The 7 Greatest Horse Races of All Time

Horse racing is one of the most watched sports in the time with the 150th Kentucky Derby viewership estimated held in May 2024 at 16.7 million, making it the biggest Derby audience since 1989. The figure had peaked at 20.1 million from 7 to 7:15 p.m. EDT when Mystik Dan, Sierra Leone, and Forever Young edged first place, second place, and third place in the three-horse photo finish since 1947.

The horse racing popularity is largely attributed to the exhilarating watch experience, and of course, the fact that it provides an avenue for racegoers to make money from betting on the outcome of the race.

Greatest Horse Races of All Time

The Gold Cup, Belmont Stakes and the Eclipse Stakes are some of the best horse races of all time. Find out how it all played out with the horses.

The Gold Cup of 1986

Held on June 18, 1986, the Gold Cup saw both the Quashed and Omaha slug it out for the finish line. Although there were no public addresses or photo-finishes at the time, it was a game worth watching with the spectators tense as the two remained inseparable until the post.

Belmont Stakes of 1973

This has to be the greatest horse race of all time, depending on how you looked at it. Held at Belmont Park on June 9, 1973, the race was clearly between Secretariat and Man-O-War.


With a remarkable 31-length victory, he landed the US Triple Crown and has since gone on to remain the racehorse to beat.

Grand Steeplechase de Paris

Held in Auteuil on June 17, 1962, it turned out to be a “fall to glory” story for Mandarin. From what can best be described as not having started the race on the right foot, Mandarin was able to hold it down through slogging on, leg-power and determination. He was able to end this as the greatest horse race of all time by a head over the opponent, Fred Winter.

Kentucky Derby, 2009

Mine That Bird showed excellence leg-power in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, which had him leading Pioneerof the Mile just close to the finish line. The nearly seven-length victory goes down in history as:

  • The biggest lead for over 6 decades in a Derby.
  • The longest-odds racehorse to win the Kentucky Derby in 6 decades and half.

Belmont Stakes, 1978

Just five years after Secretariat pulled the stunt, the duo of Alydar and Affirmed were down for theirs. In what pundits call a “neck-to-neck race,” Alydar tried so hard to clinch the last straw of hope to recover from the second positions at the Preakness Stakes and Kentucky Derby. However, Affirmed beat him to it and left the former to the fate of being the only racehorse to consistently come second in a Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes

This best horse race of all time was held at Ascot on July 26, 1975, and was a clear decider between the top four-year-old, Bustino, and the top three-year-old, Grundy, who doubles as an Irish Derby and Kentucky Derby winner.


Grundy had led for a while, even with a head-to-head advantage, but would soon give way to Bustino, who “bust” all the way and finished with half a length.

Breeder’s Cup Classic, 1993

This premier horseracing event in North America had the favorite Bertrando and the underdog, Arcangue slugging it out. Arcangue, a French racehorse, set a record as the most shocking victory by an underdog since the Breeder’s Cup Classic started.

Concluding Thoughts

Many remarkable memories have been made throughout the history of horse races, from the undergods usurping the favorites to faltering horses putting in extra leg-work to finish by a length or at best, a half.

Opinions may vary on what makes the best horse races of all time, but the records set so far show that these animals do not get the victory handed to them, but go through a series of training and a unique combination of pedigree, agility and the ability to maintain high speeds over varying distances. Federico Tesio, an Italian breeder of Thoroughbreds for horse racing best describes it this way, “A horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart, and wins with his character.”