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Top 10 Australian racehorses of all time

Hugh Bowman celebrates on returning to scale after riding Winx to win the Cox Plate

Every once and a while, a special horse comes along that has the power to captivate racing fans and everyday Australians like no other.

Since the late 1800s, Australian racing has witnessed the heroic racetrack feats of a select group of thoroughbreds that have set the benchmark and defined what it truly means to be regarded as a champion racehorse.

The following list takes a look at some of Australia’s greatest turf heroes and tells the story of our Top 10 racehorses of all time. 

1. WINX (2011 - current)

Firstly, I was hesitant to put this mare in while she is still racing at the peak of her powers as a rising seven-year-old. However, she has earned her place at the top of my list. Many of racing’s most astute judges regarded Kingston Town as the greatest, due mainly, but not solely to his three Cox Plate victories, but Winx has surpassed the ‘King’ by not only emulating his deeds, but adding a touch of history to each win in the weight-for-age championship. Winx won her first Cox Plate in 2015 where she stopped the clock at 2:02.98 and broke Might And Power’s race record. She backed up the following year on what was regarded a sticky Soft 5-rated track where she set a new record for the biggest winning margin in the Cox Plate (8 lengths). In 2017, after some gut-busting lead-up runs, the daughter of Street Cry broke her own track record when defeating Humidor in a time of 2:02.94. But it’s far from three Cox Plate wins that sees Winx top some superstar gallopers of their era. Her versatility to win from 1110m to 2200m isn’t something you see in all elite gallopers. She has won at Caulfield, Moonee Valley and Flemington in Melbourne, Warwick Farm, Randwick and Rosehill in Sydney as well as claiming victories at Sunshine Coast and Doomben as a three-year-old. Winx has won on a Good 3 to a Heavy 10, and it’s her will to win combined with her natural ability that sees her overcome any obstacle, track condition or bias. Having won 22 races in a row (as of February 2, 2018) the mare stands a chance of surpassing Black Caviar’s winning streak of 25. And although Winx will never have the undefeated tag to match Black Caviar, they are two completely different horses and Winx just took a bit of time to reach star status. As Winx ages gracefully, every next start brings a higher possibility she will be beaten, but trainer Chris Waller and her team of connections will monitor her progress carefully, and there is no doubt if she shows any signs of going backward, the pin will be pulled on her amazing career. 

2. CARBINE (1885–1914)

Although technically not an Australian racehorse, the New Zealand-bred Carbine did most of his racing in Australia and should be regarded as the greatest thoroughbred to grace the Australian turf. The son of English Ascot Stakes winner and successful sire Musket, Carbine did things that would be deemed to be impossible in today’s racing; from carrying big weights to winning consecutive races on the same day – Carbine did it all. He remained undefeated in five starts as a two-year-old in New Zealand and then came to Australia in 1889 where he won nine of 13 starts as a three-year-old. Trained by Walter S. Hickenbotham, Carbine was in his prime during his four and five-year-old years, winning 17 of his 18 starts, including the 1890 Melbourne Cup where he set a weight carrying record of 10 st 5 lb (66 kg) to beat 39 starters. The runner-up, Highborn, carried 24kg less than Carbine and still couldn’t get near him as he won the race in record time. Carbine won 33 of his 43 career starts and placed nine times, with his only unplaced run coming when he was suffering from a badly cracked hoof. Carbines greatest victories included: Cumberland Stakes (1888), Sydney Cup (1889, 1890), All Aged Stakes (1889, 1890), AJC Plate (1889, 1890, 1891), Melbourne Stakes (1890), Craven Plate (1890), Melbourne Cup (1890) and the AJC Spring Stakes (1890).

3. TULLOCH (1954–1969)

Trained by the legendary Tommy J Smith, Tulloch raced on 53 occasions and recorded 36 wins and 16 placings, and was unplaced just once when contesting the 1960 Melbourne Cup where he finished an unlucky 7th to Hijinx. His race record stood at 29: 21-7-1 before a mysterious stomach disease almost claimed his life in 1958. But nearly two years on, Tulloch made a comeback on March 12, 1960, in the VRC Queen’s Plate (10 fulongs) and defeated outstanding galloper Lord by a half-head. Tulloch won a total of 21 races that would now be classified as Group 1 events, with his greatest victories being:  VRC St Leger Stakes (1958), Queen Elizabeth Stakes (1958, 1960, 1961), Chipping Norton Stakes (1958, 1960), Brisbane Cup (1961), Cox Plate (1960), Mackinnon Stakes (1960), All Aged Stakes (1958), Rawson Stakes (1958), Caulfield Cup (1957), Caulfield Guineas (1957), VRC Derby (1957), AJC Derby (1957), Queensland Derby (1957), Rosehill Guineas (1957), AJC Sires Produce Stakes (1957), VRC Sires Produce Stakes (1957) and QTC Sires Produce Stakes (1957).

4. PHAR LAP (4 October 1926 – 5 April 1932)

Undoubtedly more recognised by Australians as our greatest ever racehorse, Phar Lap captured the public's imagination during the early years of the Great Depression and is firmly entrenched in Australian racing folklore. A winner of 37 of his 51 starts, ‘Big Red’ as he was affectionately known, won a Melbourne Cup, two Cox Plates, an AJC Derby, and 19 other weight-for-age races before travelling to Mexico where he won the Agua Caliente Handicap in race record time. 

Phar Lap died on private ranch near Menlo Park, California, on April 5, 1932, of unknown causes and speculation still remains as to the cause of his death. Some of his major race victories included: AJC Derby (1929), Victoria Derby (1929), Linlithgow Stakes (1930), Futurity Stakes (1930), Melbourne Cup (1930), Chipping Norton Stakes (1930), Cox Plate (1930 & 1931), Melbourne Stakes (1930 & 1931), Underwood Stakes (1931) and the Agua Caliente Handicap (1932).

5. KINGSTON TOWN (31 August 1976 - March 1991)

Also trained by TJ Smith, Kingston Town remains the only galloper to have won Australasia’s greatest weigh-for-age race, the Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) on three occasions. The son of Bletchingly made an inglorious debut when finishing last but soon returned as a gelding and won at the massive odds of 33/1. He racked up 30 victories from his 41 career starts and joined the likes of Carbine, Phar Lap, Tulloch, and Bernborough as one of five inaugural inductees into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. Kingston Town’s major wins included: Spring Champion Stakes (1979), Rosehill Guineas (1980), AJC Derby (1980), H E Tancred Stakes (1980), Sydney Cup (1980), Queensland Derby (1980), Cox Plate (1980, 1981 & 1982), George Main Stakes (1981 & 1982), Caulfield Stakes (1981 & 1982) and the Western Mail Classic (1982).

6. MAKYBE DIVA (foaled 1999)

Post 2000, the name Makybe Diva is synonymous with racing in Australia. Our most famous race, the Melbourne Cup, attracts the best stayers from around the world, and the mighty mare beat them all – not once, but three times. No horse has ever won three Melbourne Cups and none may ever come close again, and to emphasise the fact, trainer Lee Freedman summed it up perfectly with his now famous quote after the Diva won her third Cup: 

"Go find the smallest child on this course, and there will be the only example of a person who will live long enough to see that again."

The daughter of Desert King, by Tugela, proved she was not just a superior stayer winning the Group 1 Memsie Stakes over 1400m and also claimed many other prestigious Australian races, with the Group 1 Cox Plate being the most significant of her other victories. Makybe Diva holds the Australian record for prizemoney earned, having amassed more than $14 million from 15 wins and seven placings throughout her 36-start career. Her major victories included: VRC Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2002), Melbourne Cup (2003, 2004, 2005), Sydney Cup (2004), Australian Cup (2005), The BMW Stakes (2005), Memsie Stakes (2005), Turnbull Stakes (2005) and the Cox Plate (2005).

7. WAKEFUL (foaled 1896)

Due to shin soreness, Wakeful did not commence racing until she was four, but what was to follow was truly amazing. At just her third start she won the Oakleigh Plate, and followed that performance by winning the Newmarket Handicap and then the AJC Doncaster Handicap in a race record time of 1:39.75. Having won the country’s leading sprint races and mile race, Wakeful then travelled to Sydney in 1902 where she won all four starts including the Sydney Cup carrying the impost of 9 stone 7 pounds (60 kg), and ran a race record. Wakeful then went on to win the AJC Plate and VRC Champion Stakes over three miles. Unfortunately, she finished 2nd in her swansong race in the Melbourne Cup carrying the huge impost for a mare of 10 stone (64 kg). Previously, no mare had carried more than 9 st 7 lb and none of them finished in the first six. Her race record stands at 44 starts for 25 wins and 16 placings. Wakeful’s feature wins include: Oakleigh Plate (1901), Newmarket Handicap (1901), Doncaster Handicap (1901), Caulfield Stakes (1901, 1902), Melbourne Stakes (1901, 1902, 1903), St George Stakes (1902), Essenden Stakes (1902, 1903), VRC All Aged Stakes (1902), AJC Autumn Stakes (1902), Sydney Cup (1902), AJC All Aged Stakes (1902), AJC Plate(1902), AJC Spring Stakes (1902), AJC Craven Plate (1902), Randwick Plate (1902), C.B.Fisher Plate (1902) and the VRC Champion Stakes (1903).

8. BLACK CAVIAR (foaled 18 August 2006)

Although some may disagree with having the undefeated mare, Black Caviar, so high up on the list of champions, her racetrack deeds were surpassed by the interest she generated in the racing industry and that must be taken into account. The winner of all of her 25 starts, the speedy daughter of Bel Esprit captured the public’s imagination in a way that hadn’t been seen since the 1930s when Phar Lap was the toast of a nation. She attracted sell-out crowds to racecourses in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and South Australia and dominated news headlines with her every movement. She won a total of 15 Group 1 races and travelled half-way around the world to contest the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m) at Ascot, England, and although she survived a scare when jockey Luke Nolen was being king to her over the concluding stages, she kept her unique winning streak intact. She carried 58kg in the Newmarket Handicap and nearly broke the course record after being eased down in the last 100m. In November 2012, Black Caviar was named European Champion Sprinter at the Cartier Racing Awards, becoming the first horse trained outside Europe to be honoured with the title. Here major victories include: GBR Diamond Jubilee Stakes (2012), VRC Newmarket Handicap (2011), VRC Lightning Stakes (2011, 2012, 2013), VRC Patinack Farm Classic (2010, 2011), ATC T J Smith Stakes (2011, 2013), MVRC William Reid Stakes (2011, 2013), BTC Cup (2011), MRC C F Orr Stakes (2012), MVRC Australia Stakes (2010, 2012), MRC Schillaci Stakes (2010, 2011), MVRC Schweppes Stakes (2010, 2011) and the VRC Danehill Stakes (2009).

9. BERNBOROUGH (1939–1960)

Bernborough first came to prominence racing at Toowoomba's Clifford Park when ridden to his first six wins by Les Watterson. Bernborough only raced at Toowoomba in Queensland as he was barred from racing at metropolitan tracks because of ownership doubts. As a six-year-old, Bernborough was moved to Sydney and following his sale to A.O. Romano for 2,600 guineas, he began a winning streak of 15 consecutive races. His wins included the Newmarket Handicap at Flemington carrying 9 st 13 lb (63 kg) and the Doomben Cup under 10 st 11 lb (68 kg). He raced 37 times for 26 wins and three placings. Berborough’s major victories include: Villiers Stakes (1945), All Aged Stakes (1946), Hill Stakes (1946), Warwick Stakes (1946), Rawson Stakes (1946), Caulfield Stakes (1946), Chelmsford Stakes (1946), Chipping Norton Stakes (1946), Futurity Stakes (1946), Doomben 10,000 (1946), Newmarket Handicap (1946), Doomben Cup (1946)

10. AJAX (foaled 1934)

Ajax earns his place in the Top 10 Australian racehorses having won 18 consecutive races before he was defeated at the odds of 40/1 on. His versatility saw him win from 1000m to 2400m whilst also creating three new race records. Ajax won the All Aged Stakes, Memsie Stakes, Futurity Stakes, and Underwood Stakes three times each, while also claiming the 1938 Cox Plate. His major victories included: AJC Sires Produce Stakes (1937), Caulfield Guineas (1937), Champagne Stakes (1937), Rosehill Guineas (1937), Linlithgow Stakes (1937, 1938), All Aged Stakes (1938, 1939, 1940), Caulfield Stakes (1938), Cox Plate (1938), Futurity Stakes (1938, 1939, 1940), C.B.Fisher Plate (1938), Newmarket Handicap (1938), LKS MacKinnon Stakes (1938), Memsie Stakes (1938, 1939, 1940), Underwood Stakes (1938, 1939, 1940), VRC Queen Elizabeth Stakes (1938) and the St George Stakes (1939).

Honorable mention - MANIKATO (1975–1984)

Manikato was a super-quick galloper that dominated the sprinting scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The strapping chestnut gelding established new track records in three races and was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2002. Manikato was the second Australian horse, after Kingston Town, to win $1 million in stakes, and, by today's standards, won 20 races which are currently (2014) classed as Group 1 races. He won the Blue Diamond Stakes, Golden Slipper Stakes, Caulfield Guineas and Invitation Stakes in 1978 and captured the Futurity Stakes and William Reid Stakes on four separate occasions. Manikato’s major wins included: Blue Diamond Stakes (1978), Golden Slipper Stakes (1978), Caulfield Guineas (1978), Invitation Stakes (1978), Futurity Stakes (1979, 1980, 1981, 1983), Rothmans 100,000 (1979), William Reid Stakes (1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983) and the George Ryder Stakes (1980).

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Top 10 Australian racehorses of all time

Every once and a while, a special horse comes along that has the power to captivate racing fans and everyday Australians like no other.

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