Thoroughbred racing’s history is arguably richer than that of any other sport. Racing’s top stars achieved legend status in a number of ways – from sheer greatness to running style to iconic match races – and we matched them up with the human athlete they most reminded us of in other sports. The Babe and Man o’ War? That one was almost too easy.
6.) Seabiscuit—Francis Ouimet
Photos from Wikimedia Commons
Everyone loves an underdog. They’re relatable, inspiring and they make for pretty good movies. Which is why both of these figures will live forever as big screen adaptations.
Seabiscuit was a small, knobby-kneed horse who lost his first 17 races and was the butt of stable jokes. Then, all of the sudden, he began to win. His career was highlighted by the “Greatest Match Race of the Century,” when he bested Triple Crown winner War Admiral in a head-to-head race by four lengths.
Ouimet had a similar story, captured in the Disney film, “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” Starting out as a lower-class caddy, Ouimet’s win in the U.S. Open is still regarded as one of the greatest individual achievements in sports history.
5.) Zenyatta—Serena Williams
Zenyatta photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Pure power and athleticism. That’s how you would describe either of these two on first sight. Serena has biceps bigger than a small child and her forehand is considered the most powerful in women’s tennis. Zenyatta stands a staggering 17.2 hands tall—noticeably more intimidating than nearly every male competitor.
Both are the leading female earners of their sport. Serena is sitting pretty with more than $50 million and Zenyatta (leader among U.S.-raced horses) with more $7 million. But their domination isn’t limited to gender lines. Serena has more major titles than any active player, male or female, and Zenyatta earned more Breeders’ Cup dollars than any colt or filly to ever run.
4.) Man o’ War—Babe Ruth
The Roaring 20s were a long time ago and many things have changed since then, especially in the world of sports. But Babe Ruth is still widely regarded as the best baseball player to ever live and Man o’ War is still considered the best racehorse.
In this age of ESPN athletes, there is always room for debate, but the legends of these two remain. Some will argue that athletes from a bygone era couldn’t compete in today’s game. But history is a powerful trump card, and we will never truly know.
Secretariat and Seattle Slew may always show up in Top 10 lists, but it will take an act of God to dethrone the mighty Man o’ War from the number one spot.
3.) Seattle Slew—Muhammad Ali
Seattle Slew image by Horsephotos.com
Jockey Angel Cordero Jr. said on multiple occasions, “If Seattle Slew was a human, he’d be Muhammad Ali.”
Before a race Slew was known for doing a “war dance.” He was cocky, he was a bully on track and he fought through adversity. People doubted him, they said his Kentucky Derby win was a fluke, but then he kept on winning. He came from nothing—a $17,500 yearling that powered his way to Triple Crown immortality.
It seems that Slew and Ali were cut from the same cloth. They may not have been liked by all, but they could be denied by a rare few.
2.) Silky Sullivan—Tim Tebow
Silky Sullivan was one of the first TV idols of the Kentucky Derby, despite finishing 20 lengths behind the 1958 winner. Still, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone, as that was sort of his style. To this day, people use the phrase “Silky Sullivan” to refer to an unfathomable comeback victory. He did it time and time again, typically falling back by 30-plus lengths before dropping jaws in the final strides.
Tebow also had his fair share of miracle comebacks. And, his name went viral with the whole “Tebowing” craze. People (ESPN) wouldn’t shut up about him—not because he was the best athlete but simply because he was unorthodox.
Neither ranks among their sports all-time greats, but at least they will be forever immortalized as an entry on Urban Dictionary.
1.) Secretariat—Michael Jordan
Image of Secretariat by Horsephotos.com
When people think of basketball, they think of Michael Jordan. When people think of horse racing, they think of Secretariat.
Both were absolute freaks who captured hearts around the world with sheer domination.
And speaking of heart, MJ was known for his—as in the competitive fire that eventually put six rings on those legendary fingers. Secretariat had that fire, too, but he is known for his heart in a more literal sense. Upon autopsy it was found that Big Red’s ticker was nearly three times the size of a normal horse’s ticker.
From MJ’s game six heroics in the NBA Finals to Secretariat’s 31-length romp in the Belmont Stakes, both became icons that left us scratching our heads, wondering, “How the hell did they do that?”