Like any sport, horse racing is nothing without its supporters and viewers and as usual what they want are heroes to worship.
Unlike in football or rugby for example though, most of the heroes of this sport are not even human at all. True, some trainers are hugely popular with punters and naturally some of the bigger names within the jockey’s weighing room have emerged as celebrities too, though it’s all about the equine personalities for us and that’s as it should be.
Some of the names below just trip off the tongues of even the most casual racing fan given what they have achieved, however others are famous only within the sport but have achieved their notoriety due to their extreme ability or toughness and fully deserve their places here.
Famous National Hunt Horses
Despite not seeing out his racing career due to injury, Arkle managed to win three Cheltenham Gold Cups as well as well as the Irish Grand National among other things.
His Timeform rating, supplied by the independent sports data provider, was the highest ever given to a chaser at 212.
In April 2014 a 1:1 scale bronze statue was unveiled in his honour in County Meath and his skeleton is on display at the Irish National Stud where people come to see the outline of a truly great athlete.
Paul Nicholls’ charge made history at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival by winning his fourth consecutive World Hurdle.
He is regarded because of this as the greatest staying hurdler in all of racing history.
Buck Buck’s also won four Long Distance hurdles, three Long Walk Hurdles and brought in over £1.2million in prize money.
He was retired in March 2014.
The most successful racing mare in National Hunt racing history having won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham back in 1984 and also the Cheltenham Gold Cup over the larger obstacles two years later.
She was the only racehorse ever to complete the Champion Hurdle / Gold Cup double in fact, and was only the second ever mare to win the Champion Hurdle at all.
She’s one of only four mares to have won the Gold Cup and holds a special place in the hearts of racing fans on both sides of the Irish Sea.
There is a tragic end to Dawn Run’s story though. At the 1986 French Champion Hurdle, a misstep on the last fence saw her fall and her neck was broken on impact. The horse’s death was instantaneous so she did not suffer, but it was a tragedy that is still talked about today.
Known among racing fans as The Tank and famed for his rivalry with Kauto Star, Denman had an unrelenting front-running style which took him to the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He earned over £1.1million in prize money during a career which also took in wins in the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Lexus Chase.
He was another who trained out of Paul Nicholls’ yard, but who was sadly euthanised in 2018.
“Dessie” was an iconic grey jumper who showed a determination which matched his undoubted high class.
Rated in the top five National Hunt horses of all time by Timeform, Desert Orchid won over £650,000 in his career which is extraordinary given that he was racing from the mid-80’s to early 90’s.
He’d be worth millions now.
His big race wins are too numerous to mention, though they do include four King George VI Chases at Kempton Park, a Cheltenham Gold Cup and an Irish Grand National are all among them.
Formerly a flat racing horse of fairly limited ability for Sheikh Hamdan, Istabraq was sold to JP McManus to go racing over jumps.
He went on to win three consecutive Champion Hurdle’s at the Cheltenham Festival from 1998-2000.
He went off favourite for a fourth Champion Hurdle, but broke down early in the race and was promptly retired by McManus and trainer Aidan O’Brien.
Kauto won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in both 2007 and 2009, becoming the first horse ever to regain the Gold Cup having lost to Denman in the 2008 renewal.
As well as having been the punter’s pal in winning plenty of races, he was just as revered for trying and failing to win back the Gold cup three more times after 2009.
He won the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day a record five times and is one of the most successful chasers of all time, winning £3.7million over his career.
The French-bred superstar is currently the third highest ever Timeform rated chaser on 192 and is their highest in the modern era.
Sacre won over £1.1million in prize money having taken the Tingle Creek, the Melling Chase at Aintree, the Punchestown Champion Chase, the Celebration Chase and most notably two Queen Mother Champion Chases at the Cheltenham Festival.
He was retired from racing at the back end of 2016 having won 18 of 24 career races.
Does he even need an introduction? Maybe not, but you may want some of the detail behind his fame.
Red Rum achieved something no other horse had done or is ever likely to do and that is win three Grand Nationals. He won the Aintree spectacular in 1973, 1974 and again in 1977.
He even managed to come second in 1975 and 1976 despite the race being notorious for testing a horse’s courage and stamina. Red Rum did not fall in any of his 100 races over obstacles.
The revered chaser died in October 1995, aged 30 and his death made the front pages of UK national newspapers. Rather fittingly, he is buried at the winning post of Aintree Racecourse.
Famous Flat Horses
Having already wowed fans in Australia for a few seasons, Black Caviar made her way to England to contest the the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The race attracted a crowd of 80,000 on course and was broadcast live in Australia where crowds watched on a giant screen in Melbourne’s Federation Square.
Having almost been caught on the line by French mare Moonlight Cloud, jockey Luke Nolen admitting he was lucky to get away with some overconfidence on her.
She finished her career unbeaten in 25 starts.
The British-bred superstar had a 17-race career which lasted from summer 1970 to autumn 1972 during which he won the 2000 Guineas, St James’s Palace Stakes, Sussex Stakes, two QEII’s, a Champion Stakes, a King George and more!
He was given a final rating of 141 by Timeform in 1971 which made him the equal highest rated horse of the year along with Mill Reef.
At the end of 1972 though, he was rated 144 and the joint second highest for a flat horse at that time.
The Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown is named in his honour.
Yet another superstar owned by Khalid Abdullah and easily the best thoroughbred of the modern era, Frankel was unbeaten in 14 races and since 2011 has been the highest rated racehorse in the world.
Between 2010 and 2012 Frankel stormed to wins in the Dewhurst Stakes, 2000 Guineas, St James’s Palace Stakes, Sussex Stakes (twice), QEII, Lockinge Stakes, Queen Anne and the Champion Stakes.
Since 1900, only Ribot of the British-bred horses has won more races in finishing his career unbeaten. Frankel won nine consecutive Group One’s and his performance in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket was described as one of the greatest ever runs on a British racecourse.
He won almost £3million on the track which is just the tip of the iceberg since his stud career has started so well, leading to conservative estimates that he is worth £100million now in the breeding shed.
Although his racing career was hardly shabby, winning the English and Irish Derbies as well as the King George in 2001, Galileo is now more talked about than ever before because of his stunning stallion record.
As of 2014 his stud fee had risen to €350,000 and he has become one of, if not the leading sire in world racing.
At one point, he was worth more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in their prime, combined.
His progeny includes such household names as Frankel and New Approach and he has now sired over 70 Group or Grade One winners worldwide with the promise of plenty more to come.
The great Mill Reef raced from 1970 to 1972 and was a real punters favourite back in the day. He won twelve races in 14-race career, finishing runner-up in the other two and despite being outstanding at two winning the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot as well as championship races the Gimcrack and the Dewhurst, he truly peaked at three years old.
Like a true champion, Mill Reef won the Derby, Eclipse, King George and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe during his three-year-old season and improved again to win two more races at four before retiring due to injury.
One of his two defeats was to the great Brigadier Gerard in the 2000 Guineas over that horse’s optimum one mile trip, meaning even in defeat he lost absolutely nothing. Mill Reef is an all-time great and, like his great rival, has a race named in his honour, this time a top two-year-old race at Newbury.
A big, bold, relentless galloper, Dubai Millennium was another TF 140-rated horse who won the QEII, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot the world’s richest race at that time, the Dubai World Cup.
Although never quite getting the applause he deserved for his performances, he was notorious among racing fans during his time and would almost certainly have had a long and successful stallion career.
He died aged five though due to grass sickness, a big loss to the Darley stud operation.
Trained in Ireland by the great Vincent O’Brien, Nijinsky remains the last horse to win the notoriously difficult English Triple Crown having done so way back in 1970.
The Triple Crown takes in the 2000 Guineas (one mile), the Derby (1½ miles) and the St Leger (1¾ miles) and so in winning it he showed himself to be the most versatile horse we’d seen for over 30 years and achieved a feat never to be repeated in the 20th century, or so far in the 21st.
His versatility is even more remarkable when you look back to his juvenile season and consider he won over the sprint distance of six furlongs.
In his Triple Crown winning season, he also took in and won the Irish Derby and the King George at Ascot making him not just the most versatile, but arguably the greatest horse of the last 100 years according to some experts.
Dancing Brave had a short, but very sweet racing career in 1985 and 1986, winning eight times in 10 starts.
In ’86 he won the 2000 Guineas, Eclipse Stakes, King George and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
He was beaten in the Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Turf in the States but lost nothing in defeat.
He was rated 140 by Timeform and was essentially the Frankel of his day, owned of course by the same man in Khalid Abdullah.
Although some horses capture the public’s imagination in the ‘here and now’ so to speak, i.e. Kauto Star, Red Rum or Frankel, some reputations take time to mature given that we don’t always know what we have until it’s gone.
Sea The Stars was of course famous and popular, but his notoriety up to now probably doesn’t match his achievements. During a busy three-year-old season in 2009, the lovely bay colt won the 2000 Guineas, The Derby and the Eclipse Stakes making him the first to win that notable treble since Nashwan way back in 1989.
On top of those races, he also landed the International Stakes at York, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe too to firmly etch his name among the greats of flat racing in the modern era.
From a long, long time ago but a great of the game, Eclipse was undefeated in 18 races between 1769 and 1770.
After his retirement he became one of the most successful sires of all time and appears today in the pedigree of most modern thoroughbreds should you look back at their lineage far enough.
His wins are long forgotten, but his name lives on in one of the UK’s biggest summer races, the Coral-Eclipse every July at Sandown Park.
Most famous for having been kidnapped by masked gunmen in Ireland before going missing, Shergar’s name is used in the same joking fashion as that of Lord Lucan given the fact he was never seen or heard from again.
The hunt for the missing horse made headlines.
That incident does indeed boost his notoriety, but it would be unfair for the uninitiated to assume this is the only reason the horse is so famous.
In 1981, Shergar was one of the greatest Derby winners ever when he took the race by a still record ten lengths. The Aga Khan’s horse went on to win the Irish Derby and the King George before being retired to stud at County Kildare.
These days, he is remembered the right way within the racing community having been honoured by the naming of the Shergar Cup; an international day of racing at Ascot every summer with jockeys competing in teams.
The subject of much debate currently in the northern hemisphere as there are doubts about the quality of her opposition, Winx is a full-on superstar in Australia where she has won 26 of her 32 races including the last 22 in a row.
Given the rise of fellow female star Enable in Europe, the racing community have shown a desperation to get the two to meet in 2018 and already fans from both sides of the globe are becoming increasingly partisan in their views about their respective charges.
Winx is indeed set to race in England and may or may not clash with Enable at some point, a spectacle that if both horses are fit and well promises to be one of the iconic duels in turf racing history.
A very current racing star; Enable has just finished her second racing season and has already bagged owner Khalid Abdullah £3.8million in prize money and will stay in training as a four-year-old.
After winning at Newcastle at 2, she went on to dominate not just the fillies’ division but he middle-distance division overall when winning the English, Irish and Yorkshire Oaks as well as the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Dimaond Stakes at Ascot before finishing the season by taking the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly.
Her partnership with famed jockey Frankie Dettori is one of the reasons she has captured the imagination of the public so much.