History has given us many famous horses – and it’s no wonder some have achieved such global fame. Racehorses that have won multiple races, often against the odds, are celebrated today as champions of the sport, their names remaining in popular memory decades after their racing days. Horseracing has been a popular sport in Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, the Middle East, Australia, and particularly in America, where it boomed in the 1930s as people sought to escape the hardships of the Great Depression. Even to this day, the names of famous racehorses are familiar even to those who don’t religiously follow the sport.
There have also been many famous horses in war – precious allies in times of battle, they had the trust of some of the most formidable military figures we remember. Their successes have inspired a whole host of films, both factual and fictional, such as the film War Horse. These horses are a truly important part of history, and may even have changed the course of the world.
Man O' War was born in 1917, and made his racing debut just two years later. As a two-year old he won nine out of ten races, and as a three year old won all 11 he participated in. It’s no wonder, then, that he was popular for betting – most considered him a sure-fire winner. As a sire, he produced over 64 stakes winners and 200 champions. Today many racing experts consider Man O'War to be the finest racehorse of all time.
Seabiscuit did not show a lot of promise as a racer until, in 1936, trainer Tom Smith recognised his potential and used unique training techniques to overcome the horse’s lethargy. The next year, Seabiscuit won 11 of the 15 races he entered. The defining moment of Seabiscuit's career was his match race against Triple Crown winner War Admiral, from which he emerged victorious. He retired from the racing world in 1940, but continued to inspire the world, prompting various documentaries and books based on his successes. This famous horse’s story most recently inspired the 2003 film Seabiscuit.
Born in 1945, Citation was racing's first millionaire horse with a 45-race career that ran until his death in 1970. In 1948 he become the eighth Triple Crown winner, and in four seasons (between 1947 and 1951) he won 32 of 45 races, finished second in ten, and placed third in two.
Secretariat was born in 1970 and became the first juvenile in history to win the Horse of the Year Award. He was also the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby in under two minutes, despite starting from last place. He died in 1989, and was one of only three non-humans ranked on ESPN's "100 Greatest Athletes of the Twentieth Century" list.
Phar Lap, one of Australia’s most famous racehorses, was the first racehorse to put Australian horse racing on the map, netting 37 wins across 51 races and setting eight track records before he died in 1932. He was famous for his physique, as he weighed considerably more than the average horse.
Red Rum is the perhaps the best-known and most beloved racehorse of all time, and with his power, speed and jumping ability he is the only horse to have won the Grand National on three separate occasions, in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He died in 1995 at the age of 30.
Sea the Stars was born in 2006 and trained in Ireland. He is known as one of the greatest modern racehorses, becoming the first horse in history to claim the Guineas, Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomph treble.
The famous racehorse Zenyatta was born in Kentucky in 2004 and won 19 consecutive races in a 20-race career. She became the first mare to win the Breeders' Cup Classic and the first horse to win two different races at the Breeders' Cup. She was named horse of the year in 2010.
Makybe Diva was conceived in Ireland and born in England, but trained in Australia. She succeeded in winning a record-breaking three Melbourne Cup titles in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and was named Australian Champion Racehorse of the Year in 2005.
Famous horses in war
Calvary soldier El Cid rode a white stallion called Babieca, who grew into an impressive charger and a terrifying machine of war for 30 years. After the death of El Cid, Babieca was never mounted again and died two years later at the incredible age of forty.
Bucephalus was initially meant for King Phillip II, but reared up when anyone came near him. He was considered unfit for purpose until Alexander the Great realised that the horse was scared of his own shadow and subsequently quelled his fear. Bucephalus led Alexander into many battles, and they became inseparable. Historians disagree on the cause of the horse’s death - some claim he died from battle wounds but most agree he died of old age after the Battle of Hydaspes River (326 BCE).
Comanche is one of the most famous horses in war history. Captain Keogh rode into battle on Comanche on June 25, 1876, along with General Custer. Comanche was found next to the General, seriously wounded, and was the only survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Napoleon Bonaparte kept a stable of horses. Marengo, an Arab horse, was his favourite. At the age of 19, he carried Napoleon 3,000 miles to Moscow and back, but unfortunately was captured by the British after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He was subsequently proudly displayed in England as one of the spoils of the battle. Marengo died at the remarkable age of 38 in 1832, having lived a remarkably long life for a warhorse.
The Duke of Wellington’s horse Copenhagen, a top-of-the-line battle horse, was present at the Duke’s greatest victory - the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. When the Duke became Prime Minister in 1828 he rode Copenhagen up Downing Street to take up his new position. He stayed with the Duke in retirement, and when he died in 1836 he was given a funeral with full military honors.
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