For the Love of Thoroughbred Horse Racing!!!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Gelding Greats

They may have never known the pleasures of amore, but they made up for it with extended excellence on the racetrack. These are the best of the best, the greatest geldings of the past century. I only selected one top gelding for each decade, so some stars had to be left off when multiple great non-breeders roamed the racetracks with grace and power. Without further adieu, here are my selections of the gelding greats:

10’s - Old Rosebud (80-40-13-8) The top juvenile of 1913 and a smashing winner of the Kentucky Derby the following Spring, Old Rosebud bowed his tendon and did not race again for nearly three years. Recovered fully, he came back to become a champion again, this time as a six-year-old, winning 15 for 19 in 1917.

20’s - Exterminator (100-50-17-17) Moderate success as a two-year-old and early as a sophomore, did not stop Exterminator from winning the Kentucky Derby at long odds. The timeless runner was never better though than his five-year-old season when he started beating the best at any distance. His success lasted to nine-years-old, eventually winning exactly half of his 100 career starts, including 33 stakes.

30’s - Phar Lap (51-37-3-2) Considered the greatest horse ever to run in the Southern Hemisphere, Phar Lap was a national treasure in both Australia and New Zealand. The dominant horse in the world in the beginning of the 1930’s, Phar Lap came to America with great fanfare. Sadly his time was short lived as he was poisoned to death after one impressive victory across the border in Mexico.

40’s - Armed (81-41-20-10) One of the greats for sire Bull Lea and owner Calumet Farm, Armed got better every year until he was the best handicap horse in the nation in 1946 and 1947. In these championship seasons, Armed won 21 of 35 races despite carrying consistently 130 pounds or more. His greatest of his seven years of successful racing, was his Horse of the Year season as a six-year-old.

50’s - Rising Fast (68-24-17-2) Americans may not have been strong as geldings go in the 50’s, but this New Zealander had no problems in dominating racing down under. Highlighting his career was a sweep of the Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate, and Caulfield Cup of 1954, the first horse ever to sweep the trifecta of important races.

60’s - Kelso (63-39-12-2) The 60’s was a strong decade for geldings, but still top spot was no contest. Five time Horse of the Year, Kelso is the gelding of all times. Kelly was simply top notch year after year, on turf or dirt, and at a variety of distances, which carried him to become America’s longtime earnings leader.

70’s - Forego (57-34-9-7) Heavy imposts and balky ankles could not keep this big boy from rolling down the lane in all the big handicap races of the mid 70’s and striking fear in the hearts of all his competitors. Three times Horse of the Year, and four consecutive wins in the Woodward cement Forego’s lofty stature in American racing lore.

80’s - John Henry (83-39-15-9) Best on turf, but good enough to beat the best on dirt, John Henry was able to collect seven Eclipse Awards during a four-year stretch. The quintessential rags to riches story, he came from nowhere to win the hearts of American racing fans and was twice named our Horse of the Year.

90’s - Best Pal
(47-18-11-4) Somehow never named a champion, all Best Pal did was race against the best and win often. A graded stakes winner in six consecutive years, the California bred amassed more than 5.6 million dollars in earnings. Best Pal was 2nd in voting for Eclipse honors in three straight years to begin the 90’s and was a recent Hall of Fame inductee.

00’s - Lava Man (47-17-8-5) Another great rags to riches story, Lava Man went from claimer to superstar. Three consecutive wins in the Hollywood Gold Cup, and back-to-back wins in the Santa Anita Handicap were but five of his numerous major stakes wins. A winner of more than 5 million, he holds the distinction as the only horse to win grade 1’s on three different surfaces.


  1. Good choices in all decades. I think Phar Lap was one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, racehorse of all time. It's such a shame his American campaign was cut short by such tragedy.
    I remember that he won 14 consecutive races, book-ended by wins streaks of 9 and 8 races. In both cases he finished second when breaking the 9 race and 14 race streaks, otherwise if he had won he would have strung together 33 consecutive wins. That's just astounding statistics!
    I would love to see a modern day horse become a throw-back like that! :)

  2. Definitely agree with the last three, because honestly those are the only ones I ever saw run. But enjoyed reading about the others that I have only heard, read about or seen limited race replays.

  3. Well to be honest I never saw any of them but Lava Man, and he was the best of last decade, hands down. For this decade, I would nominate Rail Trip. Look at how good he is right now, and that is not likely to change. MTB would be second. He is such a tough, guttsy little guy.

  4. Phar Lap was something for sure...such a sad ending. If the decade ended today, yes, it would be Rail Trip, but there are 9 1/2 years to go. LOL

  5. Good article, Brian, thank you! I enjoyed learning more about the geldings I missed out on before and I think you've nailed it on the ones I do know about - John Henry and Lava Man. There's a soft spot in my heart also for The Tin Man and Perfect Drift and Funny Cide, too. Does that mean that I'm just fickle cause I love em all? LOL!

  6. brian excellent article...besides secretariat, forego is my favorite horse of all time...watching him thundering down the strecth was even believe that in 1974 he was the sprinter of the year...i believe i mentioned this story to you, when j.o. tobin came from california to race him, it was a sloppy track and i knew he was not at his best on the mud, but he continued to impress by soundly beating j. o tobin, and at odds that youd never expect from