Iconic Moments in Horseracing History

This article contains third-party links.

Horse racing has long been one of the most popular sports in the world, with the so-called “Sport of Kings” boasting a heritage that few others can match.

Today’s modern racing era is widely considered to have originated with the famous English classic races of the St. Leger in 1776, the Oaks in 1779, and the Epsom Derby in 1780. In the US, the Belmont Stakes started in 1867, followed by the Preakness Stakes in 1873 and the Kentucky Derby in 1875.

With so many famous races and a history that dates back over a hundred years, there have inevitably been many incredible moments in horseracing. Here’s our round-up of the most iconic races ever.

Belmont Stakes – 1973

It is probably no surprise that we start in 1973 at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. Secretariat arrived having won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and was one win away from becoming the Triple Crown Champion and writing his name in history. Only eight horses had previously managed the legendary feat, and no horse had achieved it since Count Fleet in 1943.

In the end, the race is iconic not because it was a close race, but because Secretariat put the result beyond any doubt by romping home an incredible 31 lengths clear of the rest of the field. Not only did Secretariat set the record for the fastest Belmont Stakes time, but he still holds all three Triple Crown time records.

Despite a short 16-month career, Secretariat was twice voted Horse of the Year, and is now widely regarded as one of the greatest racehorses ever. It’s no surprise therefore, that the race that sealed his place in the among the greatest, should be recognised as one of the most iconic in the history of the sport.

Belmont Stakes – 2015

In 2015, no one had had won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, so when American Pharaoh lined up at the Belmont Stakes, hoping to become the 12th winner, history was not on his side. Despite a poor start, American Pharaoh soon made it to the front and never looked back. Leading home the field by a comfortable five and a half lengths. He also set the record for the second-fastest horse in Belmont Stakes, behind the mighty Secretariat.

Kentucky Derby – 2009

The 2009 Kentucky Derby is a race that will be forever remembered as the one that upset the horse racing odds. To say that Mind That Bird was an outsider is an understatement, with the 50/1 long shot lucky to have even qualified for the race.

The horse was bought for a mere $9,500 and taken to the track from New Mexico on a trailer attached to trainer Chip Woolley’s truck. For a large part of the race, Mind That Bird backed up its long odds by running around Churchill Downs in dead last place.

Headed down the backstretch, he was so far behind that he was hardly visible on the television broadcast, but jockey Calvin Borel rode him home to claim a famous win by nearly seven lengths.  The win is widely regarded as the greatest comeback in horseracing history and one of the biggest upsets in Kentucky Derby history.

Breeders Cup – 1993

The Breeder’s Cup Classic is regarded as the premier horseracing event in North America so this 1993 victory by Arcangues, remains one of the greatest and most iconic horse races of all time. While Arcangues’ father may have won the prestigious Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe in France, he wasn’t considered a great horse, and certainly not as good as his father.

When he arrived in California to race at Santa Anita Park in the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Arcangues had only ever raced on grass and looked every bit the 133/1 outsider. Californian Bertrando was the favourite, and led down the stretch, but Arcangues sensationally came back to claim a narrow victory, even though jockey Jerry Bailey had never ridden the horse before.


Gold Cup – 1936

Perhaps this race has suffered as the years have passed, and more modern races with wall-to-wall media coverage have usurped it in minds of racing fans. However, there’s no doubt it deserves its billing as one of the most iconic races of all time.

The Gold Cup was raced at the famous Ascot race track in England, and was regarded as the biggest all-aged race of the Flat season. It pitted Omaha, the winner of the 1935 Triple Crown, against Quashed, the winner of the 1936 Oaks. Anticipation was high on both sides of the Atlantic. Could the American pretender defeat the British filly?

The race lived up to expectations, with the two horses seemingly inseparable as they crossed the line neck and neck. There was no photo-finish back then, so several tense minutes went by until Quashed was finally named the victor.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Eclipse Magazine
Newsletter Signup

Racing News, What to Wear, Competitions, Features, Betting Tips and More

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team. We'll bring the news to you about once a month. We NEVER share your data.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Scroll to Top