The greatest racehorses ever are true celebrities who are more than sporting idols. We remember some of the great horses of the mid-20th century.
The middle of the 20th century was a great time for horseracing. Television coverage began, so those who bet on horseracing could see the races they bet on. It allowed horses to become celebrities, and spawned Hollywood films about the greatest champions. Several of these horses captured the hearts of their nation is difficult economic times, and remain famous horses today.
America’s Favourite Underdog
How could an awkward-looking thoroughbred that lost its first 17 races become one for the greatest racehorses ever? Regarded as lazy, Seabiscuit eventually began to be trained by the maverick Tom Smith, who transformed racing history.
Seabiscuit became successful, and beat Triple Crown winner War Admiral in a race dubbed the “Match of the Century”; according to gambling news, War admiral had been 1.25 (1/4) favourite. The underdog story appealed to Depression-hit America, and he won Horse of the Year in 1938. His incredible career was later turned into an Oscar-nominated movie starring Tobey Maguire.
The greatest Irish horse, known simply as “Himself”
Arkle dominated British and Irish horseracing in the 60s, winning three consecutive Gold Cups among many other trophies. The highest ever rated steeplechasers, he was so good that a new handicapping system had to be devised. He carried more weight than anyone, yet still won most races with ease. He was a public figure, beloved by all, and reportedly received fan mail addressed merely to “Himself, Ireland”.
Red Rum (1965-1995):
Grand National Great
Red Rum was a British sensation, the only horse to win the Grand National Three times. He won the 1973 Grand National despite coming from 30 lengths behind, and followed that with another victory the next year. He came second for the next two years, before his record-breaking win in 1977. This was voted one the great british sporting moments. He would’ve competed in 1978, but was injured the day before the race. Despite that, he continued to be a British celebrity, popular even among those who didn’t bet on sports in the UK, until his death at 30 years old.
The racehorse named for a dancer
Nijinsky is the only horse to have won the English Triple Crown – the 2,000 Guineas Stakes, the Epsom Derby, and the St. Ledger Stakes – in the past 80 years. For this achievement, completed in 1970, he was ridden by one of the great jockeys of the century: Lester Piggott. Nijinsky was named after the great Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky. Famously, the dancer believed that after death he would return in the form of a horse!
Unquestionably one of the greatest racehorses ever
“Big Red” is a horse of legend, for those who bet on sport and beyond. He won the US Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes – and set record times for each. His time of 2 minutes 24 seconds for the 1.25 mile Belmont Stakes set a world record which still stands today; he won the race by an incredible 31 lengths.
The horse achieved these glories thanks to a lot of heart… literally. After Secretariat’s death, it was discovered that his heart was 2.75 times the size of that of a normal horse! As with Seabiscuit, this horse got the ultimate sign that he was one of the greatest racehorses ever: a Hollywood movie about him.