It could be argued that few countries have a love of horseracing that could eclipse the passion for the sport in Ireland.
Both jumps and flat racing have major followings in the Emerald Isle, and the country has also given birth to some of the greatest racehorses in history.
Here’s our pick of the 10 greatest Irish-bred racehorses of all time.
Foaled in County Meath, Arkle captured the adoration of the Irish public in a way no other racehorse has before or since. A steeplechase specialist, Arkle ran 35 races in his career, winning 27 of these and never finishing out of the places. His career successes included winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times, claiming the Irish Grand National and winning the King George V Chase at Kempton Park. His popularity was such that he received fan mail and his prowess was pinned on his rumoured consumption of two pints of Guinness a day.
Dawn Run is the greatest mare ever to compete in the gelding-dominated sport of National Hunt racing. In a career which spanned 35 races, Dawn Run won 21 of her starts. Her most notable feat was achieving a rare double in the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup, winning the Champion Hurdle in 1984 before taking National Hunt’s most prestigious Grade 1 chase title in 1986. Other major races she won included the Christmas Hurdle, Irish Champion Hurdle and Ascot Hurdle. She is also the only horse in history to have won the English, Irish and French Champion Hurdles.
Sea The Stars
The only blot on Sea The Stars’ career record came in his first race as a 2-year-old, which he finished in second place. Thereafter he was unstoppable. In his 3-year-old season Sea The Stars won the 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and Eclipse Stakes. This unique treble was followed by wins in the International Stakes and Irish Champion Stakes. His final race was the 2009 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, where he beat a powerful field comprising nine other Group 1 winners.
While Zarkava did not enjoy legend status in her native Ireland, she is nevertheless recognized as one of the greatest horses to grace French flat racing. Unbeaten during her seven race career, she claimed a number of Group 1 wins, including the Prix de Diane, Prix Vermeille and Poule d’Essai des Pouliches in 2008. Arguably her greatest win came in the 2008 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, where she beat some of the finest stallions in the world to win France’s most prestigious Group 1 race. Plaudits included winning the European Horse of the Year and the European Champion 3-Y-O Filly in 2008.
Yeats is not only one of the greatest Irish racehorses of all time but is also the finest stayer to have graced flat racing in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Trained by Aiden O’Brien, Yeats claimed 14 wins and three places over a 22 race career. His most significant career feat saw him claim four consecutive wins in the Ascot Gold Cup. He also won a number of other prestigious Group 1 races, including the Irish St. Leger and Coronation Cup. At his retirement he’d claimed the European Champion Stayer award four times in a row.
Bred to compete in flat races, Istabraq disappointed his handlers and owner early in his career and was sold to a national hunt stable. After an inauspicious start to his jumps career, Istabraq found his footing and began to win races, including his first Cheltenham Festival win in the Royal & Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle. From there on Istabraq was a force to be reckoned with, dominating the Cheltenham Festival, where he won the Champion Hurdle three times. He would also claim four wins in the Irish Champion Hurdle, along with a slew of other prestigious hurdles races, including four wins in the December Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Galileo has left his mark on history both as a racehorse and a sire. During his racing career he claimed an impressive double by winning both the Epsom Derby and Irish Derby, before taking the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. The stallion finished his career with six wins from eight starts and was then put into stud. Since then Galileo has sired four Epsom Derby winners, including New Approach, Ruler Of The World, Australia and Anthony Van Dyck.
High Chaparral was not fancied as the strongest contender in his stable until he surprised his trainer and handlers by winning the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy in his third start. This established his potential and in his 3-year-old season he was aimed at some of the biggest races in the United Kingdom and Ireland, competing in and winning the Epsom Derby and Irish Derby Stakes. He also set himself apart by travelling to the United States to compete in the Breeders’ Cup, where he won the Breeders’ Cup Turf two years in a row, establishing himself as one of the greatest turf racehorses in the world during that period.
Shergar’s status as an Irish racing legend was forged not just by his success on the track, but by the events which followed his retirement. As a racehorse, Shergar demonstrated immense speed and power, winning both the Irish Derby and Epsom Derby. The latter he won by 10 lengths, the largest winning margin in the history of the race. He would go on to win the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes before putting in an unexpectedly poor performance in the St Leger Stakes. Shergar would later be kidnapped from his stud farm and held ransom. It is believed that he was killed by his kidnappers, speculated to be members of the IRA, shortly after his theft.
Sired by Galileo, New Approach ran 11 races during his career, winning eight of them. Notably he demonstrated his finest form in his career as a juvenile, winning all five of his races as a 2-year-old. In 2008 he won the Epsom Derby after initially being aimed at the Irish Derby. He went on to win the Irish Champion Stakes before taking the final race of his career, winning the Champion Stakes at Newmarket by six lengths.