From ancient Rome to contemporary Britain, horse races have attracted enthusiastic audiences. In this article, we’ll take a look at the fastest horses in the history of racing.
Possibly the most famous horse in history after Alexander the Great’s Bucephalus, Kincsem (“My Precious”) can be found at the top of many rankings of historic racehorses. Kincsem was a Hungarian Thoroughbred who recorded the most wins out of any undefeated racehorse in history, which puts her at the top of a short list of the most elite famous racehorses. She was foaled in 1874 and started racing two years later. She went on to win 54 races, ending her career undefeated.
Kincsem won classic races in the Austro-Hungarian Empire as well as major-stakes victories in Germany, France, and England. She ran her last race in 1879 in her native country of Hungary. During her career, she became legendary for winning the Goodwood Cup, the Grand Prix de Deauville, and the Grosser Preis von Baden in 1878. She became a point of national pride in her home country and still is to this day.
Kincsem was, without a doubt, one of the best racehorses of all time, her name permanently etched in the annals of history.
Races won: 54/54
Estimated earnings: 379,805 German Goldmarks (about $9.74 million 2020 dollars)
Black Caviar is another very successful Thoroughbred who went undefeated in her career. While Kincsem had 54 victories, Black Caviar won 25/25 of its starts, taking second place among history’s top Thoroughbreds.
She was foaled in 2006 in Nagambie, Victoria, Australia. Black Caviar was sired by Bel Esprit, a one-time winner of Australia’s Doomben 10,000. Like many of the best racehorses ever, Black Caviar had a high Timeform rating – 136 in the first quarter of 2011.
This mare ran an undefeated sprinter career from 2009 to 2013. Black Caviar was named the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings champion springer four years in a row (2010-2013). She mostly participated in Australian races, running only one race abroad – the UK’s Royal Ascot Diamond Jubilee Stakes, which she won in 2012.
Even though she raced almost exclusively in Australia, Black Caviar gained worldwide recognition. She was named the European Champion Sprinter in 2012. A year later, Black Caviar was added to the Australian Hall of Fame, cementing her place in horse racing history.
Races won: 25/25
Estimated earnings: $7.95 million
Man o’ War
Man o’ War was the expression used by the British Navy to refer to a powerful warship or frigate. When a racehorse bears the same name, you can be sure it is a force to be reckoned with. Widely considered one of the fastest horses in the history of racing, Man o’ War was voted the outstanding horse of the 20th century by the Associated Press, ESPN, and numerous other publications. He was inducted into the American Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1957.
Man o’ War was a chestnut horse foaled in 1917 in Lexington, Kentucky. He had a distinctive white star and stripe on his forehead. He had 21 starts in his career, losing only one. During his career, he set three world records, two American ones, and three track records, which is why many consider him the best racehorse ever.
Due to a decision by his handicapper that it was too early in the year for the horse to race a mile and a quarter, and because the handicapper did not like racing in Kentucky, Man o’ War did not have the opportunity to run the Kentucky Derby, and therefore never won the Triple Crown. However, his offspring, War Admiral, did what his sire did not, winning the Triple Crown in 1937.
Races won: 20/21
Estimated earnings: $249,465 (equivalent to $3.18 million today)
Yet another legendary racehorse that achieved fame without winning the Triple Crown, Kelso was an American Thoroughbred foaled in 1957. Although he never won the Triple Crown, Kelso was regarded by many to be the best racehorse in the world, winning races against many top Thoroughbreds of the day.
Kelso’s racing career lasted for three years, starting right after the 1960 Triple Crown races. Kelso beat more Thoroughbred and Hall of Fame horses than any other racehorse in the 20th century.
Unlike some of the horses on our list, Kelso did not go undefeated. His record was 39-12-2. Still, that did not take away from the impressive feats Kelso achieved during his reign as the world’s highest-rated racehorse. After his first win as a 3-year-old at Monmouth Park, he went on to win the next eight out of nine starts, including the Choice Stakes, the Jerome Handicap, and the Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap
In his fourth year, Kelso won seven out of nine races. He was proclaimed both Champion Older Horse and Horse of the Year. The next year was no different: He won Horse of the Year awards from most industry publications. He retired in 1966 after one of the longest careers among top racehorses. During that time he earned $1,977,896, a record that stood for the next 14 years.
Races won: 39/63
Estimated earnings: $1.98 million
Secretariat broke many records and set himself apart from the competition on many levels. In the American history of legendary racehorses, he is second only to Man o’ War.
Secretariat was an American Thoroughbred foaled in 1970 in Doswell, Virginia. Secretariat’s sire was Bold Ruler and his dam was Somethingroyal. He won 16 out of 21 starts, leaving a permanent imprint on racing history.
Secretariat is one of the most famous Triple Crown winners. When he won the Triple Crown in 1973, he was the first to do so in 25 years. His Belmont Stakes victory is one of the greatest races in history, with Secretariat winning by 31 lengths.
He went on to set multiple track records, with his Churchill Downs and Belmont stakes records still standing today. During his career he won five Eclipse Awards, two Horse of the Year awards, and a spot in the National Racing Hall of Fame.
Races won: 16/21
Estimated earnings: $1.32 million
Seattle Slew was an American Thoroughbred horse foaled in 1974. He is regularly included among the fastest horses in the history of racing. He has the distinction of being the only Triple Crown winner who was undefeated in all previous races.
A quote by Joe Hirsch of the Daily Racing Form provides a great description of how influential Seattle Slew was at the time: “Every time he ran he was an odds-on favorite, and the response to his presence on the racetrack, either for a morning workout or a major race, was electric. ‘Slewmania’ was a virulent and widespread condition.”
Seattle Slew suffered only three defeats. In addition to his Triple Crown championship, he was proclaimed the US Champion Colt at age 2 and again at 3, as well as the American Horse of the Year in 1977. In addition to his horse racing records, Seattle Slew went on to become a great sire. One of his most famous offspring was Justify, who went on to repeat Seattle Slew’s feat of winning the Triple Crown with no previous defeats.
Races won: 14/17
Estimated earnings: $1.21 million