Horse racing has a long and varied history with some of the world’s most famous racecourses and races lasting several centuries. For the most part though, the same longevity isn’t translated out onto the track with many of the sport’s most accomplished jockeys’ and runners’ only enjoying a few years in their prime before being moved along. Every now and then, however, there are those that buck the trend and achieve great success, in the process demonstrating that age is just a number. Here’s our look at some of the oldest horses to ever enter the winner’s circle on race day.
Starting off this list is the current world record holder Al Jabal, a pure bred Arab ridden by Brian Boulton back in 2002.
When the owner Andrea Boulton arrived in Wiltshire for the Three Horseshoes Handicap Stakes at Barbury Castle, there weren’t many people who could blame her for thinking Al Jabal was an outsider at best. After all, at 19 years of age, the chestnut gelding’s best years were likely behind him.
What happened next however would be etched into the history books as the purebred went on to dominate the field in the six furlong encounter and earn a momentous victory that still holds rank in the conversation to this day.
It was a sterling effort and went against everything we know about horse racing. Lack of speed, fitness and interest are attributes that tend to come along as horses age and contribute to their gradual decline but this horse clearly didn’t get the memo.
Given the number of races that take place throughout the year, more casual fans can be forgiven for believing that horses of all shapes and sizes end up taking the plaudits over the course of the season. But in reality it doesn’t work like that, horses of older ages entering the winner’s circle is an extremely rare event; in fact, only five horses in history have managed to claim victory aged 18 and above and Sonny Somers is one of those five.
Trained by Fred Winters, Somers would have a very successful year in 1980, starting it off with two wins in handicap chases in February, one at Southwell and the other at Lingfield. The 18-year-old was no stranger to success during the course of his career with 25 wins from 109 races across his 12 seasons running on the track. With only two campaigns where he failed to claim victory, Sonny Somers’ longevity and record still stands as one of the most impressive in the history of UK horse racing.
The next addition to our list was also making his mark in 1980 alongside Sonny Somers, but on a much bigger stage. The Cheltenham Festival remains the biggest horse racing event the UK has to offer and the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the crown jewel of that week.
Thousands of racing fans have flocked to Gloucester for decades to see who will take home the coveted trophy and in April of 1980 Mac Vidi guaranteed his name would be carved into the history of this iconic race. The 15-year-old trained by the unorthodox Pam Neal managed to achieve what no horse that age had ever done before or since, placing in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He ran well, owing his runner-up spot to a disqualification of Tied Cottage.
It was the first time a horse aged older than 13 had ever managed the feat and is considered both Vidi’s and Neal’s best achievement in the sport. Vidi would capitalize on his good form and go on to win seven races including six consecutive handicap chases.
See Double You
Rounding off the list are two more modern examples, the most recent of which is this Ronan McNally-trained winner of the handicap hurdle at Roscommon. The 16-year-old enjoyed a modicum of success in a career that included five hurdle wins and three chase wins but by far the most notable contribution was the handicap hurdle victory against the odds in 2019 that made See Double You one of the oldest race winners in history. For anyone fancying a punt on an old horse they can use the BetUK sign up offer.
The second most recent member of this list is this John Bridger-trained 15-year-old that rolled back the years at Lingfield in 2016. At the time of his retirement in 2017, Megalala was one of the oldest active runners in Britain and was still managing to compete at a fairly high level despite his distinct disadvantages.
Megalala was a flats runner and, much like See Double You, he enjoyed a reasonable amount of success with 13 victories in 97 races over the span of his career. The most significant of which came the year before his retirement at Lingfield in the mile-and-a-quarter handicap. At 15-years-old, the victory made Megalala the oldest winner of a flat race in the post-war era in not only the UK or Ireland, but also the world. A truly remarkable feat that remains one of the greatest accomplishments in horse racing history.