Ten Great Race Horses

There have been many great race horses over the years and here we have given some information on 10 of them. There have been some others since we first published this page, so don't be alarmed by not seeing the likes of Frankel in the list. Maybe one day we will update it.....we probably should!

1. ECLIPSE (1764-1789)

Eclipse was born and named after a solar eclipse on April 1 1764. His first appearance at Epsom on May 5 1769 resulted in him finishing so far in front of the rest of the field that Captain Denis O’Kelly penned the famous phrase of Eclipse first, the rest nowhere. He won all 18 of his races. In fact jockey John Oakley never had to use either the whip or spurs. He was probably the only jockey who could handle Eclipse. Eclipse had a rather unusual style of running and was a temperamental horse. In 1771 he was forced to retire from racing due to lack of competition. Also nobody was willing to participate in betting when he was in the line up. He was successful at stud sired over 350 foals. He died in 1789 and his skeleton is in Newmarkets Jockey Club Museum.

2. ORMONDE (1883-1904)

Ormonde was trained at Kingsclere by John Porter and was considered to be one of the greatest racehorses ever. He only ran three times as a juvenile, but won all three races, which included the Dewhurst and the Criterion Stakes. As a three year old, he was successful in the Epsom Derby, 2000 Guineas, St Jamess Palace Stakes and Hardwicke Stakes. After this he completed the Triple Crown when winning the St Leger with ease. He suffered from a breathing problem during his career which got progressively worse. His unbeaten record continued as four-year-old. He won again at Royal Ascot, but his breathing problems had become so bad that he was labelled a roarer. He won his final race at Newmarket. Sadly, his stud career was unsuccessful and he was exported to Argentina. He died at 21 and his skeleton can be found in the Natural History Museum in London.

3. ST SIMON (1881-1908)

St Simon is another horse who has been constantly labelled as one of the greatest racehorses of all time. He was trained by Matthew Dawson and was unbeaten in his 10 races. His victory in the Ascot Gold Cup was an amazing feat, beating a class field by an astonishing 20 lengths and according to legend it took his jockey another mile to pull him up. Unlike Ormonde his Stud career was an extremely successful one. He was a British Champion Sire nine times. His successful offspring included Triple Crown winner Diamond Jubilee and Persimmon, who went on to win the 2000 Guineas, The Derby and Ascot Gold Cup. His skeleton rests in the British Museum of Natural History.

4. GOLDEN MILLER (1927-1957)

Golden Miller is considered to be the greatest National Hunt horse of his time and is the only horse to ever be considered as in the same class as Arkle.. He won 28 of his 52 races. In an era when National Hunt racing was at its most competitive, this is a remarkable win ratio. In 1934, he became the first horse ever to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National in the same season. A feat that has not been achieved since! In the 1934 National he broke the course record. In fact he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in five consecutive years (1932 to 1936).

5. ARKLE (1957-1970)

Arkle is known to be the greatest National Hunt horse ever. He was trained in Ireland by Tom Dreaper, and won his first Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1964. He beat Mill House in the race and from then on his career took off. In the next season he won The Gold Cup IN TRUE Arkle style by twenty lengths and completed his Gold Cup hattrick when starting at the shortest ever price in the history of Gold Cup betting at 1/10. He never ever fell in a race and won 27 of his 35 races.

In the 1964 Irish Grand National he was conceding over two and a half stone in weight to his nearest rivals in the handicap. He still won the race by a length. Other great victories included the King George VI Chase, Gallagher Gold Cup, Hennessy Gold Cup, and Whitbread Gold Cup. In 1966, he was beaten by Stalbridge Colonist by half a length. A noble defeat considering he was giving his rival over 2 stone in weight. The defeat was even more impressive as the winner went on to be placed twice in future Cheltenham Gold Cups and What A Myth who finished 3rd in that race went on to win the 1969 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

He was runner-up to Dormant in the 1966 King George VI Chase at Kempton. During this race he fractured a bone in his leg and had to be retired. He died at the age of 13 and his skeleton can be found in the Irish National Stud.

6. SEA BIRD (1962-1974)

Sea Birds consideration as one of the greatest followed his triumph in the 1965 Derby at Epsom. It is thought to be one of the greatest Derby victories ever. The colt demolished some quality horses, including Meadow Court who went on to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes and the Irish Derby. That was the only time that the French trained colt ran in England, but the victory was so impressive it left a lasting impression on the racing public.

Sea Birds victories may have included impressive success in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and the Prix Lupin, but he will always be remembered in racing history, for his awesome victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1965. On that occasion he beat a field by 6 lenghts that included an Irish Derby winner, Kentucky Derby victor Tom Rolfe, French Derby winner Reliance, and Russian champion, Anilin and Diatome who later won the Washington International.

Sea Bird was a truly remarkable horse. He left a lasting impression on anyone who saw him race.

7. MILL REEF (1968-1986)

Mill Reef was trained at Kingsclere by Ian Balding. His first race was at Salisbury in 1970. He beat the odds on favourite Fireside Chat, who was ridden by Lester Piggott and from then on never looked back. Later that season he won the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot by six lengths the Gimcrack by 10 lengths and the Dewhurst by four lengths.

As a three-year-old he was beaten by Brigadier Gerard in the 2000 Guineas. The only other horse to ever beat him, My Swallow finished in third. From then on he proved himself to be a truly outstanding racehorse. He won the Epsom Derby, Eclipse Stakes, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and finished the year with victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

As a four-year-old it was hoped that the Showdown of the Century would take place against Brigadier Gerard at Ascot in the summer. However the racing public were denied their dream when Mill Reef sadly shattered a leg in training and was subsequently retired. He died in 1986 and a statue of him can be found at the National stud.

8. BRIGADIER GERARD (1961-1989)

He is considered as one of the best and most popular horses in horse racing history. His breeding was average and he would certainly never have been tipped to be a champion but he proved the experts wrong. He ran four times as a juvenile, and won them all, including the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.

His three year old career kicked off with a win in the 2000 Guineas beating the likes of the previously mentioned Mill Reef and My Swallow. From then on his victories included the St James’s Palace Stakes, Sussex Stakes, Goodwood Mile, Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, Champion Stakes, and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

In 1971 he was crowned Champion British Miler and in 1972 British Horse of the Year. He was defeated only once in 18 races when beaten by Roberto in the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup at York. Sadly, he was unsuccessful as a sire, and eventually died in 1989.

9. NIJINSKY (1967- 1992)

Nijinsky was the last horse to win the elusive Triple Crown (2000Gns, Derby and St Leger) in 1970. He was bought as a yearling by trainer Vincent O’Brien in 1967 for £84,000, He won 11 of his 13 races.

As a two-year-old, he won Ireland’s top juvenile races such as the Railway and Beresford Stakes and then came over to England to win the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket. The following season he was the officially top-rated juvenile, and a lot was expected of him – He didn’t disappoint. After winning his prep race in Ireland he came over for the 2000 Guineas and at odds of 4/7 was the shortest price favourite for over 30 years! He won in emphatic style. His next race was the Epsom Derby. It as thought that he would not get the trip at Epsom, due to his breeding. But these theories were proved to be ill founded with yet another impressive success. The time of the race was even quicker than Mahmood’s record back in 1936, and from then on the world was his oyster.

Further victories came in the Irish Derby, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and finally the St Leger. This was the first time the Triple Crown had been successfully completed since Barham in 1935. It has never been done since. Nijinsky was then favourite for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. He was expected to claim another victory but with events conspiring against him (like the crowd upsetting him and Lester Piggott overdoing the waiting tactics), he was disappointingly beaten a head by Sassafras. It was a huge shock to the racing world. Vincent O’Brien would and not believe the form of this defeat, and sent him over to run in the Champion Stakes expecting him to retire on a winning note. It didn’t go to plan though and he was beaten again. Lester Piggott said he had never sat on a horse with such natural ability, while O’Brien reckoned he never saddled a horse with such brilliance. A sad end to a glorious career.

10. DESERT ORCHID (1979-2006)

Desert Orchid was a true legend in the Sport of Kings. Never has the racing public taken a racehorse to their hearts as they did with Dessie. He achieved pop star status and the horse race betting public came to racecourses in their droves to witness the grey horse out in front, attacking his fences with relish. It was a sight to behold. The white horse leaping each fence with such elegance. His victories included winning the King George VI Chase four times at Kempton, the Whitbread Gold Cup, Tingle Creek Trophy, Martell Trophy and the Irish Grand National. His finest hour however, came in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1989. Neither the trip or ground conditions (rain and snow) were considered suitable for Desert Orchid, but he confounded everyone, by storming up the hill to catch Yahoo on the run-in for a thrilling triumph. The 58,000 spectators went wild and he returned to a hero’s ovation caked from head to toe in thick mud. He was unrecognisable. Dessie won 34 of his 70 races and won nearly £700,000 in prize money. His death in November 2006 left the racing public shattered and his ashes were buried at Kempton Park racecourse.