Horses have played an integral role throughout human history, from helping build empires to earning a special place in our hearts. When asking who is the best horse of all time, the answer isn’t straightforward.

However, a handful of remarkable horses stand out for their athletic prowess, influence on their respective fields, and the inspiration they provide.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Secretariat is widely considered to be the best racehorse of all time due to his record-shattering wins and incredible speed.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the top contenders for best horse of all time, looking at champions from horse racing, show jumping, dressage, and more. Key factors like records broken, competition faced, and legacy left will help us determine who has the strongest case for the title.

Secretariat – The Greatest Racehorse

Undefeated as a 2 Year Old

Incredibly, Secretariat went undefeated in all 9 of his races as a two-year-old in 1972, winning important races like the Sanford Stakes and Hopeful Stakes. His domination led him to be unanimously voted the Eclipse Award for Champion 2-Year-Old Male Horse.

Triple Crown Winner

The next year, in 1973, Secretariat achieved what is considered the greatest accomplishment in racing – winning the Triple Crown. He set still-standing track records in all 3 races – the Kentucky Derby (1:59 2/5), the Preakness Stakes (1:53), and the Belmont Stakes (2:24).

His 31 length victory in the Belmont is widely regarded as one of the greatest performances of all time in any sport.

Record Times in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes

Secretariat’s records in each Triple Crown race stand the test of time as no other horse has threatened them:

Race Record Time Year Set
Kentucky Derby 1:59 2/5 1973
Preakness Stakes 1:53 1973
Belmont Stakes 2:24 1973

Descendants Still Successful in Racing Today

Legendary racehorses like American Pharoah, Funny Cide, and A.P. Indy can all trace their pedigree back to Secretariat. His bloodlines live on through generations of champions on the racetrack.

Man O’ War – Legendary in His Time

Regarded by many as the greatest racehorse of the 20th century, Man o’ War was an exceptional Thoroughbred who dominated horse racing in the early 1900s. During his storied career, Man o’ War captured the hearts of fans with his commanding performances on the track.

Lost Only One Race in His Career

Out of 21 starts, Man o’ War astonishingly only lost once in his career – the 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes. While the loss seemingly tarnished his record, many experts believed the defeat could be attributed to the young horse still learning to harness his talents and the owner’s questionable tactics in the race.

In the other 20 victorious outings, Man o’ War won by wide margins, cementing his reputation as an unrivaled champion. His successes included triumphs in prestigious events like the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, where he set new American records.

Had a Lasting Influence on Thoroughbred Bloodlines

As a breeding stallion, Man o’ War’s genetic legacy may be even more impressive than his racing career. He sired an astounding 64 stakes race winners, including 1925 Triple Crown champ American Flag and 1928 Kentucky Derby winner Reigh Count.

Over 3/4 of all modern Thoroughbreds can trace their lineage back to Man o’ War. His bloodlines fueled generations of champions and helped shape the modern American racehorse.

Dominated Competition in the Early 20th Century

Racing during a golden era of talent, Man o’ War handily defeated exceptional contenders of the time – notching winning margins unheard of in the sport.

Year Major Wins Defeated Notable Horses
1919 Champagne Stakes, Grand Union Hotel Stakes, Hudson Stakes, United States Hotel Stakes, Youthful Stakes John P. Grier, Upset
1920 Preakness Stakes, Withers Stakes, Belmont Stakes Donnacona, John P. Grier
1920 Stuyvesant Handicap, Potomac Handicap, Jockey Club Gold Cup Donnacona, John P. Grier, Sir Barton

In the Belmont, Man o’ War dominated the field – crossing the finish line 20 lengths ahead of runner-up Donnacona. His performances were so overpowering that legendary racing publications like BloodHorse still rank Man o’ War as the #1 racehorse of the 20th century.

Seabiscuit – America’s Hero

Captivated the Nation During the Great Depression

Seabiscuit was a small horse with crooked legs, yet he captivated the nation during the hard times of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Though initially written off as too lazy, small, and injury-prone, Seabiscuit embodied the underdog spirit of the era.

At a time when many Americans felt beaten down and defeated, Seabiscuit’s rags-to-riches story gave people hope. His unlikely successes on the racetrack became a rallying point during bleak economic times.

Seabiscuit’s owner, Charles Howard, was a self-made millionaire who had pulled himself up from poverty. Howard saw something special in the undersized horse with the feisty attitude. He paired Seabiscuit with trainer Tom Smith, who had a talent for bringing out the best in troubled horses.

Under Smith’s patient guidance, Seabiscuit gained confidence and learned to channel his competitive spirit constructively. With legendary jockey Red Pollard in the saddle, Seabiscuit began to win races despite his physical disadvantages.

As Seabiscuit kept notching victories, he garnered extensive media coverage and was written about in over 500 newspaper articles in 1936 alone. By beating better bred, more privileged horses, he became a stand-in for the hopes of the common man during the Depression.

Seabiscuit “made news by beating news itself,” as one writer put it.

Overcame Underdog Status to Beat Triple Crown Winner

In 1937, Seabiscuit captured the Santa Anita Handicap in California and became the biggest money winner that year, taking home over $130,000 in prize money. Despite being an underdog, he outran Triple Crown winner War Admiral in a famous 1938 match race that was dubbed “The Match of the Century.”

Over 40 million listeners tuned in on the radio to hear Seabiscuit pull off a major upset against the heavily favored War Admiral.

Seabiscuit’s rags-to-riches tale of perseverance touched a chord with struggling Americans. He was consistently undersized and overlooked, but never gave up despite injury and adversity. His hard-fought success against elite competition became a symbol of hope.

“Seabiscuit literally galvanized the country,” stated one historian. “People saw themselves in the Biscuit.”

Throughout his storied career, Seabiscuit ran in 89 races and notched 33 victories, becoming Horse of the Year in 1938. More than that, he became a cultural icon who unified the country behind his plucky, never-say-die attitude.

As the New York Times put it, “In 1938, near the end of Depression, a stubby legged racehorse lifted the spirits of the nation.”

Defeated War Admiral in a Historic Match Race

The 1938 match race between Seabiscuit and Triple Crown champion War Admiral was one of the defining sporting events of the era. Dubbed “The Match of the Century,” it pitted East Coast establishment against West Coast upstart, with the Maryland-bred War Admiral representing Eastern moneyed interests and Seabiscuit becoming a hero of the working class.

Held at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland, the event drew nationwide attention. Despite being badly outpaced early, Seabiscuit rallied in the home stretch to edge War Admiral and claim victory. The crowd erupted in joy as the underdog battled back to beat the heavy favorite.

Seabiscuit’s win symbolized the potential for the tenacious little guy to overcome entrenched power and privilege.

The race was broadcast live across the country on the radio. An estimated 40 million Americans tuned in, making it one of the most listened to sporting events up to that time. track owner Alfred Vanderbilt called it “the greatest day for racing and radio since the Kentucky Derby of 1929 was first broadcast.”

It captured public imagination during hard economic times.

More than just a thrilling competition, the match race represented hope for the future. Seabiscuit’s gutsy performance in the home stretch demonstrated that with determination and resilience, underdogs could still achieve greatness.

Through the lens of this historic race, Seabiscuit emerged as an unlikely American hero.

Kincsem – Record-Setting and Undefeated

Won 54 Consecutive Races in the Mid-1800s

Kincsem, a chestnut Thoroughbred mare foaled in 1874, achieved the remarkable feat of winning every race she entered over her five-year racing career. She set an astonishing record by winning 54 consecutive races between 1877 and 1880.

This undefeated streak has never been matched by any other Thoroughbred in history.

Kincsem was bred and owned by the Hungarian noble Ernst von Blaskovich. She was an exceptionally fast horse even as a two-year-old, beating male rivals with ease. Once she reached racing maturity at age three, she proved unstoppable.

Kincsem won major races in Hungary, Austria, Germany, Poland, and England, dominating Europe’s premier tracks against top competition. Her final race in 1880 was a thrilling come-from-behind victory in the Goodwood Cup in England.

Experts attribute Kincsem’s dominance to her stamina, tactical speed, acceleration, temperament, and intelligence. She had a supreme ability to find another gear when challenged in the stretch. Her record winning streak earned Kincsem the reputation as the greatest racehorse of the 19th century.

Excelled at Long Distances, Up to 2.5 Miles

Incredibly, Kincsem excelled at long distances rarely seen today, up to 2.5 miles (4 km). She frequently won races longer than 1.5 miles (2.4 km), proving her exceptional stamina and speed over staying trips.

Kincsem won the Austrian Derby at 1 3/4 miles (2.8 km), the German Derby at 1 1/2 miles (2.4 km), and the Goodwood Cup at 2.5 miles (4 km).

Modern Thoroughbred racing favors shorter sprint races, with the classic distance only 1 1/4 miles (2 km) today. Kincsem’s ability to carry her speed over marathon distances while demolishing top-class fields was extraordinary.

She broke race records across Europe, unveiling breathtaking performances unseen before.

Kincsem’s versatility to win short and long made her virtually unbeatable in any race. With superb tactical speed, she could win wire-to-wire at 5 furlongs or unleash a devastating late kick at 2 miles.

This range allowed Kincsem’s connections to enter her in whichever race gave the biggest prize money.

Crushed Male Competition As a Female Racehorse

Remarkably, Kincsem achieved her undefeated record while routinely competing against male horses. At the time, fillies almost never raced against colts and stallions. But Kincsem proved up to the challenge, beating male champions with regularity.

Highlights of Kincsem defeating male Triple Crown winners and future breeding stallions include:

  • Beating Preis der Junioren, winner of the Austrian Triple Crown
  • Defeating German Triple Crown winner Alchymist twice
  • Beating future dominant sire Buccaneer twice

Kincsem’s ability to defeat the era’s best colts and stallions was groundbreaking. It demonstrated the incredible talent and competitiveness of a filly who transcended traditional gender barriers. Kincsem was simply faster and tougher than the boys.

Kincsem retired undefeated after her 5-year-old season to become a broodmare. She produced two offspring that also became successful racehorses. Kincsem lived to age 31, cementing her status as the most remarkable racehorse of the 19th century.

Other Notable Contenders

Citation – Won 19 of 20 Career Starts

Citation was one of the most dominant thoroughbreds in history, winning 19 of his 20 career starts in the 1940s. His crowning achievement was winning the American Triple Crown in 1948 with ease. Citation set or equaled six track records during his win streak, showcasing his blistering speed.

His only career loss came in his second start as a 2-year-old. According to historical records, no other Triple Crown winner had a higher winning percentage than Citation’s remarkable 95% win rate. He was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1959 as one of the all-time greats.

Zenyatta – 19 for 20 Record, First Female Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner

Zenyatta was a massive fan favorite in the late 2000s with her come-from-behind running style. She went undefeated in her first 19 starts, including a ground-breaking win in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic as the first female winner.

Zenyatta demonstrated extreme determination to make up deficits down the stretch with her long strides. Her only loss came by a head in her 20th and final race in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Zenyatta’s 19 consecutive victories is among the longest unbeaten streaks ever.

She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016 as one of the most beloved racehorses in history.

Red Rum – Three-Time Grand National Winner

In Europe, Red Rum is considered by many as the greatest steeplechaser of all time. He remarkably won the grueling Grand National race three times in the 1970s over long distances and tricky obstacles at Aintree Racecourse.

Red Rum is the only horse to have won the Grand National more than once in over 100 years. He also finished second in two other attempts despite carrying heavy weights. His five consecutive finishes in the top three is unlikely to ever be matched.

Red Rum remains an icon in Britain for his jumping ability and heart to win against all odds.


When considering the factors of athletic dominance, competition faced, influence left on the sport, and legendary status, Secretariat emerges as the strongest contender for best horse of all time. His Triple Crown win in record times that still stand today puts his abilities in a league of their own.

However, champions like Man O’ War, Seabiscuit, and Kincsem all have compelling cases thanks to their courageous performances and the inspiration they gave fans.

Though no definitive Greatest of All Time exists, these remarkable horses showed what the equine spirit is capable of at its absolute best. Their stories continue to excite and amaze new generations of fans, solidifying their status as legends of the sport.

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