Any race fan knows the rumble of the track, the anticipation of a winner and the excitement of a neck-to-neck performance. One of the most popular spectator sports of all time, horse racing has become tradition in the United States and all over the world. Through this sport, champion racehorses have been recognized, bred and admired for their record breaking athletic abilities and defined characteristics. It is the passion and progression of this sport that has made it what it is today.
Though racing has been recorded as far back as the Greek Olympic Games, it didn’t become as popular until the Crusades when knights challenged each other on their return home mounted on Arab stallions. This is where the modern style of racing, though still in its infantile stages, began to develop. Even though racing didn’t become a true spectator sport until the rein of Queen Anne in the early 1700’s, it was at this time that multiple horses would race in an organized setting where spectators would go to watch and wager on the horse they though had the best chances of winning.
Soon after, as the popularity for racing grew, so did the breeding of Thoroughbred horses. The Thoroughbred is known for its speed and endurance. It is said that all Thoroughbreds today are descendants of one of three horses, the Godolphin Arabian, Byerley Turk or the Darley Arabian. These three horses are considered the founding sires of today’s Thoroughbred horse.
Since racing weighed heavily on wagering and a lot of money was changing hands, it was decided that a governing body was needed to regulate the sport of racing. This is when the Jockey Club was established in 1750. The Jockey Club had control over all of English racing, wrote the rules of racing and all it entails. Later, in 1894, an American Jockey Club was developed in New York to help regulate the growing popularity of racing in the United States.
Even today, over two centuries since the start of horse racing as an organized sport, researchers and breeders alike are still trying to unveil the secret of a great racehorse. Multiple qualities make up a good racehorse. It is the combination of a strong mind and a solid athletic build and good equestrian supplements
with the mental desire to win that defines a champion.
It is said that in order for a horse to become a racing champion they need to want to win. No matter how strong the horse’s desire to get ahead and win a race, their success is significantly less likely if they have a poor mental disposition, behavioral problems, or simply a bad attitude. A champion must be receptive to its trainer and willing to accept and overcome obstacles. These qualities show a level of maturity that is critical in training and in racing.
A racehorse must also possess a solid well-balanced body. Their balance and ability to handle a track is critical. Since the horse will be aggressively using their front legs traveling upwards of 40-45 miles per hour around the track, well-formed legs are a necessity. Other physical characteristics of a potential champion include a big heart, clear strong lungs, unrelenting stamina and an ability to handle stress to the finish line. Lastly, the recuperative powers of the horse must be incredible. It is not unusual for a horse to run critical races two weeks apart. They need to be able to recuperate from a race within a short period of time and be ready for the next, possibly more aggressive competition.
Over the years hundreds of champions have been awarded for their athletic abilities on the track. From training to champion these horses possessed the power and stamina to win, setting the stage for others to follow and break records set before them. The six horses highlighted below are just a few great champions that define racing.
Champions of the Past
Man O’ War
Man O’ War, born March 29, 1917, is known for his intensity on the track and considered to be one of the greatest racehorses of all time. This Mahubah-Fair Play colt was bred by August Belmont II, then sold to Samuel Riddle for $5,000 at the Saratoga Yearling sale. After intensive training by Louis Feustel, Man O’ War had his first racing debut in a Maiden race at Belmont which he won without contest. From this incredible debut Man O’ War continued on to win three stake races in the next three weeks.
Man O’ Mar only lost one race during his career against Upset at Sanford Memorial Stakes in 1919. At age three Man O’ War won all of his races, including beating Triple Crown winner Sir. Barton in 1920 at Kenilworth Park. Man O’ War was retired to stud when his owner discovered that he would have to carry over 138 pounds at age four. In his career of 20 wins in 21 starts, Man O’ War broke several records, including earning a total of $249,465, which was a record at that time. Man O’ War died in 1947 and was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1957.
Secretariat was born in Virginia March 30, 1970. His owner Penny Tweedy (Chenery) knew from the start that Secretariat was not your average horse and began his training with Lucien Laurin. Though Secretariat lost his debut race at age two, he finished first in seven of his nine races that year, including Sanford Stakes, Hopeful Stakes and Laurel Futurity. At the end of his two-year-old season Secretariat was named Horse of the Year.
His three-year-old race record was unstoppable, winning such races as the Marlboro Cup, the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. He set new records at all of these races as well as others during this year, coming in second or third in only three of his 12 races. Secretariat became Triple Crown winner that year. After his retirement Secretariat sired several stake winners until his death October 4, 1989. His earning totaled $1,316,808, a record for the time. He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1974.
Seattle Slew, born in February 1974 and sold for a small $17,500 to Karen and Mickey Taylor, set records and won championships throughout his entire racing career. Under the direction of trainer Billy Turner, he went undefeated in his two-year-old season, winning the Champagne Stakes and being named Champion Two-Year-Old Colt in 1976.
Seattle Slew continued to be a success in his three and four-year-old seasons. He became Triple Crown Winner in 1977. That year the Marlboro Cup was the first ever race between two Triple Crown winners, which Seattle Slew took over Affirmed. Seattle Slew held a 7-6 record for his three-year-old season and a 7-5 record at age four, setting a new track record at Woodward Stakes. After his retirement, Seattle Slew sired upwards of 100 stake winners, include Slew O’ Gold, Lundaluce and Seattle Song, among others. His total earnings came to $1,208,726 and he was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1981.
Affirmed, born February 21, 1975, was not only known for his championship speed on the track, but also for being part of one of the greatest rivalries in racing history against Alydar. Affirmed raced against Alydar ten times throughout his career, winning seven of those races. Affirmed’s trainer Lazaro Barrera started Affirmed at a Belmont Park five and a half furlong maiden race in May 1977, which he won. This race started three seasons of first place races and championships.
In his two-year-old season Affirmed won seven of nine races including the Hopeful Stakes, Belmont Futurity and Laurel Futurity. In his three-year-old season Affirmed won eight consecutive races including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and set a track record in the Santa Anita Handicap. This is the year Affirmed won the Triple Crown. Affirmed won the Hollywood Gold Cup during his four-year-old season, and a total of five Eclipse awards during his career before retiring to stud. His career earnings totaled $2,393,818. Affirmed was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1980.
Champions of Today
Smarty Jones, born February 28, 2001, is undeniably one of the greatest modern racehorses of today. This Elusive Quality-I’ll Get Along combination is owned by Roy and Pat Chapman who hired trainer John Servis to work him into a successful racehorse. The result is the phenomenon known today as Smarty Jones.
Smarty Jones won eight of nine starts in his racing career. He won his debut at Philadelphia Park then continued on to win Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes in November 2003. The following January Smarty Jones was unstoppable, winning race after race including Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby before becoming the first undefeated Kentucky Derby winner since 1977 when Seattle Slew captured the title. Smarty Jones also won the second leg of the Triple Crown, Preakness Stakes. His retirement was announced in August 2004 and was due to a medical condition. Up to that point Smarty Jones had won $7,613,155, making him one of the richest racehorses in American history.
Funny Cide, a Distorted Humor-Belle’s Good Cide combination, was born April 20, 2000. Funny Cide was purchased by Sackatoga Stable in March 2002 and began training with Barclay Tagg shortly after. Funny Cide made his debut at a Maiden race in September 2002 and won. This victory lead him to two more wins during his two-year-old season at Bertram Bongard Stakes and Sleepy Hollow.
Though during his three-year-old season Funny Cide finished second at Wood Memorial and third at the Louisiana Derby, Belmont Stakes and Haskell Invitational, he found victory in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Funny Cide was the first horse of New York breeding to win the Kentucky Derby, making New Yorkers proud. Funny Cide also took the lead over American Style at the beginning of his four-year-old season at Gulfstream Park in January 2004. Funny Cide holds the record for the highest earning of any New York bred racehorse in history.
These horses have carved their names in racing history through their determination, power and willingness to do what it takes to become a champion. These horses are merely a few of the well-known champions of our time. They have broken records and set the stage for the future generation of racing champions. It is horses like these that define the sport of racing as it continues to be one of the most widely attended spectator sports in history.