The Most Famous Horses of All Time

"Frankel" (CC BY 2.0) by monkeywing - image to represent sussex stakes

The history of horse racing has been littered with equine superstars whose exploits on the track cemented their legendary status. has a comprehensive list of the most famous thoroughbred horses from both the UK and US – all of which were the scourge of the bookmakers.

With that in mind, we take a closer look at some of the top racehorses that have shone on the flat and over jumps, starting with one whose legacy is still impacting the sport today.


Named after top trainer Bobby Frankel, the Henry Cecil-trained thoroughbred ended his illustrious career with an impressive record.


Having swept the opposition aside as a two-year-old in 2010, Frankel laid down a marker the following season with a dominant victory in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

Further big-race successes followed, including a contemptuous success over Canford Cliffs in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.

Frankel remained unbeaten as a four-year-old and has since become one of the most influential sires on the global horse racing scene.

Northern Dancer

Frankel is from the same bloodline as Northern Dancer, which goes a long way to explain why he became such as dominant force on the track.

The bay colt was the first Canadian-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby in 1964 and subsequently went on to claim victory in the Preakness Stakes.

While Northern Dancer narrowly missed out on the Triple Crown after finishing third in the Belmont Stakes, he bounced back to win the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine Racetrack.

He was subsequently inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in both America and Canada, and went on to become one of the most successful sires in the world.

Red Rum

National Hunt racing has produced many legends of the sport over the past few decades and one of the most famous names is undoubtedly Red Rum.

The horse ran in five Grand Nationals at Aintree, winning in 1973, 1974 and 1977 to become the only horse to finish first in the marathon event on three occasions.

He also finished second in 1975 and 1976, cementing his status as one of the finest staying chasers in the history of the sport.

Red Rum was due to run the National again in 1978 but he suffered an injury in the run-up to the race and was retired.


When it comes to producing ‘wow’ moments in racing, you would be hard-pushed to top what Secretariat achieved in 1973.

‘Big Red’ became just the ninth winner of the American Triple Crown and still holds the record times for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

The latter race attracted worldwide interest as no horse had completed the feat since Citation in 1948, but Secretariat had no problem getting the job done.

The horse subsequently became a successful sire and has had several statues erected in his honour across North America.


Arkle was one of the biggest racing stars of the 1960s, ending his career with a record of 27 victories from just 35 appearances on the track.

The horse initially made a name for itself in Ireland, claiming big race victories in events such as the Punchestown Gold Cup and Powers Gold Cup.

However, he became a racing legend after recording three successive wins in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1964, 1965 and 1966.

Arkle also won the King George VI Chase at Kempton (1965) and several other top races before being retired in 1967.


Shergar’s stunning victory by ten lengths in 1981 is the longest winning margin in the history of the Epsom Derby, but that is only half the story where this horse is concerned.

The Aga-Khan owned thoroughbred was kidnapped from his stable in County Kildare by an armed gang and was never found.

The operation was reportedly carried out by the IRA, who wanted to use the ransom money to fuel purchases for arms to use during the troubles in Ireland.

While Shergar’s body was never discovered, his achievements on the racecourse mark him down as one of the finest talents ever to grace the sport.

Desert Orchid 

Very few horses have the ability to transcend the boundaries between racing and popular culture, but Desert Orchid was one such animal.

The dashing grey won four King George VI Chases at Kempton (1986, 1988, 1989 and 1990) – a feat subsequently topped by Kauto Star who went one better.

However, it was his victory in the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup that cemented ‘Dessie’s’ status as one of the most famous horses of all time.

The roar as he powered up the run-in at Cheltenham remains one of the most spine-tingling moments in the history of UK sport.

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