December 9, 2009

ZATT’s Top 10 All-Time Greats

The Top 10 Horses to run on American soil according to ZATT. Let’s count it down…

10) Native Dancer - The Gray Ghost was racing’s first television star and so dominated his peers of 1952 through 1954, that he came a desperate photo away from being a perfect 22 wins in 22 starts. Unfortunately the loss came in the Kentucky Derby, as the gray hero gained with every stride, but came up just short to longshot, speed horse, Dark Star. One jump away from an undefeated Triple Crown champion, but alas, it was not to be for one of America‘s favorite horses. At stud, Native Dancer became a prolific sire, and his sire line proved to be one of the most influential in modern American racing.

9) Forego - Forego was a late developing son of Argentine great, Forli, and did not race as a two-year-old. At three, he was no match for the king of his generation, Secretariat, but he continued improving through a busy campaign and by that Winter was a major player. As an older horse, he became an all-time great, highlighted by four consecutive wins in the Woodward. Seeing Forego’s stretch run was like watching a force of nature. The gelding won 34 of his 57 career starts while running against the top competition in his era and consistently carrying hefty weight handicaps. He was named Horse of the Year three consecutive times from 1974 through 1976.

8) Seattle Slew - In a matter of weeks, Seattle Slew went from an inexpensive unknown to a juvenile champion and early Kentucky Derby favorite. In 1977, Slew did not disappoint his legions of fans as he steamrolled through derby preps in Florida and New York. The ultimate test of the Triple Crown turned into nothing more than a coronation for him as the dark bay speedster easily cantered into immortality. At four, Slew showed his tremendous talent and will to win as he handled the superb three-year-old, Affirmed, twice in the Fall. A true rags to riches story Seattle Slew remains the only horse to win the Triple Crown while still undefeated.

7) Kelso - If dominating the Horse of the Year voting year after year, was the top criteria, Kelso would be number one with a bullet. King Kelly amazingly was named America’s best horse five consecutive seasons, from 1960 to 1964. The great gelding made it to the racetrack in eight different years, won 39 times and is still the benchmark for durability at the highest level. Kelso carried great weights and won at all distances. He was probably best on dirt, but some still consider his romping win on turf, over rival Gun Bow in the 1964 D.C. International to be his finest performance. Kelly’s feat of winning five straight Jockey Club Gold Cups will never be matched.

6) Dr. Fager - No other horse was quite like the Good Doctor. He was a wild child with his flowing mane and go for broke running style. Irresistible speed and undeniable heart carried Dr. Fager to finish first in 19 out of his 22 starts between 1966 and 1968. He did not have it easy as he had a super rival in Damascus, a champion older horse to contend with in Buckpasser, rabbits to pressure his awesome speed, and great weights to carry. In 1968, Dr. Fager pulled off the unprecedented feat of being named Horse of the Year, Champion Older Horse, Champion Grass Horse, and Champion Sprinter. He set a world record for a mile of 1:32 1/5 while toting 134 pounds in Chicago and finished his career by winning the Vosburgh in 1:20 1/5 (only one fifth off another world record) while carrying 139 pounds.

5) Count Fleet - Did Count Fleet go out in style? How does winning the Triple Crown with a 25 length runaway in the 1943 Belmont Stakes sound? Count Fleet was not perfect early on, as it took him awhile to discover his best running. When he did 6 furlongs in 1:08 1/5 in a workout as a juvenile, it was clear that legendary jockey Johnny Longdon had been right. Longdon had urged his owner not to sell Count Fleet when he was still winless. Together him and The Fleet would roll to 10 wins as a juvenile and the best was yet to come. When Count Fleet arrived in Louisville, it was clear that he was the best and was sent off at 2-5. The rest is history as The Fleet rolled through the Triple Crown with amazing ease. He threw in a romp in the prestigious Withers Stakes during the Crown for good measure. Count Fleet was undefeated in six starts at three and never broke a sweat.

4) Spectacular Bid - Oh, if not for a safety pin. The Bid was a great two-year-old, a greater three-year-old, and a supreme example of the excellence of a thoroughbred at four. The Bid set multiple track records in his championship season at two. At three, he was so dominant in the lead up to the Derby, that the world thought it a foregone conclusion that he would become the third consecutive Triple Crown champion. Things were going swimmingly until the morning of the Belmont. The Bid stepped on a safety pin and lost the Belmont, finishing 3rd and having a 12 race win streak snapped. At four. Spectacular Bid trumped his first two marvelous seasons by completing one of the greatest seasons ever. He finished his career with an unbeaten season in nine starts, setting four track records, and set a career earnings record. In an ultimate sign of respect, not one horse would line up against The Bid in one of the biggest races of the year, the 1980 Woodward. It was Spectacular Bid’s final race and it was a walkover.

3) Citation - Big Cy had two separate racing careers. The first was a testament to his incredible ability and consistency, and the second to his heart and courage. In 1947 he was the top juvenile in the nation with only one loss and in 1948 he incredibly won 19 out of 20 starts in his Horse of the Year season. His Triple Crown run was a tour-de-force as he won each race easier than the previous, culminating with an eight length romp in the Belmont. The Calumet runner missed his four-year-old season due to arthritis in his fetlock joint, but in his first two remarkable seasons, Citation had 27 wins and two 2nd place finishes in 29 starts. Not the same after his arthritis problems and layoff, Citation still proved to be one of the finest handicap horses of his time in 1950 & 1951.

2) Secretariat - When Big Red was at his best, I believe he was the greatest horse that ever looked through a bridle. His win in the Belmont Stakes has never and may never be equaled. Secretariat fell short in a troubled trip in his first start of his career and thrice was stymied by his W curse in the Wood, Whitney, and Woodward as a three year old, but the sheer brilliance he displayed in the rest of his 17 races is enough to consider Secretariat one of the two greatest horses in American history. Secretariat not only ran the greatest 12 furlongs ever in the Belmont, he had already set records in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. For one horse to be so sensational in each leg of the grueling Triple Crown series is truly unbelievable. Despite a few losses after the Triple Crown, his powerhouse wins in the Marlboro Cup, Man O’ War, and Canadian International were more than enough to cement his place in racing lore.

Drum roll please, and the number one race horse of all-time is…

1) Man O’ War - The original Big Red had it all, consistency and greatness. In only two seasons of racing, the great horse won 20 out of 21 races. His only loss was as a juvenile, when he finished 2nd to Upset in the 1919 Sanford Stakes when he gave the winner 15 pounds and was said to be the victim of a horrible trip. The son of Fair Play dominated the rest of the year and was named champion juvenile. As a three-year-old Man o' War won all of his 11 races. In eight of those races he broke track records. He carried up to 138 pounds in the , he won the Belmont Stakes by 20 lengths and Man O’ War won the Lawrence Realization by an unbelievable 100 lengths breaking the track record by more than four seconds in the 1 5/8 mile race. In a match -up of stars Man o' War defeated the previous year’s Triple Crown winner Sir Barton by seventeen lengths in a match race at Kenilworth Park. At stud, Man O’ War was one of the best sires of the first half of the twentieth century.

29 comments:

tjreyn01 said...

Hard to narrow down a list of the top ten as there arguably more that could be included as well. But I think you got number 1 dead on. A lot of people put Secretariat first, and while I do love everything he did, I think Man O'War is definitely the best ever.

Michael said...

I would have had Cigar in there somewhere and the easy drop would be Count fleet since I know next to nothing about him. To win 16 in a row is a major feat, especially when you see the #1 and #2 horse could not do it. Could Cigar beat any of the ZATT Top 10...I have no clue.

Brian Zipse said...

Thanks Tim...don't be afraid to tell me who you believe I should have included.

Michael, Cigar had a great run, but frankly was not one of the last few that I eliminated from inclusion.

Michael said...

Brian, Were any turf horses on your radar (John Henry)? These are all dirt specialists.

Brian Zipse said...

Michael, good question. There were a few turf champions on the list and several that ran on turf, but you are right they are all primarily known for their exploits on dirt. I believe that the greatest turf horses in history are not Americans. John Henry had a remarkable career, but not better than anyone on this list in my estimation.

LDP said...

Fantastic list Brian. It seems like almost every horse I listed on FB last night you have on the list. Man o War is number one, no doubt in my mind. He was big, beautiful, and boy was he fast. Only twice he was ever whipped, the first in his only loss and the next against John P. Grier, hope I spelled his name right. Other than that her broke records under a choke hold under wieghts horses his age and even older wouldn't dream of carrying. If not for one of the worst trips in probably the history of racing he would have been 21 for 21.

Anonymous said...

very interesting perspective,for me this is an education as i only had the pleasure of witnessing a couple 2 or 3 of these magnificent atheletes perform live and in living colour.However as time goes on i amm sure your perspective will change because i am apt to believe that generationally we only get better,meaning horses also....accomplishment,performance,times..i.e the stopwatch reflect my source of thought also the mere fact that we have not had a triple crown winner in umpteen years shows the depth and parity of the breed over the last 30 odd some years all in all what i am saying is man o war ,slew, bid ,secretariat maybe a couple 2 or 3 more are automatic choices the rest are preferences from sentimental second hand tales and stories and are interchangeable dependent on "perspective" and who is talking....therefore my list would have to include the infamous CIGAR and of course the undefeated queen ZENYATTA..maybe #s..9 and 10 respectively but they would be on my list as their is no time better than now and the horses of now are better overall....great article zipster..the pleasure is mine...the opion is also mine...keep me informed...nuff luv!!

EricKalet said...

If Cigar is on the list then would need to include Dare and Go who upset Cigar. Cigar was no doubt a top 50 horse but not a top 10. Logically the Top 10 could include 10 of 13 triple crown winners...There are so many ways to drill down a top 10 list, of course Man O' War and Secretariat are must haves on any Top 10. The remaining 8 spots...easily argued and debated until the end of time.

Brian Zipse said...

It seems like Cigar is the hottest topic so far...that really surprises me. I was expecting to see Affirmed and Seabiscuit fans tear me apart!

Marti said...

To continue to use MOW, when there's no one around who was alive to even see him, well...LOL, when does he lop off ANY list anymore? JMO, bu his competition is easily researched, for comparison. Secretariat seems like a "gimme" too (sorry)...31 lengths seems to totally dismiss the fact that he never went on after 3. I personally place him on a "we'll never REALLY know"...absolutely no different than any other sensational 3yo that's come along before or after him. We can speculate based on what they did do, but can we REALLY rank abbreviated seasons against horses who ran at least 3 FULL years? Spectacular Bid in the 4th spot is also (sorry Brian) absurd. The Triple Crown, or it's races, are NOT the be all/end all. He lost the TC....who hasn't?? If you peruse his record carefully, the records, the tracks, the competition, this horse was all but untouchable...and he remains MY personal #1 slot horse, and I can't fathom any other coming along that will come close to what he was.
Cigar hangs in the balance here for me, but not sure I'd have him in my own top 10, either. Affirmed should have made this list. NOT because he's a TC winner, but the over-all career.

That said, I think the TC winners are too prevalant here (I'd not have included Count Fleet), and a testimony to the fact we put entirey too much emphasis on those three races...at the expen se of careers.

Much like the Top 100, that some people take as gospel, ranking TBs is always a matter of someone's opinion, and not factual, per se...and none of your 10 here are left field choices Brian, by any means... regardless of order.

We may not all agree, but all of these horses would likely make virtually anyone's Top 25 or 30...the rest is up for debate ;-)

Brian Zipse said...

Sorry Marti, While I consider Spectacular Bid the greatest of my personal favorites, I do not believe that he would have won the race between him, at his best, against Secretariat, at his best.

Ciarán said...

i was jus gonna leave a really kiss-ass comment, thought better of it when i read it back! good piece Brian! jus read the facebook comments and who did Zenyatta really beat in this years classic- her finest hour... Twice Over and Gio Ponti and a lot of horses who didnt run their race..Einstein, Rip... Twice Over was beaten 17 lengths by Sea the Stars this season, and he was beaten an easy 6 lengths by New Approach last season. The Observatory colt clearly improved for a few confidence boosters between then and the classic but I think it can be conceded that it wasn't a vintage renewal and Zenyatta should not ever get near a top ten of all time list.
Great filly tho :)

Ciarán said...

i shud amend this. Rip ran his race. Ran too hard in the early stages and is only a miler so couldnt see it through. Also there were some quality dirt horses in the field , however, running on pro-ride.

Michael said...

Eric, with your Dare and Go inclusion, we would then also have to include Upset and Onion. And who were the 12th and 13th Triple Crown winners?

I do agree this could be debated until the end of time.

Still a great piece written by Brian and the passion shown by everyone means there is a place for racing in our society.

Brian Zipse said...

Ciarán, I have great respect for racing's fairer sex, and I might have some fillies or mares closer to this list than many, but in the end, I agree, I just could not replace any horse on this list with Zenyatta, Rachel or Ruffian.

Anonymous said...

Diane said...

Tell me this is not good enough...

Affirmed:

At 2: Won Youthful Stakes, Hollywood Juvenile Championship, Sanford Stakes, Hopeful Stakes, Futurity Stakes, Laurel Futurity... See More

At 3: Won Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, San Felipe Stakes, Santa Anita Derby, Hollywood Derby, Jim Dandy Stakes

At 4: Won Strub Stakes, Santa Anita Handicap, Californian Stakes, Hollywood Gold Cup, Woodward Stakes, Jockey Club Gold Cup

U.S. Triple Crown Champion (1978)
American Champion 2-Year-Old Colt (1977)
American Champion 3-Year-Old Male Horse (1978)
American Horse of the Year (1978, 1979)

Brian Zipse said...

It would have been enough Diane, if my list had extended to 11, Affirmed came that close. He was a marvelous race horse.

No one has mentioned #12 on my list yet...here's a hint, he compiled an impressive number of races run and wins.

Anonymous said...

From Diane...

Round Table??

Brian Zipse said...

Diane!!! You just nailed #11 & #12 on my list. Impressive, you deserve a prize!

Anonymous said...

:) Thanks, Brian! Too bad there wasn't a prize involved. lol

D.

Susan White said...

I am so tired of Man O War being on everyones favorite list. The only reason Secretariat is not number one is because Bill Nack placed him 14. It skewed the results...As far as my favorite horses....I could go on and on..Buckpasser....the most magnificent horse ever..Damascus..who beat Dr. Fager...Alysheba...John Henry..the warrior...who ran and ran. Alydar, who met the worst fate of all...

LDP said...

Man o War deserves to be number one. If there ever was a perfect horse made he was it. There was no telling what he coud've been if they brought him back one more year. In this case they had good reason not to since he had twice injured a tendon in his front leg and would be given astronomical weights as a handicap horse, seeing as he carried weights up to 138lbs when only three. He deserves to be number one.

Anonymous said...

Bill Nack is not the person who placed Secretariat 14th. He said if he had known at the time that someone did that, he would have placed MOW 14th to offset it.

Brian Zipse said...

This was my list, my evaluation of the greatest horses ever to run on American soil. What Secretariat's great biographer, Bill Nack, thinks on the subject, had nothing to do with my choices.

EricKalet said...

Michael,

I had a "bakers dozen" on my mind, LOL, that should read 10 of 11...!

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, I think Ruffian belongs on this list for no other reason than she was never headed in any race she ever ran. Her potential may never have been known save for the infamous match race on July 6, 1975 with Foolish Pleasure whom she bested for 6 furlongs at the amazing pace of 1:08 3/5 into the 1 1/4 mile race. Her potential ultimately came down to one of physical limitations - she simply wanted to run faster than her body allowed - never letting another pass her by.

Anonymous said...

I'm certainly not an expert on thoroughbred horses, but recently did a lot of research because my friends that claim to be experts say that Secretariat was the greatest and I did not agree. I favored Spectacular Bid or Citation due to their records. I discovered how much I did not know. I agree with your top ten picks and the order you rank them excpet I would move Seattle Slew up to Number #6. Man O'War is the greatest of all.......the one race he lost the jockey for Upset said that he had boxed him in which was legal then but not now. Man O'War's times were not as good as Secretariat's but neither were the conditions of the track.

Anonymous said...

i like Damascus/ Sea Bird 11/ desert gold /nearco/ dahlia/personal ensign/lammtara/invasort m opera o/allez france/eight belles/genuine risk/ruffian/spectacular bid/

Frank said...

ranking from such different periods of time is foolish.... no ranking on mine...just the top 3 in no order Man-O-War, Native Dancer and Secretariat