famous race horses

The 12 Most Famous Race Horses In UK History

If you’ve ever bet on a horse, you’re likely familiar with those excruciating moments of prayer when you hoped your mount would run as fast as a bullet. This takes me back to the 1987 Epsom Derby when people were in awe of the Reference Point’s incredible pace on his debut.

Everyone was holding their breath, cheering, and placing bets like it was their last. With powerful horses racing around the track, it was like seeing a horse version of “The Fast and the Furious”.

Recently, I took a trip down memory lane and thought, “I can’t be the only one who cherishes these legendary horse legends”. So, I decided to share with you the 12 most famous horses of all time:

1. Golden Miller

  • Famous for: Being the only horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same year
  • Retirement year: 1937
  • Number of races: 52
  • Wins: 29
  • Total earnings: £15,000

Have you ever witnessed a horse that inspired you to give up your day job and pursue a career as a jockey? Let me present Golden Miller – the unstoppable racing phenomenon that took home an incredible five straight Cheltenham Gold Cups. That’s right, FIVE!

A Bronze statue in tribute to Golden Miller at Cheltenham Racecourse

Tribute to Golden Miller at Cheltenham Racecourse

It’s like he had a personal vendetta against all the other horses. He was determined to show them who the real mane-man was. He won for the first time in 1932 and remained unbeaten until 1936.

Golden Miller held a world record of 29 wins and became one of the greatest steeplechasers of the golden era. His victory at Cheltenham solidified his position in racing history. In 1937, his retirement from racing was announced but this legend left a lasting impact on the world of horse racing.

2. Sea Bird

  • Famous for: Winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe by an astounding six lengths
  • Retirement year: 1965
  • Number of races: 8
  • Wins: 7
  • Total earnings: £508,917

Sea Bird is one of the most famous racehorses in UK history. He was renowned for his extraordinary speed and endurance. His skills helped him rule the racing world during his undefeated career but Sea Bird’s most memorable performance was in the 1965 Epsom Derby.

Seabird; out front at Epsom

He won by an incredible six lengths, setting a new course record. This legendary horse has earned the respect of race fans worldwide with his astonishing performance. He has one of the best track records and is now considered one of the best racehorses of all time.

After winning the Epsom Derby, Sea Bird won many important races. These include the King George VI, Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. His remarkable talent and tireless drive made him a formidable racetrack opponent.

His unparalleled accomplishments further cemented his reputation as a racing icon. Tragically, Sea Bird’s remarkable racing career was cut short in 1965 after he suffered a career-ending injury during a race.

3. Arkle

  • Famous for: Winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup consecutively from 1964 to 1966
  • Retirement year: 1967
  • Number of races: 35
  • Wins: 27
  • Total earnings: £95,198

Arkle was like the Steve Ovett (mid-distance runner and Olympic gold medalist) of horse racing. He dominated his rivals and inspired admiration in the crowd. Arkle held a world record of 27 of 35 races throughout his racing career, making him one of the all-time great steeplechasers.

Arkle the horse jumping a fence.  Black and White photo

Arkle’s popularity grew outside the racing scene. People speculated that numerous shoe manufacturers were chasing him for sponsorship agreements. They wanted to produce a pair that could match his lightning pace even though hooves do not fit well inside sneakers!

4. Nijinsky

  • Famous for: Being the English Triple Crown winner – winning the 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, and St. Leger Stakes in a single season
  • Retirement year: 1970
  • Number of races: 13
  • Wins: 11
  • Total earnings: £532,685

Nijinsky was a natural phenomenon on the track. His name reverberates throughout the history of horse racing. This 1967 bay stallion won over the hearts of racing fans everywhere with his remarkable elegance and speed.

Nijinsky being ridden by legendary rider Lester Piggot. Dewhurst 1969.

In 1970, he became the first horse to win the English Triple Crown races in 35 years. He established himself as one of the greatest and became one of the most famous racehorses of all time. Nijinsky’s racing career lasted from 1969 to 1970, where he stole a remarkable 11 victories out of 13 races.

5. Mill Reef

  • Famous for: Winning the Epsom Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1971
  • Retirement year: 1971
  • Number of races: 12
  • Wins: 10
  • Total earnings: £309,225

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, British Thoroughbred Mill Reef was a competitive racehorse. Of his 14 starts, Mill Reef won 12, of which his most famous victories are the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Mill Reef Statue at Newmarket

Mill Reef statue at Newmarket

Mill Reef was well-known for his remarkable speed and adaptability. This successful horse could compete effectively on both grass and dirt tracks. However, a leg injury ended Mill Reef’s racing career early. Despite this, he left behind a reputation as one of the greatest racehorses of all time.

6. Brigadier Gerard

  • Famous for: An unbeaten record and dominant performances on the racecourse
  • Retirement year: 1972
  • Number of races: 18
  • Wins: 17
  • Total earnings: £457,070

In horse racing, Brigadier Gerard was another exceptional British Thoroughbred racehorse. Brigadier Gerard was foaled in 1968 and led on to become one of the most famous racehorses for his remarkable speed and tenacity. As a two-year-old, he won his first race.

He also had an unbeaten season as a three-year-old. Brigadier Gerard won every race, including the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby. He continued to win every race he entered in his fourth season.

The only exception was the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, where he came in second. Brigadier Gerard became known as one of the best racehorses of all time despite this one defeat.

7. Red Rum

  • Famous for: Winning the Grand National three times (1973, 1974, and 1977)
  • Retirement year: 1978
  • Number of races: 26
  • Wins: 21
  • Total earnings: £146,410

When I think of Red Rum, I can’t help but see a horse racing into triumph while sporting a pirate bandana. However, this treasure hunter went on to win three Grand Nationals, leaving his competitors saying “argh” in disbelief.

Red rum in his stable

Ginger McCain and Red Rum at his yard Southport

His first Grand National victory in 1973 also catapulted him into the Racing Hall of Fame. Red Rum took over the horse racing industry when he went on to win the race twice more, in 1974 and 1977.

Red Rum also placed second twice in 1975 and 1976, demonstrating his reliability on the track. Having never fallen in 100 races, he was also well known for his ability to jump. This horse established himself as one of the best racehorses in history.

8. Shergar

  • Famous for: Winning the Epsom Derby by a record-breaking 10 lengths in 1981
  • Retirement year: 1981
  • Number of races: 8
  • Wins: 6
  • Total earnings: £436,000

Think of the Shergar as the James Bond of horse racing. When Shergar won the Epsom Derby by an incredible 10 lengths in 1981, it was clear how brilliant he was. This horse became known as the “super horse” and one of the most famous racehorses for this incredible performance.

Shergar and the Aga Kahn

Shergar and the Aga Kahn. Irish Derby 1981

Unfortunately, Shergar’s tragic story took a fatal turn in 1983. Robbers kidnapped him, and he vanished from view. Shergar’s disappearance remains one of horse racing’s greatest mysteries and enthusiasts and specialists have wondered about his whereabouts to this day.

9. Dancing Brave

  • Famous for: His incredible win in the 1986 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
  • Retirement year: 1986
  • Number of races: 10
  • Wins: 8
  • Total earnings: £1,391,627

Dancing Brave couldn’t do the salsa or the tango, but boy, could he race! This horse had more moves on the track than any ballroom dancer ever could. He left his rivals in the dust as he rode elegantly to victory in the 1986 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Dancing Brave galloping to victory

I guess Dancing Brave just wanted to show the world that horses have rhythm, too! Following his victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, his racing career continued to impress, winning several more big races.

This cemented his reputation as one of the best racehorses of all time. He earned an impressive winning rate of 8 out of 10 races. His agility and speed on the track were unrivalled, making him a formidable contender in any race he contested.

10. Reference Point

  • Famous for: Winning the 1987 Epsom Derby
  • Retirement year: 1987
  • Number of races: 10
  • Wins: 7
  • Total earnings: £774,275

If you were a horse fanatic in the late 1980s, you remember Reference Point. With his striking good looks, this chestnut colt had speed, stamina, and the looks that turn heads. This horse kept his competitors on their toes (or rather hooves).

Reference point the horse with a jockey in yellow

Reference Point showed his ability to overcome any obstacle with wins in the St. Leger Stakes and the Epsom Derby. While an accident ended his racing career, he still had a significant impact on the horse racing community.

Horse racing fanatics saw the end of an era with Reference Point’s retirement in 1987. His track record was superb, winning 7 of the 10 races.

11. Desert Orchid

  • Famous for: Winning the King George VI Chase for four consecutive years
  • Retirement year: 1991
  • Number of races: 70
  • Wins: 34
  • Total Earnings: £654,066

Desert Orchid is the kind of legend you can tell your grandkids about. He won his first race, the Whitbread Gold Cup, in 1983. Desert Orchid was noted for his exceptional leaping abilities and his unique grey coat shined on the racetrack.

Desert Orchid.  Grey racehorse

Midge Burridge and Desert Orchid

He won the King George VI Chase once again in 1984, cementing his place in the annals of jumpers past. Desert Orchid’s courageous and unwavering personality immediately won over spectators to become a real horse racing hero.

12. Kauto Star

  • Famous for: Winning the King George VI Chase five times and the Cheltenham Gold Cup two times.
  • Retirement year: 2012
  • Number of races: 41
  • Wins: 23
  • Total earnings: £3,775,883

A great racehorse in his own right, Kauto Star was a formidable opponent on the track. He was a dominant force in National Hunt racing. People recognised him for his extraordinary stamina and leaping abilities, which won him 23 out of 41 races.

Kauto Star

Two were in the coveted Cheltenham Gold Cup, which cemented his status as one of the all-time great steeplechasers. His face-off with Denman, another great Thoroughbred, enthralled racing fans worldwide and produced remarkable moments in the sport.

It was like witnessing a horse-powered version of the Rocky movies – the tension between Kauto Star and Denman was so intense that you could slice it with a hoof pick. Despite their passionate rivalry, Kauto Star was always the victor. He left Denman in his dust, like a carrot dangling just out of reach.


What was the most famous racehorse in the UK?

Red Rum is primarily regarded as the most famous racehorse in the UK. Red Rum, who was born in 1965, went on to become a legend. His extraordinary career includes three Grand National triumphs.

Who is one of the most famous racehorse sires of all time?

Northern Dancer is regarded as one of the most famous racehorses ever. Northern Dancer, a Canadian-bred Thoroughbred, was born in 1961. He had a tremendous effect on the horse racing business. His descendants also had remarkable success on the racecourse, with several of them winning significant races and titles.

Who is the most successful racehorse trainer in UK history?

Sir Henry Cecil is one of the most successful racehorse trainers in Great Britain. He had an outstanding four-decade career. He coached countless champions and won numerous major races, including 25 triumphs in British Classic races.

Which famous racehorse won the Belmont Stakes in 1990?

Go And Go is a well-known British racehorse that won the Belmont Stakes in 1990. Go And Go, trained by Dermot Weld, made history. He became the first European-trained horse to earn the American champion title in the Belmont Stakes. This victory cemented his reputation as a superb racehorse. It also gave him and his trainer international acclaim.

Final Thoughts

These magnificent champions have left their imprint on the racing history. They’ve enthralled audiences and engraved their names in history with lightning-fast sprints and record-breaking performances.

So, remember to cheer for your horse the next time you see a thrilling race. They’ve shown that not only humans can become racing legends!

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