Get a group of racing fans together to list the all-time top American racehorses, and it's clear this isn't a totally objective activity. While certain names make every list, such as Secretariat, others depend on certain factors, such as speed, distance, total earnings and the level of competition a horse faced in his career.
Man o' War
Man o'War was arguably the greatest racehorse of all time. In his two-year racing career, Man o'War won 21 of 22 starts, coming in second to the appropriately-named Upset. Among his accomplishments were winning three stakes races in just over two weeks' time, establishing American records at five different distances, as well as becoming the top-money earner of his era. Once he retired to stud, he continued his superstardom, passing on his speed to top racehorses for the next two decades.
Triple Crown Winners
Since 1919, only 11horses have won the Triple Crown, consisting of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The first was Sir Barton in 1919, followed by Gallant Fox in 1930, Omaha in 1935 and Man o' War's son War Admiral in 1937. The 1940s saw Whirlaway accomplish the task in 1941, Count Fleet in 1943, Assault in 1946 and Citation in 1948. A quarter century passed before the great Secretariat did the deed in 1973, including his astonishing 31 length victory in the Belmont Stakes. Seattle Slew won all three races in 1977 as did Affirmed the following year, but no horse has done so since.
While stallions and geldings usually top the record charts, that doesn't mean there haven't been superb fillies and mares in the annals of top racehorses. Regret was the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby, back in 1915. It took 65 years for another filly, Genuine Risk, to accomplish that task. Winning Colors also won the Kentucky Derby in 1988. Ruffian won 10 of her 11 starts, tragically breaking down during a 1975 match race at Belmont Park against Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure. More recently, Zenyatta won 19 of 20 starts from 2007 to 2010, and was the first filly to win the Breeder's Cup Classic. Rachel Alexandra won the 2009 Kentucky Oaks, Preakness, Haskell Invitational and Woodward Stakes. Rags to Riches won the 2007 Belmont Stakes.
Top American horses in the modern era earned more than their earlier counterparts, as purses have risen. Curlin won more money than any American racehorse, a total of $10,501,800. Cigar came in just under that figure at $9,999,815, Skip Away earned $9,616,360, Fantastic Light's total is $8,486,957 and Pleasantly Perfect earned $7,789,880. Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones' total is $7,613,155, while Silver Charm earned $6,944,369. Captain Steve 's total is $6,828,356 and Alysheba earned $6,679,242. Those horses ran in the 21st century or the last decades of the 20th century, with the exception of Alysheba in 1988. The gelding John Henry earned $6,591,860 as of 1984.
In a fan poll of the top 250 all-time thoroughbreds of all time by Horse Racing Nation, Secretariat topped the list. Man o'War came in second, followed by Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid, Citation, Dr. Fager, Kelso, Damascus, Count Fleet, Alsab, Forego, Native Dancer, Round Table, Buckpasser, Ruffian, Swaps, Zenyatta, Tom Fool, Whirlaway, Assault, Colin, John Henry and War Admiral.
- Royal Ascot: The Most Famous Racehorses in History
- Horse Race Insider: Top 50 Thoroughbred Horses All Time Leading Money Earners
- Animal Planet: Countdown -- Famous Racehorses
- Horse Racing Nation: Triple Crown Winners
- The Bloodhorse: Best Fillies of the Past 50 Years
- Horse Racing Nation: Top 250 Thoroughbreds of All Time
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.