Based about an hour outside London, Royal Ascot was founded by Queen Anne in 1711 and to this day remains one of the most prestigious horse racing meetings in the global calendar. Every year, it is patronised by Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the Royal Family, who arrive by carriage in the morning before the start of each day — that goes some way in describing the scale and magnitude of the occasion, and this year will be no different.
This year’s meeting is just around the corner, starting on Tuesday, 18 June and ending on Saturday, 22 June. In anticipation of more drama and entertainment, we take a look back at some of the greatest moments ever in the history of horse racing with a delve into some of the horses, jockeys and trainers that made the sport what it is.
Frankie’s Magnificent Seven
This short history will, of course, include a number of horses, but first, it is time to head to Royal Ascot for a moment to consider some of the achievements of the incredible UK-based Italian Jockey, Frankie Dettori. Last year, Dettori won the Royal Ascot Gold Cup riding Stradivarius, who is the favourite to win this year’s Gold Cup at odds ranging from 5/4 to 13/8 at most bookmakers. As if it was not enough to win one of the most respected races around, the victory also marked Dettori’s 60th career win at Ascot.
But that is not even the most spectacular thing about Dettori at Ascot. To understand how truly extraordinary Dettori’s racing record at Ascot is, you have to look back to 1996. That year, Dettori won all seven races in a day. To make matters even more amazing, the horse he won the second race of the day on, named Diffident, had long odds of 12-1. Bookmakers reportedly paid out £30 million ($39m) that day, and the combined odds of him winning every race were 25,051-1. Those events have come to be known as Frankie’s Magnificent Seven.
Secretariat’s Triple Crown
Perhaps the most astounding feat in horse racing history — and this is an extremely competitive list — is that of Secretariat, the remarkable horse that set the speed and margin of victory records for the Belmont Stakes in 1973, which have not been broken by another horse since. The 1-10 favourite to win the race, Secretariat managed to cover the one-and-a-half-mile New York course in just two minutes and 24 seconds, blowing the opposition out of the water and winning by a massive 31 lengths.
Not only is that achievement incredible, it becomes even more amazing when you consider the fact that he ran that time in order to win the Triple Crown, which means also winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in the same year. That was something no horse had done since 1948. Not only did Secretariat win the Triple Crown, but he also set the speed records in each of the races. This was a truly remarkable horse.
Seabiscuit’s historic run
Another horse that certainly became a household name is Seabiscuit. With a less-than-successful start to his racing career, it did not seem like Seabiscuit would go down in history until 1937 when he won an incredible 11 of the 15 races entered. That was enough to get the public behind the horse, and then the 1938 victory in a race against fellow legendary horse, War Admiral, put Seabiscuit in the history books forever.
The legend of Red Rum
No list about famous horses would be complete without mentioning Red Rum. Red Rum holds the phenomenal record of having won the Grand National three times. Red Rum first won the Aintree-based annual race in 1973, then again in 1974 and 1977. One of the most gruelling and difficult races, the Grand National holds international esteem, and Red Rum is known the world over as a result of his famous victories.
With Tiger Roll winning the second of his back-to-back victories at the Grand National this year — and in the process being compared to Red Rum — we could see the nine-year-old achieve something that even the legendary horse couldn’t manage: three wins at the National in a row.
A trainer worth mentioning
It would be wrong to not include a trainer on this list. While the horses and jockeys tend to take most of the recognition because they are the ones running the race and having their photos taken afterwards, the trainers put in an incredible amount of work as well. And there is no more a deserving person than Scottish trainer Mark Johnston to be recognised as one of the most important trainers of all time.
In 2018, Johnston became the record holder for wins by a British trainer when he surpassed Richard Hannon Sr’s 4,193 winners. Johnston 4,194th winner was 20-1 shot Poet’s Society ridden, of course, by Dettori. In his career, Johnston’s victories have generated over £50m in cash, which you probably say makes him an attractive option for owners.
This selection of horses, trainer and jockey illustrate just a few of the reasons why horse racing is such a huge sport, and just how rich a history it has.