Breaking a record is one thing, but doing so in some of the world’s biggest horse races is another. On the biggest stage surrounded by top-class opposition, these horses took it to a whole new level when putting together their record-breaking performances. On a variety of tracks, on multiple surfaces, and over numerous distances, these are the fastest recorded times for some of the biggest races around the world. Speed isn’t everything in horse racing, but it certainly helps!
The next part of this list (containing the biggest races in the UK & Ireland) is coming soon! For now, though, let’s get to it:
Kentucky Derby -
Location: Churchill Downs
Distance: 1 ¼ mile (2,000m)
Winning Time: 1 min 59.4 secs
Date: 5th May 1973
Jockey: Ron Turcotte
Often referred to as “The most exciting two minutes in sports”, the Kentucky Derby is a Grade 1 race held at Churchill Downs, Kentucky. The competition is for 3-year-old horses and was inaugurated on 17th May 1875. With a most recent purse of $3 million, it’s no wonder that it attracts top-class challengers from across the globe.
From a long list of winners, Secretariat holds the record for the fastest time, set in May 1973. Starting the race at odds of 1.50, he was joint-favourite alongside Angle Light, but many had doubts about him following a disappointing 3rd in the Wood Memorial Stakes two weeks prior. At 5:40 pm EDT, the race began, with Shecky Greene setting the pace, and Secretariat held at the rear. Shecky Greene dictated for much of the race, with Secretariat making a move into 6th position by the halfway stage. At the start of the homestretch, with the pace-setter fading, the lead was taken up by another fancied runner in Sham, who took off for home. Secretariat, ridden by Ron Turcotte, was watching every move though and set off down the outside in the final furlong, eventually striding clear to win by 2.5L. His winning time, however, was not his only record. His 23-second last quarter mile was another record for the Derby.
Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe –
Location: Paris Longchamp / Chantilly (2016/17 due to Longchamp redevelopment)
Distance: 1mile 3f 204yrds (2,400m)
Winning Time: 2 mins 24.5 secs / 2 mins 23.6 secs
Date: 2nd October 2011 / 2nd October 2016
Horse: Danedream / Found
Jockey: Andrasch Starke / Ryan Moore
Going: Good / Good
Held at Longchamp in France, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is one of the most prestigious races in the racing calendar. A Group 1 event open to any horses aged 3 and over, it is the world's second-richest race. Inaugurated in 1920, its roll of honour features many highly acclaimed horses.
The record for the fastest time in the Arc is held by two horses, Danedream and Found. Found won the race in October 2016 and holds the fastest time, but the event was held at Chantilly for two years due to redevelopment. This specific record is held by Danedream and was set in October 2011. Setting off over the 2,400m trip, Danedream was 20/1 in the market behind some top-quality horses, including St Nicholas Abbey, Snow Fairy, and Workforce. Despite the public not giving him much of a chance, the 3-year-old put them all to shame with a brilliantly quick performance. Held up in midfield for much of the race before being unleashed approaching the final furlong, he ran out an easy 5L winner, becoming only the second ever German-trained winner of the race. His winning time broke the previous holder Star Appeal’s record by 110 milliseconds.
Breeders’ Cup Classic –
Location: North America (track varies by year)
Distance: 1 ¼ mile (2,000m)
Winning Time: 1 min 59.02 secs
Date: 30th October 2004
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Considered by many to be the premier horse race of the year in the US, the Breeders' Cup Classic is one of the richest in the world. Held annually at different racetracks as part of the Breeders' Cup World Championships, it is a weight-for-age race open to horses aged 3 years and older.
With such a high level of competition, the race is notoriously hard to predict, and being run at different tracks, it is difficult to find any patterns. In the 2004 renewal at Lone Star Park, Texas, Ghostzapper went off as the 4/1 second-favourite and didn’t give the opposition a look-in. A dominant front-running performance saw him make all and drive clear in the final furlong, winning by 3L, with the rest of the field returning in dribs and drabs. The winning time of 1 minute 59.02 seconds is a record that hasn’t been beaten, with the time being 140 milliseconds faster than the previous record, set by Skip Away at Hollywood Park in 1997. Few horses can take on a field of that calibre and destroy them from the front, that’s for sure!
Melbourne Cup –
Distance: 2 miles (1 mile 1,740 yards / 3,200m)
Winning Time: 3 mins 16.3 secs
Date: 6th November 1990
Horse: Kingston Rule
Jockey: Darren Beadman
Australia’s most famous race, the Melbourne Cup is a 3,200m (just under 2mile) flat race for 3-year-olds and over. The richest “two-mile” handicap in the world, it boasts a recent purse of $8 million and is known locally as “the race that stops the nation”.
In front of a crowd of 92,536 people on 6th November 1990, Kingston Rule, trained by Bart Cummings and ridden by Darren Beadman, set a record time of 3 minutes 16.3 seconds in a 24-strong field. Being the son of the late great Secretariat, a big run was expected, but nobody expected records to be broken. Awkwardly away at the start and settled in midfield, Kingston Rule hugged the rail for much of the race and sat behind the pacesetters who poured it on from the start. Approaching the straight, Beadman pulled his mount back to the inside where he made nice progress to sit 3rd with 300m to run. From there, he made eye-catching headway to take up the lead and fend off the ever-game, The Phantom. As gutsy as they come, he put in a top-quality performance to beat the previous record by 800 milliseconds set the year before by Tawrrific. A field of true stayers, the race was no place for the faint-hearted.
Preakness Stakes –
Location: Pimlico Racecourse
Distance: 1 + 3/16 miles (1,900m)
Winning Time: 1 min 53 secs
Date: 19th May 1973
Jockey: Ron Turcotte
The second jewel of the Triple Crown, held two weeks after the Kentucky Derby and three weeks before the Belmont Stakes, the Preakness Stakes is a dirt race for 3-year-olds. Inaugurated in 1873, its distance has fluctuated many times, now being run over 1 3/16 miles (9.5 furlongs) at Pimlico Racecourse, Maryland.
For the second time on this list, Secretariat is the record-holder of a Grade 1 event. Just 14 days after setting the record in the Kentucky Derby, he did so again here, breaking the previous record by a whole second. The record was previously set by Canonero II in 1971 and nobody has got close to the record since. Secretariat met up with his old rival, Sham, but again won by 2.5L. Despite a slow start, he made a superb last-to-first move on the first turn, and he was never caught. As expected, Sham was his closest challenger in 2nd, but he justified favouritism to win with ease and set a record in the process.
Japan Cup –
Location: Tokyo Racecourse
Distance: 1 ½ mile (2,400m)
Winning Time: 2 mins 20.6 secs
Date: 29th November 2020
Horse: Almond Eye
Jockey: Christophe-Patrice Lemaire
Another of the richest races in the world, boasting a recent purse of ¥864 million, the Japan Cup is run at 15:40 on the last Sunday in November at Tokyo Racecourse. An invitational event, it has established itself as a top-grade international contest that attracts runners from across the globe. One of the great end-of-year events, it's the world's second-richest turf race after the Melbourne Cup.
Almond Eye became only the second 3-year-old filly to win the Japan Cup after Gentildonna in 2012, doing so in a record time. As the only filly in the field, she dominated her male rivals in the 38th running of the race under Christophe Lemaire, to win by 1.25L. By Japanese sprint champion Lord Kanaloa out of Japanese Group 1 winner Fusaichi Pandora, it’s perhaps no surprise she was pretty handy, as her odds of 2-5 showed. Out of the gates well, she settled prominently behind the leaders as Kiseki took a commanding lead at the front. Approaching the 400m mark, the leader still had an 8-length advantage, but that didn't worry Almond Eye. A blistering run down the outside to take it up approaching the 100m mark saw her run out as a cosy winner in the final race of her career.
Hong Kong Cup –
Location: Sha Tin Racecourse
Distance: 1 mile 1f (1,800m) / 1 ¼ miles (2,000m)
Winning Time: 1 min 46.9 secs / 2 min 0.5 secs
Date: 13th December 1998 / 13th December 2020
Horse: Midnight Bet / Normcore
Jockey: Hiroshi Kawachi / Zac Purton
Going: Good to Firm / Good
Boasting a purse of HK$30 million, the Hong Kong Cup is another of the great end-of-year races. Ran at Sha Tin Racecourse over 1 ¼ mile, it is open to any horses aged 3 and up. The race was promoted to Group 1 status in 1999.
The distance of the Hong Kong Cup was changed in 1999 too, when it was increased from the previous 1,800m to 2,000m, making it another race on this list where two horses hold the record. Midnight Bet of Japan held the original record in 1998 at 1,800m. The current record was set more recently in 2020 by Normcore, also from Japan, and is just 20 milliseconds faster than the record set by Win Bright the year before. Normcore got revenge when winning the 2020 running of the race at odds of 10/1 after finishing 4th the year prior. Zac Purton placed his horse towards the rear of the eight-runner field throughout, pulling him to the outside to box on steadily inside the 300m. Eventually, he hit the front, pulling away inside the final 50m, beating the 2019 winner and previous record-holder Win Bright. It would be Normcore's last race before retirement.
Belmont Stakes –
Location: Belmont Park
Distance: 1 ½ mile (2,400m)
Winning Time: 2 mins 24 secs
Date: 9th June 1973
Jockey: Ron Turcotte
The Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, traditionally the third and final leg of the Triple Crown, is a race for 3-year-old horses usually held on the first or second Saturday in June. Inaugurated in 1867, the race covers one full lap of Belmont Park, with front-running speedsters often at an advantage.
He already holds two records on this list, so why not another? Secretariat holds the track record for his performance in the 1973 running of the race. A 31-length demolition of his four rivals in 2 minutes 24 seconds saw him set a world record time for a mile and a half on dirt. Quickly out of the gate and sharing the lead with Sham, his victory was never in doubt. When his rival tired at the three-quarters mile marker, Secretariat poured it on and pulled further and further clear. This victory, again under Ron Turcotte, was significant because it meant he had completed the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. He was only the 9th horse to complete the feat and did so by topping Count Fleet's 25L victory in 1943.
Dubai World Cup –
Location: Nad Al Sheba / Meydan (since 2014)
Distance: 1mile 2f (2,000m)
Winning Time: 1 mins 59.5 secs / 2 mins 01.4 secs
Date: 25th March 2000 / 31st March 2018
Horse: Dubai Millennium / Thunder Snow
Jockey: Frankie Dettori / Christophe Soumillon
Going: Fast / Fast
A race that trainer Saeed bin Suroor has won a record 9 times; the Dubai World Cup is the world’s richest horse race. Inaugurated in 1996, it carried a purse most recently of $12 million and is contested by some of the world’s best middle-distance horses. Entry is open to Northern Hemisphere horses aged 4+ and Southern Hemisphere horses aged 3+.
The Dubai World Cup is a race that has suffered multiple alterations since 1996. Initially, it was contested at Nad-Al-Sheba Racecourse until 2009, when Dubai Millennium set a record time of 1 minute 59.5 seconds on dirt. In 2010, the race moved to Meydan and was contested on a synthetic surface. Here, African Story set a record time in 2014 of 2 minutes 01.6 seconds, but that was beaten in 2018 by Thunder Snow since it was converted back to a dirt surface. Thunder Snow, ridden by Christophe Soumillon, completed the race in 2 minutes 01.4 seconds with a brilliant front-running performance. Soon in the clear, he powered to the line to record a 5.75L victory over the Bob Baffert-trained West Coast. Thunder Snow would win the race again the following year, but in a time around 2.5 seconds slower.
Saudi Cup –
Location: King Abdulaziz Racetrack (Riyadh)
Distance: 1mile 1f (1,800m)
Winning Time: 1 min 49.6 secs
Date: 20th February 2021
Jockey: David Egan
Despite only being inaugurated in 2020, the Saudi Cup is the richest horse race ever. It boasts a purse of $20 million and attracts horses from all over the globe. Held four weeks after the Pegasus World Cup and four weeks before the Dubai World Cup, it is a prime position for horses involved in those races to compete.
Finally, a British runner makes it onto the list. Mishriff, trained by John Gosden, set the record time in the second running of the Saudi Cup in 2021. Maximum Security achieved a time of 1 minute 50.6 seconds in the debut running of the race, but Mishriff beat his time by exactly one second. Quickly out of the gates under David Egan, Mishriff sat alertly behind the leaders for much of the race. He was pushed along to keep tabs on the leader (Charlatan) with two furlongs to run, but soon ranged alongside and stayed on well in the closing stages to win by 1L. The leaders pulled well clear of the rest of the field, posting RPRs of 121 and 123, respectively. The most recent running of the race saw locally trained outsider Emblem Road win, in a time almost one second slower than Mishriff.
Nakayama Grand Jump –
Location: Nakayama Racecourse
Distance: 2 miles 5f (4,250m)
Winning Time: 4 mins 43.0 secs
Date: 14th April 2018
Horse: Oju Chosan
Jockey: Shinichi Ishigami
The only steeplechase on this list, and arguably the highlight of the Asian racing calendar, the Nakayama Grand Jump is one of the richest races of its type in the world. With a recent purse of ¥142,660,000, it is one of only two Grade 1 steeplechase races on Japanese turf. Runners from overseas have only won the race on five occasions.
For those familiar with the race, it is perhaps no surprise that Oju Chosan is the horse to set the record. With six wins in the race from just seven starts, five of which were from 2016 to 2020, it’s fair to say he has dominated Japanese jumps in recent years. It’s his 15L romp in the 2018 running of the race, though, where he set the fastest time, achieving an RPR of 150. His run beat the existing record that had stood since 2000 by 100 milliseconds. Up with the pace from the start, and a superb round of jumping as he cruised through the race, he hit the front as they cleared the second-to-last fence, opening up with every stride to the line. This was win number three in his string of five, and his ninth consecutive grade-race win.
Sheema Classic –
Distance: 1 ½ mile (2,410m)
Winning Time: 2 mins 26.6 secs
Date: 27th March 2021
Jockey: David Egan
Another of the big races from Dubai, the Sheema Classic is very popular with runners from the UK, France, Japan, the US, and Ireland. Inaugurated in 1998, it is one of the newer races on this list, but still boasts a healthy purse of $6 million, and has been won by several top-class thoroughbreds. It is another race open to 3-year-old+ horses from the Southern Hemisphere and 4-year-old+ from the Northern Hemisphere.
Making their second appearance on this list, Mishriff and David Egan took the spoils in the 2021 renewal of the race in what was a record 3rd win for trainer John Gosden. As the highest-rated contender, it was perhaps a surprise that Mishriff went off at odds of 4/1, but he put it to bed with yet another gusty performance. Despite being keen early, Egan held Mishriff up at the rear behind a steady pace set by Channel Maker. Switched left with two furlongs to go, Mishriff made steady headway, hitting the front with his two closest challengers, Chrono Genesis and Loves Only You. He stayed on strongest, though, and was a neck ahead as they hit the line, in what was a tight finish. The time was 320 milliseconds faster than the previous record, set by Postponed and Andrea Atzeni in 2016.
The Everest –
Location: Randwick Racecourse
Distance: 6f (1,200m)
Winning Time: 1 min 7.3 secs
Date: 19th October 2019
Horse: Yes Yes Yes
Jockey: Glen Boss
Despite only being inaugurated in 2017, The Everest is the richest race in Australia and the richest turf race in the world. It is held annually as the feature race of the Sydney Spring Carnival in October. Despite not yet being eligible for group status, it most recently had a purse of $15 million, and unusually, a $600,000 entry fee is required to run a horse in the race.
The fastest time for the race was set in 2019 by Yes Yes Yes who is so far the youngest horse to win the race (3 years) and the only Colt to do so (all other winners have been Geldings). Settled towards the rear after a steady start, Yes Yes Yes had only three behind, but approaching the 400m mark, he made his move. Making good headway down the outside, he was 2nd with 200m to run, nosing ahead with an impressive turn of foot inside the final 100m. A late surge from Santa Ana Lane pushed him to the line, but the result was never in doubt. A brilliantly timed ride by Glen Boss saw him win by 0.5L, smashing the track record, and subsequently being retired.
Caulfield Cup –
Location: Caulfield Racecourse
Distance: 1 ½ mile (2,400m)
Winning Time: 2 mins 25.32 secs
Date: 21st October 2000
Jockey: Jim Cassidy
One of the oldest and richest horse races to take place in Australia, the Caulfield Cup is a Group 1 race for all horses aged three years old and older. Inaugurated in 1879, several champion racehorses have taken part in the 1 ½ mile trip. It boasts a most recent purse of $5 million and is held annually on the third Saturday in October.
Several big names have won the race recently, including the 2020/21 Australian Racehorse of the year, Verry Elleegant, and multiple Group 1 winner Incentivise. It's the George Hanlon-trained Diatribe; however, that holds the record for the fastest time. Ridden by Jim Cassidy, who coincidentally rode Might And Power in the 1997 renewal that held the record previously, Diatribe was given a brilliantly executed patient ride. Held up towards the rear out of the gate, he was given time to settle into a rhythm, and sat on the fence to save ground. Cutting the corner as they swung towards home, he only had to go around one horse on his pursuit to the line, staying on well to win by 1L. Mummify came within 600 milliseconds of the record in 2003, but that is the closest for a while, as times have slowed in recent years.
So that’s all for today! As mentioned previously, there will be another part of this list coming soon for the biggest races in the UK & Ireland. For now, though, if there are any races that you think should’ve been included in this list, be sure to leave a comment below!