Zenyatta’s narrow defeat in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic was the only blemish on her stellar record. This prompted me to identify and rank the five best American racehorses that finished their careers with a single loss…and then rank them from one through five.
1. Man o’ War (1917-1947 by Fair Play and out of Muhabah by English Triple Crown champion Rock Sand). Nicknamed “Big Red.” He is arguably the best racehorse in history, in the United States and elsewhere. In fact, a panel assembled by Blood-Horse magazine ranked him the number 1 American racehorse of the 20th century. His career record was 20 wins from 21 starts. His loss came as a 2-year-old in 1919 in the Sanford Memorial Stakes at Saratoga to the appropriately named Upset. In those days before mechanical starting gates, Man o’ War was poorly positioned at the start. He made up all but a half-length by the wire.
2. Native Dancer (1950-1967 by Polynesian out of Geisha by Discovery). Nicknamed “the Gray Ghost.” Native Dancer was the first racehorse to become a fan favorite as a result of the then-nascent technology called television. He won 21 of 22 starts, with his loss coming to longshot front-runner Dark Star in the 1953 Kentucky Derby. Native Dancer came running in the stretch–after being roughed up during the race and getting a roundly criticized ride from Eric Guerin—to come up short by a nose. This race, of course, deprived him of the Triple Crown as he won the Preakness and the Belmont. He is number 7 on the Blood-Horse list of greatest American racehorses of the 20th century. The official chart read: “DARK STAR, alertly ridden, took command soon after the start, set the pace to the stretch under steady rating, then responded readily when set down in the drive and lasted to withstand NATIVE DANCER, but won with little left. NATIVE DANCER, roughed at the first turn by MONEY BROKER, was eased back to secure racing room, raced wide during the run to the upper turn, then saved ground entering the stretch and finished strongly, but could not overtake the winner, although probably best.” [click here to view the 1953 Kentucky Derby]
3. Sysonby (1902-1906, English-bred by Melton out of Optime by Orme). When he died prematurely in 1906, the New York Times obituary read “possibly the greatest race horse of the American turf.” He was champion 2-year-old of 1904, champion 3-year-old of 1905, and Horse of the Year in 1905. His only loss in 14 starts came in the Futurity at Sheepshead Bay, New York in 1904 to the fillies Tradition and (the great) Artful. He was beaten by 5 lengths by the former and a nose by the latter. Subsequently, Sysonby’s groom confessed to drugging the colt before the race. Sysonby is ranked number 30 on the Blood-Horse list of greatest 20th century American racehorses.
4. Zenyatta (2004-present, by Street Cry and out of Vertigineux by Kris S). This mare won 19 of 20 races, including 17 graded races and 13 Grade I races. She won on dirt and synthetic surfaces and beat both male and female horses. She won the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic and was barely beaten by Blame in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic when she could not quite get up at the wire. Zenyatta won over $7 million in her career. She is a certain Hall of Fame inductee and arguably is the best American filly and mare racehorse of all time. [click here to view the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic]
5. Majestic Prince (1966-1981 by Raise a Native out of Gay Hostess by Royal Charger). He was the highest price yearling sold ever sold at public auction in 1967, for $250,000 at Keeneland. Majestic Prince won nine of ten races. After he won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in 1969, his trainer, Johnny Longden, wanted to take the colt back to California rather than run him in the Belmont (Longden is the only person to both ride–Count Fleet–and train a Kentucky Derby winner). Majestic Prince had sustained an injury to his right front ligament in the Preakness. Under a barrage of criticism from the press and fans, Majestic Prince’s owner, Frank McMahon, overruled Longden. Majestic Prince lost the Belmont by 5 ½ lengths to Arts and Letters, coming in second. He never raced again. Majestic Prince is number 46 on the Blood-Horse list of greatest American horses of the 20th century. [click here to view the 1969 Belmont Stakes]
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