Australia boasts one of the strongest and most vibrant racing cultures in the world, with a thoroughbred racing heritage that goes back over 150 years. Therefore it should come as no surprise that during its history Australia has produced some of the most famous racehorses of all time.
Here’s our pick of the greatest racehorses ever foaled, trained and raced in Australia.
Over a century before Makybe Diva set the Melbourne Cup alight, another great mare graced the racecourses of Australia. Wakeful failed to run once as a 3-year-old due to a shin condition, but showed what she was capable of just three races into her 4-year-old season when she claimed her first Group 1 win. She would go on to be a dominant force in Australian racing, finishing outside the places just three times in her career, and becoming the first horse to claim a treble of wins in the Emirates Stakes.
The Cox Plate is one of the biggest races in Australia, and the first horse to win this race three times earned himself a place in Australia’s racing hall of fame. During the late 1970s and early 1980s Kingston Town claimed a total of 12 Group 1 wins, winning 16 of his last 23 races. In 1980 he was nominated the Australian Champion Racehorse of the Year – no mean feat for a horse who finished dead last in his first ever race.
Australian racing is somewhat unusual in that it has produced a number of champion mares who have outshone the colts of their generation. One of the most notable examples was Black Caviar, the mare who overcame serious injuries as a 3-year-old to emerge as one of the most dominant sprint racehorses of all time. Her feats included a 25 race winning streak in sprints – an almost unheard of feat – as well as taking the long trip to Royal Ascot where she beat some of the best sprinters in Europe to claim the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
The testing years of the Second World War produced an unexpected hero in Queensland-foaled Bernborough. Most of his career took place in the relative obscurity of Queensland, and it was only as a 6-year-old that he moved into the limelight of the Sydney racing scene. There he quickly established himself as one of the country’s finest horses, and certainly the greatest 6-year-old of all time. During his fourth season of racing he won 15 races in a row, winning some of Australia’s toughest races in the process and leaving the handicappers in the dust.
Peter Pan’s ability to overcome adversity was the stuff legends are made of. He first caught the public’s attention at the 1932 Melbourne Cup. During that race he fell to his knees early on in the race, and somehow found the strength to not only pass the post, but to win the Melbourne Cup by a neck. The following season Peter Pan again demonstrated his incredible resilience when he recovered from a life-threatening infection and returned to training. The following season he returned to Flemington to compete in the Melbourne Cup, and won his second title despite racing on a heavy track with a punishing handicap.
Takeover Target is easily Australia’s greatest ever rags to riches racing story. Purchased for the humble sum of just A$1,375, he suffered from serious leg problems as a youngster and was unable to race at all as a 2- or 3-year-old. However, his connections remained patient with him and he rewarded them with a spectacular run of seven victories in his 4-year-old season. After another bout with ill health Takeover Target resumed his career, chalking up two Group 1 wins before travelling to Royal Ascot where he won the Kings Stand Stakes. By the end of his career he’d earned his owners over AU$6 million in prize money.
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