zealand
Owner: David Davis and Harry Telford
Trainer: Harry Telford
Record: 51: 37-3-2
Affirmed is the first thoroughbred from North America who amassed over a staggering 2 million dollars during the span of his career. In 1978, he shone the most when he earned the Triple Crown and won against Seattle Slew at the Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap. It was the first time in racehorse history that two Triple Crown champions competed against each other, and Affirmed proved triumphant against Seattle Slew.
Foaled: 1975, United States
Owner: Harbor View Farm
Trainer: Laz Barrera
Record: 29: 22-5-1
Barbaro had an impressive record for garnering top honors at Florida Derby, Tropical Park Derby, and Holy Bull Stakes and being undefeated at the Kentucky Derby in 2006. His fantastic 6-1/2-length margin of victory at the said event has been the largest in the record for about 50 years. Many fans believed that he could win a Triple Crown. But sadly, he was forced to stop his racing career when he fractured in his right hind leg during the Preakness Stakes. He underwent multiple surgeries to heal the injury, yet he later developed laminitis in his front legs. He died in 2007, leaving his fans in grief. But his owners established an equine health fund to honor him.
Foaled: April 29, 2003, West Grove, Pennsylvania, US.
Owner: Roy and Gretchen Jackson
Trainer: Michael R. Matz
Record: 7:6-0-0 (1 DNF)
15. Smarty Jones
Smarty Jones, born in 2001, came from an impressive bloodline. His roots trace back to the legendary Secretariat and Man O’ War. He is a third-generation descendant of Mr. Propsector and many other Triple Crown hopefuls like Funny Cide, Fusaichi Pegasus, and Afleet Alex. No wonder he won the top honors at Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2004. It runs on in his blood. His wins and his Sports Illustrated cover had made the nation anticipate and go frenzy for him, thinking that he can undoubtedly attain a Triple Crown. However, he failed to win against the 36-1 long shot Birdstone and placed second. Nevertheless, he’s still a fantastic horse worth remembering.
Owner: Roy and Patricia Chapman
Trainer: John Servis
Record: 9: 8-1-0
16. War Admiral
Like his legendary sire Man O’ War, he is a successful racehorse who became the fourth winner of American Triple Crown that includes the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. His dramatic race against Seabiscuit in 1938 captured the attention of Americans during the Great Depression. Although he failed to claim the victory against Seabiscuit, his records prove that he is worthy of being inducted to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
Foaled: May 2, 1934, in Lexington, Kentucky
Owner: Glen Riddle Farm
Trainer: George Conway
Record: 26: 21-3-1
Cigar is an American thoroughbred who had no unique form. Still, Cigar rose to prominence when he became the first racehorse to compete against other top-class horses and win 16 consecutive races. He retired as the leading money-maker in the Thoroughbred history and was later inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
Foaled: April 18, 1990, Bel Air, Maryland, USA
Owner: Madeleine A. Paulson, Allen E. Paulson
Trainer: Alex Hassinger Jr. & William I. Mott
Record: 33: 19-4-5
18. American Pharoah
American Pharoah is the great-great-great-grandson of Secretariat who became the 12th Triple Crown winner and won the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing with four victories. He also netted the Eclipse Award for the “Horse of the Year” in 2015 and proved triumphant in his two other races; the FrontRunner Stakes and Grade I Del Mar Futurity.
Foaled: February 2, 2012
Owner: Ahmed Zayat
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Record: 11: 9-1-0
Arrogate is the winner of 2016 Travers Stakes, and he was tagged as the World’s Best Racehorse in 2016. He also won the Pegasus World Cup in 2017 and Dubai World Cup but failed to keep the momentum and suffered three defeats when he returned to the US. Despite having only four stake victories, he became the most lucrative horse in North America due to large purses for his wins.
Foaled: April 11, 2013
Owner: Juddmonte Farms, Inc.
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Record: 11: 7-1-1
20. California Chrome
This chestnut-colored horse gained his name for his dazzling white markings and captured the hearts of many aficionados. He’s been one of the top-earning Thoroughbreds known for winning the 2014 Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Dubai World Cup in 2016. He also held two “Horse of the year” titles from Eclipse awards and a total of 16 lifetime wins.
Foaled: Feb. 18, 2011, Coalinga, California, USA
Owner: California Chrome LLC
Trainer: Art Sherman, Allan Sherman
Record: 27: 16-4-1
This wonder-mare gained victory in the highest-level races with a world record of 25 Grade/Group 1 successes. Her four consecutive triumphs in the Cox Plate at Moon Valley earned him the title “Australian Horse of the Year” from 2015-2016 and 2018-2019. Winx was also a Hall of Famer and a Champion Middle Distance Racehorse.
Record: 43: 37-3-0
So those are the best horse royalties ever recorded in horse racing history. Who are your top favorites? Share it with us in the comment section below.
Trigger was a superstar in the late 1930s to 1950s and was recognized as the smartest horse in the movies. Trigger, who can perform at least 150 trick cues and walk on his back legs, had a unique and brilliant career with his owner, Roy Rogers, the King of Cowboys. He gained popularity through appearing in movies in Hollywood. His first appearance was in the film “The Adventures of Robin Hood” in 1938, and in the same year, he starred in the movie “Under Western Stars” with Rogers. It was Roy Roger’s first leading role in a film. Rogers and Trigger’s movie became successful despite critics, and their popularity soared to superstardom. He appeared in all 88 Roy Roger movies and 100 episodes in The Roy Rogers Show on NBC from 1951 to 1957. Trigger captured the heart of audiences with his beauty and brains in action and thrilling movies. He retired from show business in 1957 and died peacefully in 1965.
Foaled: Either 1932 or 1934, San Diego, California
Owner: Roy Rogers
23. Black Beauty
Unlike the other horses in the list, Black Beauty is an iconic story of a horse published in 1877. This book, written by Anna Sewell when she was 51 years old, became one of the best-selling books of all time, with over 50 million copies sold in over 50 languages. Many people believed Black Beauty was based on a real horse that Sewell had when she was growing up named Bess. It narrates the cruelty Black Beauty has suffered from a horse’s point of view, and it made a significant impact on how people treat horses and other animals. This classic children story also inspired many films of the same name.
24. Sergeant Reckless
As her name suggests, Reckless achieved a military rank of sergeant due to her brave acts and service. She used to be a packhorse during the Korean war, which was later recognized and honored for her faithful service. During battles, she delivered supplies and evacuated wounded soldiers from battlefields, and she also became wounded twice while doing her duty. That helped her earn a Good Conduct Medal and two Purple Hearts.
25. Beautiful Jim Key
Jim Key was a famous performing horse owned and trained by the self-taught veterinarian William Key. Jim Key was born weak and sickly, and he never stepped foot on a racetrack. But he noticed that Jim is intelligent and has potential, so he taught him different tricks and trained him to learn an alphabet, spell words, and count. Jim was also schooled in politics, fundamental math problems, comedy, and Bible passages, and learned how to dial a telephone and tell time. They performed comedy acts in local fairs and received big-time attention, and later amazed the crowd, including President Bill Mckinley in the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Since then, Beautiful Jim and William Key enjoyed immense popularity and became headlines of numerous newspapers. And William Key, who was once a slave, became an advocate of animal rights and proved that animals don’t need to be beaten or whipped just to be taught.
Owner/Trainer: William Key
Bucephalus was the mighty companion of Alexander the Great, who had courage and stamina. This stallion described as a horse with a black coat and a star in his brows fought with Alexander in many battles and carried him across rough terrains. Ancient accounts tell that Bucephalus died after the Battle of Hydaspes in 326 BC due to injuries and wounds he sustained from battles. And since Bucephalus is Alexander’s favorite steed, he founded a Bucephala city located in the Hydaspes River in the horse’s honor.