Most Memorable Moments of Horse Racing History

Published 11/06/2023, 3:33 PM EST

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Horse racing is a cherished sport that has endured over time, as seen by its lengthy history of incredible victories, athletic feats, and shocking defeats. Every race, every jockey-horse combination, offers the chance to break records and achieve everlasting glory; Pumping the sense of ambition to become a real champion. The world of horse racing has witnessed everything, from exhilarating times when the underdog defeated the defending champion to breathtaking performances by extraordinary horses to intense rivalries that developed in epic confrontations.

Since horse racing is so popular, many of the most important races are televised globally, enabling spectators to follow the drama and spectacular moments that occur on the track from all over the world. These historic events in the most watched races in the world are widely reported and much praised. A trip to revisit the most memorable horse racing events in history can throw light on why racing aficionados will always appreciate them.

An unbreakable track record by Secretariat (1973 Belmont Stakes)


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Often regarded as one of the finest horses in history, Secretariat broke records and made an ever-lasting impression on the horse racing industry. Secretariat aka Big Red surprised everyone despite a poor start in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and a sluggish break at Churchill Downs during the 1973 Kentucky Derby. At the Belmont Stakes, he accomplished an incredible 31-length advantage over his rivals. Big Red cemented his status as a legendary champion with a dirt-track record for an 11/2-mile race of 2:24, which he still holds for the quickest time ever.


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He further carved a trail of glory, establishing new records at the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes with an unheard-of show of speed and endurance. His admittance into the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame in 1974, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2013 further cemented Secretariat’s long reputation in the horse racing industry. In addition, the 2010 documentary movie “Secretariat,” which won many hearts paid tribute to his incredible career. On the lines, followed another glorious finish.

An epic horse racing rivalry comes to an epic finish (1978 Belmont Stakes)

One of the most storied rivalries in horse racing history between Affirmed and Alydar came to an end in the 1978 Belmont Stakes. Despite Alydar’s attempts to claim victory in the Triple Crown races, he finished second in each of the three Triple Crown events. Meanwhile Affirmed emerged triumphant by a short margin, marking their epic fight as one of the most famous showdowns in racing memory.

Over the course of ten encounters, six of which took place when they were merely two-year-olds. Affirmed and Alydar’s legendary rivalry deepened, seven of these clashes saw Affirmed win over Alydar. Affirmed’s victory earned the 11th Triple Crown. With nine races between Affirmed and Alydar, where Affirmed barely won six of them, this historic battle is still unmatched in the annals of the sport.

American Pharaoh breaking the Triple Crown dry spell (2015 Belmont Stakes)

American Pharoah made history at the Belmont Stakes by winning the Triple Crown after a 37-year wait! He did it with a stellar performance, setting the second-fastest time in the race’s history (2:26.65). The colt got off to a rough start, but he quickly got into the lead and won easily, winning by a five-and-a-half length margin. This victory was especially noteworthy since it represented a return to an accomplishment that many had thought was impossible.

He was also the 12th Triple Crown champion in history, who won all four major races to complete the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing. With this accomplishment, he joined the elite group of horses that have reached this landmark, continuing the tradition started by the first “Grand Slam” champions in 1875, who won both the Triple Crown and the Travers in the same season.

With his incredible comeback, American Pharoah not only won the Triple Crown but solidified his legacy as one of the greatest of all time. Pharoah’s unshakable resolve proved his exceptional racing prowess throughout the thrilling stretch run at Belmont. His hard-charging performance at the Kentucky Derby made him a cherished example just like the next hero in the list.

50-1 longshot winning the Kentucky Derby (2009 Kentucky Derby)

A remarkable story of persistence, Mine That Bird’s triumph in the 135th Kentucky Derby is unforgettable. After a bumpy start on a muddy track, jockey Calvin Borel expertly rode the 50-1 shot colt up the line to win by a commanding 6 3/4 lengths. Mine That Bird had struggled before, finishing third at the Belmont and second in the Preakness, so it was a surprise victory at the time.

Mine That Bird, albeit having the second-longest price in Derby history, finished in 2:02.66 over the soggy course he preferred, guaranteeing a spot in the race. His journey from New Mexico to Churchill Downs resulted in the shortest road to victory in an incredible turn of circumstances.


With his incredible triumph at the iconic Kentucky Derby, Mine That Bird created racing history by becoming the first horse to win the race with the longest odds to win in 85 years. Additionally, it was the biggest lead in a Derby win in more than 60 years. Mine That Bird’s surprising victory continues to be regarded as one of the most thrilling finishes in Derby history.

The biggest upset by an underdog (1993 Breeders’ Cup)

Renowned for its fierce rivalry and unpredictable nature, the Breeder’s Cup Classic witnessed the biggest upset in Cup history when Arcangue won remarkably in 1993 against unbelievable odds of 133-1. French thoroughbred Arcangue reached America and won the $3 million Cup. The five-year-old started the race behind the seasoned horses only having raced on European grass before.

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One of the most amazing victories in horse racing history was Arcangue’s unexpected victory over the favorite, Bertrando, a practically unknown five-year-old horse. As his historic victory approaches its 30th anniversary, Arcangue’s incredible career continues to honor the resilient nature of underdogs in the racing world.

Upsetting a possible Triple Crown win (1998 Belmont Stakes)

Another opportunity to win the Triple Crown came in the epic, nail-biting 1998 Belmont Stakes race. With jockey Gary Stevens at the reins, Victory Gallop defeated the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Real Quiet by a small margin. In a dramatic picture finish, Victory Gallop narrowly defeated Real Quiet to end Bob Baffert’s dreams of winning a second Triple Crown. This was the lowest margin of victory in Belmont history. With a $600,000 prize at play, this historic event decided the destiny of another possible Triple Crown winner.

Another underdog marking history (2002 Belmont Stakes)


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After a small injury held him off the Derby trail, Sarava, the Kentucky-bred son of Wild Again, reached the peak of his career when he returned to the track in 2002 under the guidance of new trainer Ken McPeek. Vying for the Triple Crown after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, caused a huge shock in the 2002 Belmont Stakes when he faltered at the start and finished eighth, shattering dreams of winning.

All eyes were focused on War Emblem on that fateful June 8, 2002, Belmont day, as he attempted to become the first Triple Crown victor since 1978. On the Preakness undercard, Sarava, the 70-1 underdog, had earlier won the Sir Barton Stakes, but many felt that she was an afterthought. Sarava was the first horse in racing history to finish as the longest shot to win the Belmont owing to jockey Edgar Prado’s calculated positioning on the outside during the race. This allowed the colt to stalk the field before charging ahead and winning by half a length.


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These were our picks; From instances where underdogs overcame favorites, exceptional horses astounded the public, and rivals engaged in thrilling showdowns that produced some of the most exciting moments in the history of the sport. Which Triple Crowns and other historic racing stories were your favorite, or at least the most entertaining? Tell us about your favorite one if we missed it!

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Written by:

Divya Purohit


One take at a time

Hi there! I am Divya Purohit, and I am a US sports writer at EssentiallySports. I hail from a computer science background but seamlessly shifted gears into the realm of content creation. By means of my distinct storytelling approach, I provide perceptive viewpoints on diverse sports stories.
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Edited by:

Shifa Jahan