The Top 5 Race Horses of All Time

From the earliest recorded history, man’s competitive spirit has been in evidence with the race. We want to go faster than our neighbor whether we are running, swimming, driving a car, or seated on the back of a majestic steed. Horse racing has been called the sport of kings. It has it all. It has pageantry, excitement, beauty, and magnificent champions.

Every once in a while, one of these four legged equine competitors captures our hearts and thunders around the track with his jockey and carries the imaginations of millions. Ranking the best of the best is a formidable task. There are different kinds of racing. There have been superb specimens from different eras, and different cultures support horse racing more than others.

Here is a look at five of the best across all history.


5. Dan PatchDan patch racehorse

Dan Patch is not placed higher on this list only due to the kind of racing was involved in. He was a “sulky.” He pulled a cart in harness races. In 1906, he set a world record by pacing a mile in 1:55, and he acknowledged the crowd as he crossed the finish line with a charismatic nod. The record would stand for thirty-two years.

He attained celebrity status and traveled the United States doing exhibitions and promotions for his owner, Mr. Marion Savage. In one of the most poignant stories in sport, Mr. Savage died one day after his beloved colt passed away.


4. Arkle

Arkle is an Irish bred steeplechaser. He caught the attention of people outside racing circles across Britain in the mid-twentieth century. He won twenty-seven of thirty-five starts. He was the first horse ever to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times.

He won many other prestigious races. An injury in the 1966 King George VI Chase would end his career prematurely. Still, Arkle‘s  212 Timeform rating in the ranking system for steeplechasers is the highest ever awarded.


3. Carbine or “Old Jack”

carbine racehorse

Carbine pictured here winning the Melbourne Gold Cup in 1890 (good luck spotting him though)

This horse was slightly ahead of Dan Patch in chronology. This Australian champion is noted for many things, but one of the most fantastic was his win in the 1890 Melbourne Cup carrying a record 66 kg. This horse had almost supernatural stamina and endurance.

In 1889, he once raced five times in six days. – Four wins and one second. Modern day horses are not asked to do what Carbine did. It is just as well, they probably couldn’t.


2. Frankel

Frankel racehorse

Image credit: Charles Roffey

Frankel is a British thoroughbred. He finished his storied campaign on the turf in October 2012. He won the Champion Stakes at Ascot to conclude an undefeated racing career. Trained by Sir Henry Richard Amherst Cecil who was battling cancer, Frankel finished first in all fourteen of the races he entered.

This bay horse has been described as the penultimate thoroughbred machine. Ranking systems for race horses, including Timeform and World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings put Frankel second to none.


1. Secretariat 

This wonder-horse will probably hold the number one position in horse racing history for the rest of time. The other positions on this list are arguable. This one is not. Secretariat’s thirty-one length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes race may be the single best performance by any competitor in any sport at any time, ever. Becoming the first horse to do so in twenty-five years, he claimed the Triple Crown with that victory.

His time of 2:24 for one and a half mile on dirt is still a world record. Secretariat was an instant megastar. He was featured in magazines including TIME. His amazing story his detailed in the Disney movie, “Secretariat.”


The cult following of these elite equestrian athletes rivals the rabid World Cup soccer fans. If your favorite is left off of this list, it is probably because these five would have left him in the dust. Joking, of course, except when it comes to Secretariat.

And, they’re off….

About Doug Smith M.D.

Doug has been a full time physician for twenty-three years and continues to work in an emergency room setting. In addition to the day to day practice of medicine, he has a particular interest in medical education.
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