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The Top 10 Gray Horses of All-time

Gray Matters
Hansen wins the Gotham and Creative Cause wins the San Felipe.  What do those victories have in common?  Yes, they are both important wins in graded Derby Preps.  Yes, both winners were leading two year-olds in 2011, and yes, they are at the top of most experts Derby lists.
What has been overlooked is that they are both gray horses and racing fans love gray horses.  How many times have you been to the racetrack and heard, “Isn’t that gray horse beautiful” or “Oh, I always bet on the gray ones”?  In episode seven of HBO’s “Luck” Lonnie’s decision to claim the horse was finalized because the horse was a gray.
Gray horses get their unique appearance from the combination of their black skin and varying amounts of white and black hairs. With age most grays lighten and get closer to a white appearance.  Hansen has very few dark hairs and appears almost white already.  Creative Cause has a much darker gray color. There are also roan horses that have the basic characteristics of grays, but have red hairs in their coats.
Is Hansen or Creative Cause good enough to be considered one of the best gray thoroughbreds? If so, they would have to be better than some of the greatest horses of all time. 
Here is my list of the 10 best gray racehorses in history.  That includes six members of the top 100 racehorses of the 20th century, eight Hall of Fame inductees, six winners of the Horse of the Year title, a total of 22 awards as champions, and over $32 million in earnings.
1) Native Dancer won 21 out of 22 starts in a career that spanned three years. His only loss came in the 1953 Kentucky Derby when a furious closing run came up a head short after one of the roughest and most notorious trips in the history of the Run to the Roses.  The Gray Ghost was campaigned by the racing dignitary Alfred G. Vanderbilt.  Native Dancer became an American star because his gray coat produced such a striking image on the black and white televisions of the 1950’s.  Native Dancer’s sons and daughters produced many of racing’s best runners and stallions and some of them are: Ruffian, Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector, Alydar, Affirmed, Raise A Native, and Genuine Risk.  The Sagamore Farms runner won four championships over his three years including Horse of the Year in 1954.  He was ranked number six in the top 100 horses of the 20th century by The Blood-Horse and joined the Hall of Fame in 1963.
2) Spectacular Bid won 26 of 30 starts and purses of almost $2.8 million. The Bid was a two year-old champion that dominated all five of his Derby prep races in 1979.  Easy victories in the first two legs of the Triple Crown led to the controversial “straight pin” defeat in the Belmont stakes. He would lose only one more time in his career and that was by three quarters of a length to Affirmed in the 1979 Jockey Club Gold Cup.  His four year-old season was a tour de force.  He set two track records and dominated the competition to such an extent that his final race was the famous “Walkover”, since not a single horse would face him in the 1980 Woodward. The Bid was named Horse of the Year in 1980 and was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1982.
3) Skip Away is ranked third all time in career earnings with over $9.6 million. Skippy earned four Eclipse Awards including Horse of the Year in 1998.  His 18 victories included eight grade one stakes, one of which was the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Classic. He set 10 track records. Beyond his two year-old season he had Beyer Speed Figures over 100 in 29 of his 32 starts. Skip Away joined the Hall of Fame in 2004.
4) Silver Charm ran for Bob and Beverly Lewis and trainer Bob Baffert.  Silver Charm won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness by a head.  He missed the Triple Crown by three quarters of a length to Touch Gold. Silver Charm successfully made the difficult trip to win the Dubai World Cup. In his career he won just under $7 million from 12 victories.  Silver Charm entered the Hall of Fame in 2007.
5) Holy Bull lost only three times in his 16 race career. One of his worst performances was as the favorite in the 1994 Kentucky Derby, yet he went on that year to be champion three year-old and Horse of the Year. After the Derby he won five big races: the Met Mile, Dwyer, Haskell, Travers, and the Woodward. Holy Bull was owned and trained by Monmouth Park based Jimmy Croll, who inherited the horse when the owner passed away shortly after his maiden win.  The gray colt was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
6) Lady's Secret is one of the greatest mares in racing history.  She raced 45 times in a career that spanned four years and produced 25 wins with earnings just over $3,000,000. Lady’s Secret won 12 grade one races including the 1986 Whitney against the boys and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff that same year. In 1986, the daughter of Secretariat was named the Champion Older Mare and Horse of the Year. She too joined the Racing Hall of Fame.
7) Winning Colors is one of only three fillies to win the Kentucky Derby. This roan filly was trained by D. Wayne Lukas and owned by Eugene Klein when that duo was in their heyday.  As a prep to her 1988 Derby victory Winning Colors beat the boys in the Santa Anita Derby. She won only one other time after those victories and that was as a four year-old.  She was named the Eclipse Champion as a Three Year-Old Filly. She was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.
8) Princess Rooney never finished out of the money in a 21 race career that included 17 victories.  She won her first 10 races in a row. She began her racing in the east when trained by Joe Pierce and finished her career based in the west for Neil Drysdale. There she won her final five starts, which included her last race in the 1984 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. That year she was voted Champion Older Mare. Princess Rooney entered the Hall of Fame in 1991.
9) Black Tie Affair was a versatile and durable horse that raced 45 times over a four career earning over $3.3 million.  He had nine different riders and ran at 15 different tracks. Black Tie Affair won at distances from six furlongs to a mile and a quarter and he improved with age.  He won the last six starts of his career as a five year-old with his best and last win coming in the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Classic. That graded stakes win streak earned him Eclipse honors as Older Male and Horse of the Year.
10) Cozzene proves that gray horses are also good on the turf as this horse became great when he hit the grass.  Cozzene was bred and owned by Hall of Famer John Nerud and was trained by his son Jan.  He won 10 races in his career of which seven came on the grass. His victory in the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Mile earned him the 1985 Eclipse award as Champion Turf Horse.
{Be sure to check out where my Top 10 Grays fit in the Horse Racing Nation Top 250 Thoroughbreds of All-time.} 


What the Nation is saying about The Top 10 Gray Horses of All-time...

and eight belles
What about The great Caro, Al Hattab, Grey Dawn 2, Unbridleds Song??
LOVE your list - Native Dancer absolutely was number one and Spectacular Bid number two. I might add that Native Dancer was also Horse of the Year in 1952 as a two year old - and in fact was the FIRST to ever receive that honor. (Back in the day, the voting was split between 3 groups and 2 of the 3 voted for him so he shared the honors with I believe One Count).
Particularly Ack Ack.Doubt if Sunday Silence would get a call versus that monster
greatest blakc? Ack Ack and Domino would put Sunday Silence to shame by open lengths
Native Dancer has the most top class descendent's including all horses since he was an ancestor of both Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector. He had two Derby winners in Kaui King and Dancer's Image who was disqualified for having bute in his system. One of the greatest blacks of all time was Sunday Silence and he has a daughter he did pretty well in Japan who could be considered the best white thoroughbred although not good enough to be called great. Prospector.
we all know great claimers like that. FOr me it is an old plugger who won 13 in a row in Northern California named Hap Louge
Folks outside the Mid-Atlantic region surely had never heard of PORT CONWAY LANE. He was a cheap claimer who in 242 starts ('71-'83) WON 52 times, PLACED 39 and SHOWED 36. How many horses can you name who won 50+ races in their career?
THe Tetrarch, Native Dancer...the list is long over the one season wonder, one circuit wonder Vigors
Greyhound without a doubt, many records styed up for over 30 years
not TWO of you!
VIGORS has to be the greatest of the modern era hand down!
we often hear about some almost great ones that have been forgotten and family members enlighten out Hall of Fame election committee as regards them..One is the remakable standardbred THe Ghost (on our Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame web site, just look up THe Ghost0 and there is a great shot of him on his preferred surface: ICE!! Held several world recornds on that surface.
interesting that Ribot's trainer was convinced that the gray color was somehow from a diseased genome and did all he could to stay away from that
I wanted to talk to Izvestia's trainer, the usually approachable Roger Attfield, BUT a friend saved me from a lifelong position on his sh*t list by suggesting I sould talk to him about ANY other horse but that one. Two of us noted his being kicked in his rearleg up in New England the race before he broke that same leg and had to be euthanized on the track...Ego killed that horse and it was not the trainer's
The Tetrarch (1911–1935) was an Irish-bred, British-trained Thoroughbred racehorse. He was undefeated in a racing career of seven starts and has been regarded as the best British-trained two-year-old of the 20th century. He did not race after 1913 and was retired to stud where he became an influential sire.
Greyhound....Greyhound was the outstanding trotting horse of his day and arguably the most outstanding in the history of the sport. He was nicknamed "The Great Grey Ghost" and "Silver-skinned Flyer." In 1935, he won the Hambletonian race and in 1938 he lowered the record time for trotting the mile to 1:55¼. This record stood until 1969. He trotted 25 two-minute miles and at one time held fourteen world records.
I think of Canadian Triple crown winner and World record holder With Approval trained by Roger attfield in 1989. Followed by Triple Crown winning and freakishly talented Izvestia in 1990.
Personal favorite - tho not a worldbeater was Red Scamper. He raced for 10 years on the tough NY allowance/claiming circuit before being retired to stud duty in Mass. Altho his name was Red Scamper, he was a tough old grey who never quit trying.
Virtually all of our contemporary gray Thoroughbreds can trace their color to this single, precarious silver thread. The renaissance began with the French stallion Le Sancy (foaled in 1884), but gathered pace with his paternal grandson, the French-bred stallion Roi Herode (foaled in 1904). Roi Herode transmitted his gray coat color through two enduring lines of descent: chiefly through his phenomenal son The Tetrarch, and secondarily through his daughter La Grisette.


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 Meet Matt Shifman 

Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.


Matt’s articles and tweets frequently appear in the America’s Best Racing weekly Notebook. In 2012 he became a voter in the NTRA weekly polls for the Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old.


The best way to get to know Matt is to check out some of his favorite articles from the past couple years.


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