Top 10 Most Iconic Silks in Horse Racing
Updated: Feb 24, 2022
It's that time again where I compile one of my top 10 lists, this time, the most iconic silks in horse racing. There's many a horse that we all know and love, but how much do we know about the silks that they carry? Whether it's the infamous turquoise and pink of Frankel, the green and yellow quarters donned by multiple Grand National winners, or the royal blue carried by the horses of Godolphin, each possesses a long and varied history. Opinions differ on which are the most iconic, so I took to Twitter to get the opinions of the public too. Stacked with group 1 winners and an abundance of famous names, let’s get into my list of the most iconic silks ever!
(In no particular order) (All stats correct at time of writing)
It is worth noting before we begin that if owners have several runners in a race, the colours will differ slightly i.e. a different colour cap, etc. These are, however, the primary colour combinations.
Khalid Bin Abdullah – Green, pink sash and cap, white sleeves
Prince Khalid Bin Abdullah was a member of the House of Saud, perhaps best known in the horse racing world for being the owner of the breeding farm, Juddmonte. He heralded the start of large-scale investment in horse racing by owners from the Middle East through his purchases of yearlings in the 1970s, before setting up Juddmonte in 1982. It was from here that his breeding operation began, winning all five British Classic races with homebred horses, as well as a clean sweep of French Classics. He was crowned British Champion Owner in 2003, 2010, and 2011, whilst also being crowned Top Breeder in North America on five separate occasions. Regular Juddmonte trainers include Roger Charlton, John and Thady Gosden, Sir Michael Stoute, Ralph Beckett, Hugo Palmer, and of course, the legendary Sir Henry Cecil until his passing in 2013. Other trainers include Dermot Weld and Ger Lyons in Ireland, Andre Fabre, Francis-Henri Graffard, and Henri-Francois Devin in France, and William Mott, Brad Cox, Bob Baffert, and Chad Brown in the US. Khalid Bin Abdullah has accumulated 2493 wins so far in Britain, with Juddmonte having over 100 individual homebred GR.1 winners.
Notable horses: Enable, Frankel, Known Fact, Dancing Brave, Arrogate, Kingman
Major races won: King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Epsom Derby, Dubai World Cup, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Breeders’ Cup Turf, 2000 Guineas, St. Leger, Oaks, 1000 Guineas, Irish Derby, Irish 2000 Guineas, Irish Oaks, and Pegasus World Cup, amongst others, as well as multiple Grade 1’s in North America and France. He won several races on multiple occasions, including the Epsom Derby (3), 2000 Guineas (2), Oaks (2), 1000 Guineas (2), and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (4).
Godolphin – Royal blue
Godolphin is the private racing stable of the Maktoum family, formed in 1992 and named in honour of one of three founding stallions of the modern thoroughbred, the Godolphin Arabian. The UAE Vice President, Prime Minister, and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is the primary driving force behind the operation. They have horses in training in Great Britain, Australia, France, Japan, the United States, and Ireland, with top trainers such as Saeed bin Suroor, Charlie Appleby, and James Cummings. Their retained jockeys include William Buick, James Doyle, and Mickael Barzalona. Godolphin has accumulated over 5000 winners since their inception and has been crowned British Champion Owner on 12 separate occasions, winning various other awards over the years.
Notable horses: Pinatubo, Adayar, Ghaiyyath, Blue Point, Dubawi, and Dubai Millennium
Major races won: Dubai World Cup, Breeders’ Cup Turf, Irish Derby, Caulfield Cup, Yasuda Kinen, Oaks, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Epsom Derby, Ascot Gold Cup, and Irish 2000 Guineas, amongst others, including winners in 14 different countries worldwide. Godolphin has won several races on multiple occasions, such as the Dubai World Cup (10) and Breeders’ Cup Turf (3), with 288 wins in Group 1 races around the world.
J P McManus – Emerald green and gold hoops with a white cap
J P McManus is an Irish businessman who has been a racehorse owner since the 1980s. Jonjo O'Neill has trained several of his most successful racehorses, but he has horses all around the UK with other top trainers such as Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson, and Gordon Elliott. During his time as an owner, he has accumulated over 4000 winners in Britain and holds the record for the most wins at the Cheltenham Festival (67). His retained rider, until retirement, was the great A P McCoy, who gave McManus his first Grand National winner aboard Don't Push It in 2010. Barry Geraghty later took over that role. McManus was named the leading owner in Britain for the 14th time last season and is one of a few owners to win Aintree's great race more than once.
Notable horses: Istabraq, Don’t Push It, Synchronised, Like-A-Butterfly, Baracouda, Buveur D’Air
Major races won: Aintree Grand National, Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Stayers’ Hurdle, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Irish Champion Hurdle, Punchestown Gold Cup, Christmas Hurdle, Welsh National, and Glenfarclas Chase, amongst others. McManus has won the Grand National on two occasions, as well as the Champion Hurdle three times.
Derrick Smith, John Magnier, Michael Tabor (Coolmore) – Royal blue, orange disc, orange and royal blue striped sleeves and cap / Purple, white seams, striped sleeves, and purple cap
Derrick Smith is a successful currency trader, John Magnier is an Irish business magnate, and Michael Tabor is a successful businessman, gambler, and bookmaker. Together, they are involved in Coolmore, a highly successful breeding operation and the largest in the world. A training operation was established at Coolmore in 1945, and since then, has grown to be active in Ireland, America, Australia, and most recently in National Hunt racing. The success and fortunes of the three men involved have allowed them to invest and breed some of the best horses in the world for their sister thoroughbred facility, Ballydoyle, and top trainer Aidan O’Brien. Each owner has their own silks, however, those carried with the most success are the two listed here. Whilst Aidan O’Brien has trained their most successful horses, they have also tasted success with trainers: Andre Fabre, Donnacha O’Brien, Wesley Ward, and Simon Callaghan. In the UK alone, under these two silks, Smith, Magnier, and Tabor have racked up over 700 wins, with over £23 million in earnings over the past five seasons alone. They have also won numerous Cartier Awards.
Notable horses: Highland Reel, Kew Gardens, Japan, St Mark’s Basilica, Capri, Love
Major races won: Irish 1000 guineas, Irish 2000 guineas, Irish Champion Stakes, Irish Derby, Irish Oaks, Irish St Leger, National Stakes, Tattersalls Gold Cup, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, 1000 Guineas, 2000 Guineas, Champion Stakes, Epsom Derby, International Stakes, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth stakes, Oaks, and St Leger, amongst others. They've won several top races on multiple occasions (under these silks) including the Irish Derby (8), St Leger (3), and 1000 Guineas (5), with the total being even higher when including their other racing colour combinations.
The Queen – Purple, gold braid, scarlet sleeves, black velvet cap, gold fringe
Queen Elizabeth II has links to horse racing that date back to the 1950s, following in the footsteps of previous generations of the Royal Family. She inherited the breeding and racing stock of her late father King George VI, in 1952, and until the late '60s, raced her own-bred horses. Now, she owns over 100 horses and has claimed over 1600 wins, being named British flat racing Champion Owner on two occasions in 1954 and 57. The Queen has horses in training with various trainers, but most commonly with Andrew Balding, William Haggas, John and Thady Gosden, and Sir Michael Stoute. She attends Royal Ascot every year and is even said to read the Racing Post over breakfast every morning!
Notable horses: Estimate, Dunfermline, Aureole, Highclere, Pall Mall, Carozza
Major races won: Oaks, St Leger, 2000 Guineas, 1000 Guineas, Ascot Gold Cup, July Stakes, Yorkshire Cup, Hardwicke Stakes, Doncaster Cup, Dante Stakes, Ribblesdale Stakes, Chesham Stakes, Queen’s Vase, and St James’ Palace Stakes, amongst others.
Trevor Hemmings – Emerald green and yellow quartered, white sleeves and cap
Trevor Hemmings was a British billionaire businessman, perhaps best known for owning Preston North End and over 100 racehorses. His iconic green and yellow quartered silks were ridden to victory in the Grand National on three occasions, whilst having at least one runner in the race every year since the turn of the century. He also owned multiple other top-class NH horses, accumulating 705 wins in Britain to date, 12 of which were at Cheltenham Festivals. His most successful horses were trained by Nicky Henderson, Jonjo O’Neill, and Oliver Sherwood, with other big names such as Hedgehunter and Ballabriggs trained by Willie Mullins and Donald McCain, respectively.
Notable horses: Hedgehunter, Many Clouds, Ballabriggs, Alberta’s Run, Cloth Cap, Trabolgan
Major races won: Grand National, Ryanair Chase, Ladbrokes Trophy, Hennessy Gold Cup, Kim Muir Chase, Grand Annual Chase, Cotswold Chase, Scottish National, 1965 Chase, and Old Roan Chase, amongst others. Hemmings is the joint-most successful owner in the Grand National (3).
H H Aga Khan – Green, red epaulets
His royal highness Aga Khan IV is the current Imam of Nizari Ismailis, a denomination within Shia Islam. He has ties to horse racing that have been handed down through the generations, but personally that date back to the 1970s. His investment in bloodstock began in 1977 when he first paid £1.3 million for the bloodstock owned by Anna Dupre. He now operates his horse racing and breeding operation from his estate in France and is said to be the most influential owner-breeder there, with several horses bred by Aga Khan Studs winning Cartier awards. He also owns multiple other stud farms around the country, as well as in Ireland. There are seven trainers for the Aga Khan stud, Francis-Henri Graffard, Mikel Delzangles, Jean-Claude Rouget, and Alain de Royer Dupre in France, as well as Michael Halford, Dermot Weld, and Johnny Murtagh in Ireland. The single retained jockey for Aga Khan Studs is Christophe Soumillon.
Notable horses: Dalakhani, Siyouni, Ervedya, Zarkava, Shergar, Tarnawa
Major races won: Prix de Diane, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Epsom Derby, Irish Derby, Breeders’ Cup Turf, Grand Prix de Paris, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, Coronation Stakes, Yorkshire Oaks, Prix Vermeille, Irish St Leger, Hong Kong Vase, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Irish Oaks, Queen Anne Stakes, and Coronation Cup, amongst others. He holds the record of 160 Group 1’s won by horses in his ownership, some on multiple occasions. These include Breeders’ Cup Turf (2) and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (4).
Hamdan Al Maktoum – Royal blue, white epaulets with a striped cap
Sheikh Hamdan was the deputy ruler of Dubai and the minister of finance and industry for the UAE. He was introduced to horse racing while a student in the UK, establishing his first racing stable here in 1981, and gaining major operations in Ireland and the US too. His eight stud farms around the world make up Shadwell Racing, which has brought him outstanding success internationally. Sheikh Hamdan was crowned British flat racing Champion Owner on four occasions in 1990, 1995, 2002, and 2005, enjoying over 50 Group 1 wins in Europe over the years too. Currently, he has around 200 horses in training in England with top trainers such as William Haggas, John and Thady Gosden, and Mark Johnston, whilst his retained jockey is Jim Crowley. Sheikh Hamdan and his Shadwell Stables also won an Eclipse Award for Outstanding Owner in 2007, and have accumulated almost 4000 winners in Britain since they began.
Notable horses: Nashwan, Battaash, Muhaarar, Dayjur, Taghrooda, Invasor
Major races won: 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Eclipse Stakes, Nunthorpe Stakes, Dubai World Cup, 1000 Guineas, Oaks, Irish Derby, Champion Stakes, Ascot Gold Cup, Dewhurst Stakes, July Cup, Irish 2000 Guineas, Irish 1000 Guineas, and Melbourne Cup, amongst others. He also won some of the world’s biggest races on more than one occasion, including 1000 Guineas (5), 2000 Guineas (2), King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2), Dubai World Cup (2), and Melbourne Cup (2).
Gigginstown – Burgundy, white stripes across arms with a white star on the chest, star on cap
Gigginstown Stud was formed in 2000 by owner Michael O’Leary, perhaps best known otherwise as the CEO of Ryanair. It was set up as a horse breeding service, and after investing on a large scale, has become hugely successful, particularly in Ireland. In the 2006-07 season, Gigginstown had 32 different runners run in Ireland in their silks. By the 2018-19 season, this was up to 226, with their top earner, the infamous Tiger Roll, accumulating £1,380,085 in earnings alone. Whilst winning many races over in Britain, their base has always been in Ireland with top trainers such as Gordon Elliott, Noel Meade, and Henry de Bromhead. There is no single retained rider for Gigginstown, however, Bryan Cooper and Davy Russell have ridden horses for them in the past. Accumulating 1447 wins in the UK to date, and winning the Grand National on three occasions, Gigginstown isn't showing any signs of slowing down yet!
Notable horses: Tiger Roll, Don Cossack, Apples Jade, Rule The World, War Of Attrition, Delta Work
Major races won: Grand National, Cheltenham Gold Cup, Irish Gold Cup, Glenfarclas Chase, Aintree Hurdle, Triumph Hurdle, Punchestown Gold Cup, Melling Chase, Irish Champion Hurdle, Christmas Hurdle, Mares’ Champion Hurdle, and Ladbrokes Champion Chase, amongst others. Gigginstown has won the Grand National on three separate occasions, as well as the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice, with War of Attrition and Don Cossack.
Cheveley Park – Red, white sash, royal blue cap
Cheveley Park Stud is steeped in history and is one of the most successful stud farms in Europe. Situated in Newmarket, with buildings dating back to the 16th century, and some influential owners through the years, there is no wonder that there has been considerable success in thoroughbred racing. Current owner Patricia Thompson CBE, and her late husband David, purchased the property in 1975, and in recent years have had several prestigious Group 1 winners. It is quite rare, however, to find an owner who excels in both flat and jumps racing. Despite successes on the flat in races such as the 1000 Guineas and Epsom Derby, horses such as A Plus Tard and Envoi Allen have provided Cheveley with wins at the Cheltenham Festival and the top level in Ireland. Several horses are with top British and Irish trainers. On the flat in Britain, Sir Michael Stoute, John and Thady Gosden, and Roger Varian are popular trainers. In Ireland, Willie Mullins and Henry De Bromhead now train most of their horses, after they cut ties with Gordon Elliott following the incident in 2021. Cheveley Park has also won several Cartier Awards and was crowned Weatherbys Owner of the Year in 2007.
Notable horses: Medicean, Pivotal, A Plus Tard, Persuasive, Envoi Allen, Sir Gerhard
Major races won: Lockinge Stakes, Eclipse Stakes, Nunthorpe, Golden Jubilee Stakes, Epsom Derby, St Leger, Kings Stand Stakes, Queen Anne Stakes, 1000 Guineas, Nassau Stakes, Coronation Stakes, Savills Chase, Betfair Chase, Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, Ryanair Chase, and Champion Bumper, amongst others. They’ve won the Lockinge Stakes on two occasions.
So that’s my top 10 list of the most iconic silks in horse racing. Notable successes are a common theme throughout, and it's hard to narrow it down to just 10… Are there any you think should be on the list? Let me know below!