Updated: Dec 19, 2022
The definition of what makes a racehorse 'great' varies depending on who you ask. Impressive speed, an abundance of stamina, or simply the ability to win are standout traits. Opinion differs on who are ‘the best’ horses ever, but I’ve chosen my 10 greatest European flat horses ever, based on their ratings, records, and career achievements. The list is stacked with standout performers, no two of which are the same, and I think it’s difficult to argue against any of the following being included. If you disagree with my choices, though, or think there is a glaringly obvious choice that I’ve missed, I’d love to see your thoughts in the comments section below. In no particular order…
Perhaps best known for his high cruising speed and effortless turn of foot, Frankel won pretty much everything there was to win between 7f and 1m2f on British soil. A retired bay colt, he was named after the late American trainer, Bobby Frankel, and was bred by Juddmonte Farms. He was foaled in 2008 to esteemed sire Galileo and equally useful mare, Kind. Unbeaten during his 14-race career, he was trained by Sir Henry Cecil for owner Prince Khalid bin Abdullah and is the highest-rated racehorse in the world with a Timeform rating of 147 (two higher than Sea-Bird in 2nd). For this reason, he is widely considered one of the greatest racehorses ever.
Interested to know more? Read a more comprehensive run-down on Frankel’s career here:
Sea-Bird was a superstar middle-distance horse in his native France during the 1960s. A chestnut stallion, he was foaled in 1962 and bred by his owner Jean Ternynck, a French textile manufacturer. Ternynck sent Sea-Bird into training with his distant cousin Etienne Pollet, where he would race eight times. Despite only racing from 1964 until October 1965, he won seven races, achieving a Timeform rating of 145. This remains the second-highest flat figure to this day behind Frankel. He raced on ground varying from Good to Heavy to Soft, over distances ranging from 7f-1m4f, and won five Group 1’s during that time.
Interested to know more? Read a more comprehensive run-down on Sea-Bird’s career here:
Brigadier Gerard –
Boasting a staggering 18 wins from 19 starts, and often referred to as Britain’s 20th-century superstar, Brigadier Gerard won it all for trainer Major Dick Hern. Foaled in 1968, he was the son of the stallion Queen’s Hussar, who won both the Sussex and Lockinge Stakes, and non-winning mare, La Pavia. On his female side, he can be traced back to Triple Crown winner, Pretty Polly. Owned and bred by Mr & Mrs John L. Hislop, this bay colt raced from June 1970 until October 1972, achieving a Timeform rating of 144. He is still the joint-third highest-rated flat horse to this day. Unbeaten at two and three, he was versatile regarding distance, too, winning over 5f up to 1m4f.
Interested to know more? Read a more comprehensive run-down on Brigadier Gerard’s career here:
A grey horse this time, and Abernant is Timeform’s highest-rated sprinter in Europe since World War 2. He raced 17 times in a career lasting from May 1948 until 1950, winning 14 races. His sire, Owen Tudor, was a top-class horse himself, winning both the Derby and Ascot Gold Cup, whilst his dam was the non-winning Rustam Mahal. He was foaled in 1946 and bred by Catherine Macdonald Buchanan. Her husband Reginald was his registered owner, and he was sent into training with Noel Murless, one of the most successful trainers of the 20th century. He only finished out of the top 3 once in his 17 races, and his Timeform rating of 142 puts him joint-fourth on their greatest flat racehorses list.
Interested to know more? Read a more comprehensive run-down on Abernant’s career here:
The first horse on this list to be trained outside of the UK, Ribot was a British-bred Italian-trained colt from the '50s. Perhaps best known for winning all 16 of his races, he was one of the most versatile horses ever. Bred by Federico Tasio, whose stud produced 22 different Italian Derby winners, Ribot was sent into training with Ugo Penco. He was foaled at the English National Stud in Newmarket to sire Tenerani, and dam Romanella. Tenerani was a successful racehorse best known for defeating French champion Arbar in the 1948 Goodwood Cup, whilst his dam, Romanella, was a successful broodmare. He raced over distances varying from 5f right up to 1m7f and competed in three different countries. Timeform awarded Ribot a rating of 142.
Interested to know more? Read a more comprehensive run-down on Ribot’s career here:
Mill Reef –
Considered one of the greatest horses to run in Europe since WW2, Mill Reef is a name that most racing fans will know. Bred and owned by Paul Mellon, an American philanthropist, he was sent into training with Ian Balding at his base in Kingsclere, Hampshire. He was foaled in 1968 at the Rockerby Stables in Virginia to champion American racehorse and leading sire, Never Bend, and dam, Milan Mill, before being sent to England in December 1969.Winning over distances varying from 6f to 1m4f, he suffered his only defeats during his two-year-old season. He proved to be an exceptional talent, achieving a Timeform rating of 141.
Interested to know more? Read a more comprehensive run-down on Mill Reef’s career here:
Sea The Stars –
Despite only racing nine times, Sea The Stars is one of the greatest racehorses of all time. Owned by Christopher Tsui, a Hong Kong businessman, and trained by the now-retired John Oxx, this half-brother to Galileo racked up an impressive record. Foaled in April 2006 to Queen Anne Stakes winner, Cape Cross, and world-class broodmare, Urban Sea, he began his racing career in July 2008. From there, he won all eight of the following races in which he competed. This included the treble (2000 Guineas, Derby, and Eclipse Stakes) which made him the first colt to complete the feat since Nashwan in 1989. He showcased both speed and stamina throughout his career and was awarded a rating of 140 by Timeform, placing him joint-sixth on their list of the greatest flat racehorses.
Interested to know more? Read a more comprehensive run-down on Sea The Stars’s career here:
Now for the oldest horse on this list, and the first filly too, Sceptre was a bay mare bred by Hugh Grosvenor, the 1st Duke of Westminster. Foaled at Grosvenor’s Eaton Stud in Cheshire in 1899, she was born to Persimmon, who had previously won The Derby, St.Leger, and Ascot Gold Cup, and Ornament, who was sister to Triple Crown winner, Ormonde. During her racing career, which lasted from 1901 to 1904, she was owned and trained by several people, initially bought by Robert Sievier and sent into training with Charles Morton in Wantage. She won 13 of the 25 races she contested during her career, placing in a further eight.
Interested to know more? Read a more comprehensive run-down on Sceptre’s career here:
Again bred by Juddmonte Farms and owned by Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, Enable was a highly successful middle-distance horse that raced between 2016 and 2020. Running in the same colours as Frankel, she dominated across the globe, winning 11 Group-1 races from 19 starts. Foaled in 2014 to the equally useful Nathaniel, out of the leading sire Galileo, and Magnificent Style, an established broodmare, she would accumulate an astonishing £10,724,320 in earnings for trainer John Gosden. Her biggest wins came over distances between 1m2f and 1m4f, during which she won some of the world’s biggest races. Timeform awarded her a rating of 134, which puts her outside their top 10, but her record is nothing to be frowned upon.
Interested to know more? Read a more comprehensive run-down on Enable’s career here:
Dancing Brave –
The tenth and final horse on this list, and another of Prince Khalid bin Abdullah’s, Dancing Brave was a bay colt out of Lyphard and Navajo Princess. His sire, Lyphard, was a useful horse in France where he accumulated $202,232 from 12 races, whilst his dam, Navajo Princess, won sixteen races during her career. Racing from 1985 to 86, Dancing Brave raced 10 times, winning eight. Trained by Guy Harwood at his base in Pulborough, he raced predominantly over middle distances, starting over 1 mile at Sandown in the late summer of 1985, and going up to 1m4f. He achieved a Timeform rating of 140, putting him joint-sixth on their list of the greatest flat racehorses ever.
Interested to know more? Read a more comprehensive run-down on Dancing Brave’s career here:
Well, that's my top 10 list of the greatest flat racehorses of all time. With so many big names to choose from, it was hard to narrow it down to just 10… Do you agree with me? Or are there other names you would've included on the list? Let me know in the comments below!