With California Chrome’s quest for a Triple Crown coming up this Saturday in the Belmont now is the best time to settle forever which are the five greatest racehorses of all time. Secretariat is number one largely based on the fact he holds the record for the fastest times in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont. Man O’ War deserves second because he once won a race by 100 lengths and he only lost a single race in his career. The next three positions are wide open but a person can’t go wrong with Seabiscuit, Native Dancer and War Admiral.
The following list will create a storm of controversy because Citation and some others aren’t on there but here goes anyway.
l. Secretariat won the greatest race in thoroughbred history when he shattered the Belmont record in 1973 by destroying the rest of the field by 31 lengths. And that’s a conservative estimate. People watching the race on television couldn’t even see the second place horse on their screens when Big Red crossed the finish line. The next horse was in another zip code as the announcer said. Golfing great Jack Nicklaus broke down and cried because he said he saw perfection that day. As if that wasn’t enough, Secretariat also beat the great Sham in both the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby, also in record-breaking time. Those records still stand today.
2. Man O’ War still has his supporters as the greatest of all time. He didn’t win the Kentucky Derby, but that wasn’t his fault. His owner and trainer Glen Riddle didn’t want to enter his horse in that race because he felt it was too early in the year. So he didn’t win the Triple Crown. He lost only one race in his career to a horse called Upset. It was such a big upset that the term has been coined throughout history to designate an astonishing outcome of a contest. He reportedly also won a race by 100 lengths. And Secretariat was in his lineage. But Secretariat’s record times are all better than Man O’ War’s so the edge goes to the 1973 Triple Champion.
3. Seabiscuit never got the respect he deserved during his career and even today he is vastly underrated in most polls. Seabiscuit lived from 1933 to 1947 and was a hero to Americans who suffered through the Great Depression. Possibly because he loved to eat a lot and sleep a whole lot, and what human doesn’t, he was largely ignored by his original trainer during his early years at Claiborne Farms. Instead Claiborne Farms promoted Omaha to the Triple Crown and ignored Seabiscuit. So he never got a shot at any of the Triple Crown races. However, when new trainer Tom Smith discovered him he went on to become American Horse of the Year in 1938. In 1937 he won 11 of 15 races and was the leading money winner in the United States while War Admiral won the Triple Crown. But on Nov. 1, 1938 Seabiscuit ran the second greatest race in history. He soundly defeated War Admiral in a match race the American public demanded to see at Pimlico. Running over a mile and 3/16 he jumped to an early lead over the seemingly invincible War Admiral and never relinquished it. Jockey George Woolf took the lead, but used some horse psychology. He would slow Seabiscuit long enough for War Admiral to threaten him and then gallop away. War Admiral ran his best time that day over this distance and still couldn’t beat the Biscuit. Seabiscuit is the greatest symbol of how a great horse can be mistrained by humans in his early days so that he doesn’t win a race. But once he teamed up with a human like Tom Smith who knew how to treat him, Seabiscuit surged to the top of the racing world.
4. Native Dancer won 21 of the 22 races he entered during his illustrious career. In a fair race, he would’ve won the 1953 Kentucky Derby, the only blemish on his record. He was fouled repeatedly all over the track, but the stewards did nothing to change the final results of the race as they should have. His jockey was criticized for riding his horse all over the track everywhere except into the restroom, but the conventional wisdom is it was the illegal actions by his opponents that denied him the Derby. He came back strong to win the final two legs of the Triple Crown at the Preakness and Belmont. How can one criticize a horse who should’ve been undefeated if it weren’t for the stewards negligence at Churchill Downs?
5. War Admiral was thought to be invincible after winning the Triple Crown in 1937. He almost didn’t get to enter the Kentucky Derby though because of his trainer Glen Riddle. Riddle thought the Derby was run too early in the year for young horses to be developed enough to run in it. That was the reason he refused to allow Man o’ War to enter the race in 1920. Also there was a belief by Riddle and others that the upstart Kentucky Derby was trying to enter the rare air of the eastern establishment racing world. In that day, the Derby was not established as the premier race in the nation. Since it was outside the orbit of the eastern racetracks at Baltimore and New York, Riddle decided it wasn’t quite good enough for his horses. But he finally relented and allowed War Admiral to become the fourth Triple Crown winner in history. He even broke Man o’ War’s track record at the Belmont. His loss to Seabiscuit in the famous match race drops him to fifth and elevates Seabiscuit to third on this list.
All right, the debate continues as to whether Man o’ War or Secretariat should be No. l depending on which poll one looks at. However, since Secretariat holds the record for fastest times in all three Triple Crown races, he deserves the nod here. After all, in horseracing, fastest is best.
Can California Chrome break Secretariat’s incredible record in the Belmont? We’ll find out soon.
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