Which are, or were, the greatest racehorses of all time?

In the absence of an objective measure of the abilities of racehorses from different generations, any discussion of the ‘greatest’ racehorses of all time is inevitably highly subjective. According to Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings World, formerly Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings, which began in 1977, Frankel, who retired, unbeaten, in October, 2012, is the highest-rated horse in the history of official classifications. Even so, Frankel only achieved that position after a controversial ‘recalibration’ of the ratings, which saw Dancing Brave, winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1986, downgraded by 3lb.

Timeform agrees that Frankel is the highest-rated horse, on the Flat, at least, since its first ‘Racehorses’ annual, published in 1948, 2lb superior to Sea Bird, winner of the Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1965 and fully 7lb superior to Dancing Brave. Timeform also has Arkle, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1964, 1965 and 1966 at the head of its all-time list of steeplechasers; his rating of 212 is 20lb superior to any steeplechaser, bar stable companion Flyingbolt, in over five decades. According to Timeform, Brigadier Gerard, who tasted defeat just once in his eighteen-race career in the early Seventies, is rated 3lb inferior to Frankel, but must be considered one of the greatest racehorses of all time. So, too, must Eclipse, who won all eighteen starts between April, 1764 and February, 1789 without being asked a serious question.

On which horse did Jimmy Frost, father of Bryony, with the Grand National?

Although a respected trainer in Buckfastleigh, Devon and a former Grand National-winning jockey, Jimmy Frost is probably best known, nowadays, as the father of Bryony Frost, who has taken the world of National Hunt racing by storm since riding her first winner, as an amateur, in February 2015. Nevertheless, Frost Snr. rode his first winner under National Hunt Rules, Mopsey, at Taunton, at the tender age of 15 in February, 1974, and his last, Bohill Lad, at Exeter in March, 2002.

All told, in his 28-year career, Jimmy Frost rode 510 winners under Rules, but arguably the most memorable of them all was Little Polveir in the 1989 Grand National. Having finish a respectable, albeit remote, ninth of seventeen finishers behind West Tip in the 1986 Grand National, Little Polveir had unseated rider at The Chair in 1987 and, again, at the thorn fence five from home in 1988. By the time April 8, 1989 rolled around, the former Scottish Grand National winner was a 12-year-old and considered by some observers to be past his prime. Nevertheless, he had recently been bought by Edward Harvey and transferred from his previous trainer, John Edwards, to Gerald ‘Toby’ Balding.

Saddled with just 10st 3lb on his favoured heavy going and ridden by Jimmy Frost, who was making his Grand National debut at the age of 30, Little Polveir was sent off at odds of 28/1 to win the celebrated steeplechase. He led with a circuit to race and, having narrowly avoided some errant spectators turning for home, showed admirable bravery to fend off his pursuers in the closing stages. He eventually passed the post 7 lengths ahead of West Tip, with former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner The Thinker half a length further back in third place.

Which horses are the subject of movies?

There are a number of horse and horse racing movies that are worth a watch. Sometimes the films are based on a fictional tale, many others are non fiction but based on a jockey’s career rather than a horse. Some leave no doubt though as they are actually named after the actual horse that movie relates to. More often than not the horses are either instantly recognisable or high achievers in the sport such as Phar Lap, Shergar, Secretariat, and Ruffian. Here are four of our personal favourites:


Phar Lap (1983)

One epsecially for the Aussies and New Zealanders, as Phar Lap is well known for lifting the spirits of Australians during the great depression. A slow start in his career (his first 4 starts were loses), he went on to win an impressive 37 of 47 runs, with a 14 race winning streak for good measure. Wins included the Melbourne Cup, two Cox Plates, Victoria Derby and three Craven Plates. The many crazy subplots within the movie (from death threats to crazy weight carrying) are all true as is the bond between horse and groom. Well worth a watch.

Rotten Tomatoes: 88% IMDB:  7.3 / 10


Seabiscuit (2003)

One of the most successful sports genre movies of all time, the movie Seabiscuit is named after the book of the same name. It details SeaBiscuit’s victory against triple crown winner War Admiral and stars a stars a stellar cast including Chris Cooper, Jeff Bridges and Tobey Maguire. Directed by Gary Ross the movie was nominated for seven academy awards. It’s the ultimate underdog story, as Seabiscuit only won four of his first 40 races before going on to become champion. Similar to Phar Lap, this occurred during the Great Depression and as such was seen as a story of hope and determination.

Rotten Tomatoes: 78%  IMDB: 7.3 / 10


Ruffian (2007)

Ruffian doesn’t have the household status of some racing greats, but that’s a shame as she’s a US Racing hall of fame Champion filly. With ten straight wins at one stage she won both the US Champion two and three-year-old filly awards in the 1970s. The movie summarises a stunning career cut short.

Rotten Tomatoes: ??  IMDB: 7.2 / 10


Secretariat (2010)

A movie detailing the life of the legendary thoroughbred Secretariat. Up there as one of the greatest horse of all time and winner of the triple crown in 1973. The scene where Secretariat wins the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths is really evocative and highlights what a class act he was. The movie was released by Walt Disney pictures.

Rotten Tomatoes: 63%  IMDB:  7.2 / 10

What happens if no horse finishes the race?

On the face of it, the ‘Totepool Flexi Betting At The Cheltenham Festival Novices’ Chase’, staged at Towcester on March 17, 2011, looked, at best, a run-of-the-mill event. The two-and-a-half mile contest featured just four, unexceptional runners and its scheduling, in the midst of the Cheltenham Festival – in fact, less than a hour after Big Buck’s had completed the third of his four consecutive wins in the Stayers’ Hurdle – hardly added to its attraction.

However, nondescript though it may have appeared at first glance, the race did enter the record books as the first ever to be declared void because none of the runners finished. In November, 2009, the British Horseracing Authority introduced a new rule, in the interests of safety to horse and rider, which banned remounting, under any circumstances, after the start of a race. The rule introduced the possibility of no finishers.

At Towcester, two of the four runners, Zhukov, who fell when in the lead, and Cenzig, who swerved on landing and unseated rider when tailed off last, had already departed the contest before halfway. That left Identity Parade, ridden by Adrian Lane, and Radharc Na Mara, ridden by Peter Toole, to fight out the finish. Approaching the final fence, Identity Parade was firmly in command but, distracted by people gathered around the fence, tried to refuse and fell, with the race at his mercy.

At that point, the sole surviving runner, Radharc Na Mara was left, albeit briefly, in the lead. However, he failed to avoid his stricken rival and unseated Toole; granted that his mount had not actually fallen, Toole was involved in a discussion with a racecourse steward but, when the possibility of remounting was ruled out, the result of the race was struck from the record.

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