Can you imagine a race that would round up the best horses in the history of Thoroughbred racing to run against one another? What a match race that could be!! Of course it never will happen other than in my imagination. But think of the greats, all lined up, snorting, stomping, waiting to break from that starting gate.
In true reality, over the years there have been few truly GREAT Throughbred race horses.
Only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown in 89 years of racing, with the last being Affirmed in 1978. And if you look at the stats, some of the greatest horses never even won the Triple Crown. Man O'War, Seabiscuit, Zenyatta, to name just a couple.
Match races, the practice of one man's horse against another, was common place in the 1800's. In 1938 the race between War Admiral and Seabiscuit was billed as the Greatest Match Race of The Century. Two very accomplished and well matched athletes. One a Man O'War son, the other a grandson. Those two horses moved stride for stride, side by side, in perfect tune with each other down the back stretch. With the outcome being Seabiscuit by 4 amazing lengths! Interestingly enough, Man O'War was victorious in 1920 in his match race against Sir Barton.
The interest in match races dwindled after the 1950's. And I'm not sure there has been a major match since the tragic race between Ruffian against Foolish Pleasure.
I look back and have to ask myself, could todays champions hold a candle to those who raced 50 or 60 years ago? Who would be the real victor? Would the horses of the past be even faster in todays environment of better training, feeding and management skills?
Would the horses from back in the day run circles around our modern thoroughbreds? Or would it be the other way around? You can't compare race times because there are different factors for each day, and timer malfunctions such as with Secretariat at the Preakness. Could Secretariat and his 31 length win at the Belmont compare to Rachel Alexandra's victory in the Oaks by 20+ lengths?
Oh and the money! The big money earners get bigger each year. Compare the very first Preakness purse of $2050 to todays Breeders Cup Classic of $5 Million.
All of this is merely a mystery. A fantasy race in my mind of the greats from the past against the best of today. It's not much more than comparing apples to grapes I suppose. But it is something a lot of fans can't help but wonder from "Horse of The Year" - year after year.
The result will always be "I wonder if......". Meanwhile we just have to admire each horse for what he/she is on their own merits.