21322079834_111111.jpgComparing and choosing the greatest Thoroughbreds throughout time is a difficult task, given the differences in the sport that existed in the eras in which each horse raced. Who could say that Count Fleet, Triple Crown winner of 1943, then Citation, 1948′s Triple Crown champion, in their time weren’t as good as (Big Red) Man o’ War, the obvious standard bearer of the first 75 years of American Thoroughbred racing?
Was five-time Horse of the Year Kelso as good as the comparatively lightly raced Secretariat in the seond half of the 20th Century?
The Blood-Horse Magazine Top FiveIn 1999, the staff of The Blood-Horse magazine chose the best Thoroughbreds ever and published its results in Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century. Their top five are:
No. 1 — Man o’ War
No. 2 – Secretariat
No. 3 — Citation
No. 4 — Kelso
No. 5 — Count Fleet   
Historians and fans will continue to make cases for War Admiral (13), Northern Dancer (43), John Henry (23), Forego (8), Dr. Fager (6), or Cigar (18), and others to have cracked the top five. Debates run rampant among the fans of many candidates.
Thoroughbred Racing’s Second 75 YearsThe second 75 years of the Sport of Kings yielded the most handsome fellow in horse flesh ever to grace a race track — Secretariat. The third great Big Red gave his owner and his fans goosebumps when he performed his regal pre-race walkabouts and reached the competitive wire first.
Secretariat’s 31-length win in the Belmont Stakes at 2:24 flat for the 1-1/2 miles marathon is still a world record. He set speed records in winning all three Triple Crown races in 1973, although his Preakness Stakes time was disputed and adjusted.
Who Was the Second Big Red?Phar Lap was New Zealand-bred, trained and raced in Australia, and had a story similar to America’s Seabiscuit. The Aussies’ Big Red of the 1920s, Phar Lap stood 17 hands.
Secretariat was sweet-natured, beautifully coated, and had a racing Thoroughbred’s perfect conformation. Horsemen marveled at his physicality from the first time he stepped on the track. He was a born runner.
Long-necked, lanky, lean, and angular, Phar Lap had to be taught to run competitively, but once he had it, he became unstoppable. The Aussies were wild about him. Because he was such a sure bet, and odds could not be gotten against him, the betting mob arranged for his assassination. They failed to bring him down. His devoted groom, Tommy Woodcock, saved his life on their way to run the 1930 Melbourne Cup, which Phar Lap won hours later.
Comparing Thoroughbred Racing RecordsPhar Lap posted 51 times and won 37 of those starts, compiling a winning percentage that not many others rivaled. Following are the records of Phar Lap and America’s top five rated Thoroughbreds:
Man o’ War (born 1917) — 21 starts, 20 wins, 0 seconds, 0 thirds; career earnings – $249,465
Secretariat (1970) — 21 – 16 – 3 – 1; $1,316,808
Citation (1945) — 45 – 32 – 10 – 2; $1,085,760
Kelso (1957) — 63 – 39 – 12 – 2; $1,977,896
Count Fleet (1940) — 21 – 16 – 4 – 1; $250,300
Phar Lap (1926) — 51 – 37 – 3 – 2; $332,250
Comparing Thoroughbreds of Different DecadesAmerican Thoroughbreds of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1970s may have been the most competitive. Ten of the 11 Triple Crown champions raced in those decades: Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978).
Phar Lap raced more frequently and at consistently longer distances — 1-1/2 to 2 miles per race — and posted more times than four of America’s top five. 
America’s top two ranked Thoroughbreds, Man o’ War and Secretariat, are generally assigned best ever from the first half century and the second half century, respectively.
Phar Lap, unfortunately, died at the age of six shortly after arriving in America to take on the best Thoroughbreds the United States had to offer. Whether or not he could have beaten the best Yankees remains a matter of speculation. 

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