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Famous Grey Racehorses

Native Dancer, famous grey racehorse and influential Thoroughbred sire
Native Dancer, a famous grey racehorse nicknamed "The Grey Ghost"

Many people have an affinity for grey horses, perhaps for their ability to stand out in a field of bays and chestnuts or for the fun of watching their coats change colors over the years. There have been countless famous grey racehorses known not just for their coat color, but also for their talent. Let's take a quick look at the careers of a handful of them.

Famous Grey Racehorses in this Article:

Native Dancer (1950-1967):

Native Dancer, affectionately nicknamed "The Grey Ghost", was famous for his ability to stand out on black and white television sets. In a crowd of bays and chestnuts, his light coat allowed him to shine through the screen. His affinity for crossing the wire first also made him easy to spot and fun for racing fans to follow.

Born in 1950 in Kentucky and raised in Maryland, Native Dancer transformed into an almost unbeatable racehorse. His only loss in his 22-race career occurred on the First Saturday in May of 1953 when he lost the Kentucky Derby by a scant head to a horse named Dark Star. He recovered to win the following two jewels of the Triple Crown of horse racing, the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, as well as every other race he contested in afterward.

Though he lost the Kentucky Derby, the American people could not get enough of Native Dancer. An article published by Time magazine in 1954 claimed, "The three stars of television this year are Arthur Godfrey, Ed Sullivan, and Native Dancer". His fame was compared to that of Elvis Presley; he was on the cover of Life magazine and was said to have sold more televisions than TV star Milton Berle.

Native Dancer won countless awards during his racing career:

  • 1952 Champion Two-Year-Old Colt

  • 1952 Horse of the Year

  • 1953 Champion Three-Year-Old Colt

  • 1954 Champion Older Horse

  • 1954 Horse of the Year

His accomplishments did not end on the track. Native Dancer became one of the most influential stallions to ever exist, namely as the broodmare sire of Northern Dancer and the grandsire of Mr. Prospector. Native Dancer was also the sire of Raise A Native, who himself went on to sire Alydar, Exclusive Native (sire of Triple Crown winner Affirmed), and Majestic Prince (sire of Majestic Light).

Spectacular Bid (1976 - 2003):

Spectacular Bid is widely considered to be one of the most talented horses to ever grace the racetrack. Except for two losses early in his two-year-old season, Specatular Bid was nearly undefeated as he headed into the 1979 Kentucky Derby. He had won the likes of the Champagne (G1), Florida Derby (G1), and Blue Grass (G1) and was the clear-cut favorite in the "run for the roses". The 1970s had already seen three Triple Crown winners - Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978) - and Spectacular Bid looked to have an excellent shot at becoming the fourth horse to earn the crown in a single decade.

The mighty grey successfully took the first two jewels of the crown, first the Kentucky Derby by 2 3/4 lengths then the Preakness Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths, but on the morning of the Belmont Stakes it was discovered that Spectacular Bid had stepped on a safety pin that had become embedded into his hoof. He still competed in the Belmont Stakes, but faded to third in the stretch run.

Though Spectacular Bid did not become a Triple Crown winner, he still immortalized himself with twelve more wins, many by open margins in track record time. He retired to Claiborne Farm in 1981 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982. In retirement, he and fellow Claiborne Farm stallion Secretariat would race each other along the fence line between their paddocks, proving a Thoroughbred's love for speed and competition never dies.

Arrogate (2013 - 2020):

Arrogate, a large son of Unbridled's Song, was slower to develop than many of the horses in his crop. It wasn't until midway through his three-year-old year that he really began to shine. He broke his maiden at Santa Anita in June of 2016 and reeled off two more wins in California before trainer Bob Baffert decided to test him against the best of his crop in the Travers (G1). He was dismissed by the betting public who favored Preakness (G1) and Haskell (G1) winner Exaggerator, but Arrogate blew his competition away by 13 1/2 lengths in stake and track record time.

Arrogate's name was on everyone's lips after his spectacular Travers win. He continued his winning ways, defeating the fantastic, fan-favorite racehorse California Chrome in a thrilling edition of the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), an achievement that earned him the Eclipse Award for Champion Three-Year-Old Colt of 2016. He started his four-year-old season with an almost five-length win in the Pegasus Invitational (G1) in track record time and then traveled overseas to recover from a poor start to win the Dubai World Cup (G1) over the Gun Runner, who would later be named the '17 Horse of the Year.

Arrogate failed to win any of his next three races and retired to stud at Juddmonte Farm. Just two years into his stud duty, Arrogate began suffering from soreness in his neck and fell in his stall, unable to stand. The tough decision was made to euthanize him on June 2nd, 2020. It was later determined that he had suffered a neurological injury to his spinal cord.

Though Arrogate sired only three crops of foals, his progeny include the likes of Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath and Belmont Stakes winner Arcangelo.

Lady’s Secret (1982 - 2003):

Lady’s Secret never weighed more than 900 pounds during her racing career and though small, she was mighty. This beautiful Oklahoma-bred daughter of Secretariat won twenty-five of her forty-five career starts. She was dominant against other females and a fierce competitor against males.

Under the care of trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Lady's Secret won the Mocasian Stakes at two and really came into her own as a three-year-old in 1985, winning ten stakes races including the Test, Ballerina, Maskette, Ruffian, and Beldame. She was second to her stablemate Life's Magic in the Breeders' Cup Distaff that year.

She was even better at four, winning ten races including eight Grade 1s: the La Canada, Santa Margarita Invitational, Shuvvee, Whitney (against males), Maskette, Ruffian, Beldame, and the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Lady's Secret's win in the Whitney Stakes made her the first female to win the race since Hall of Fame filly Gallorette in 1948.

Her victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff also cemented her as Horse of the Year and Champion Older Female in 1986.

Lady's Secret was nicknamed the "Iron Lady" for her ability to run - and win - often. She retired at age 5 and though never reproduced herself as a broodmare, she had five winners from ten foals to race.

Silver Charm (1994 - present):

Silver Charm was a gutsy racehorse that never shied from competition. This Florida-bred son of Silver Buck was promising at two, winning the Del Mar Futurity (G1), and became even better at three. He won the San Vicente (G2) and was second in two other graded races, including the Santa Anita Derby (G1), at the beginning of his three-year-old season en route to the '97 Kentucky Derby.

Silver Charm came into the "run for the roses" as the second-choice behind the favorite Captain Bodgit, but ultimately beat the favored colt in a thrilling battle down the stretch at Churchill Downs to earn trainer Bob Baffert his first of a record six Kentucky Derby wins. He then won the Preakness Stakes in a similar, photo-finish fashion. Silver Charm was on track to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 and even had the lead throughout most of the stretch in the Belmont Stakes, but was denied Triple Crown glory by Touch Gold right at the wire.

“Silver Charm just never saw that horse,” trainer Bob Baffert said after the race. “When he got by Free House, he thought he was done. … That’s the only way you can beat Silver Charm, if he doesn't see you coming.”

Despite his loss in the Belmont Stakes, Silver Charm was named Champion Three-Year-Old Male.

The competitive horse did not stay out of the winner's circle long. His career continued through June of 1999 with wins in prestigious races like the Dubai World Cup (G1) and a 2nd place finish to Awesome Again in the '98 Breeders' Cup Classic. He retired in 1999 with twelve wins from twenty-four starts and nearly $7 million in earnings.

Silver Charm initially retired to stud at Three Chimneys Farm, where he sired five crops of foals, and then moved to Shizunai Stallion Station in Japan in 2004. In 2014 it was announced that the Kentucky Derby champion would return to the United States to live at Old Friends Equine, a retirement farm for Thoroughbreds located in Georgetown, Kentucky. He is one of the most popular residents of Old Friends, where he still thrives as the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner.

Winning Colors (1985 - 2008):

Winning Colors is widely known for being one of just three fillies to win the Kentucky Derby. Like Lady's Secret, Winning Colors was trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.

Winning Colors won both of her starts as a two-year-old in 1987 and, after winning the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) in March of 1988, her connections opted to test her against males in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Her attempt was successful; she dominated the race by 7 1/2 lengths. The win was so resounding that she traveled to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby where she again defeated her male rivals by taking the lead and never giving it up, holding on to win by a neck. No filly has won the Kentucky Derby since.

She stayed on the Triple Crown trail, finishing 3rd in the Preakness Stakes and sixth in the Belmont Stakes. She went on to finish second to the tough filly Personal Ensign in the Maskette (G1) and Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) later that year.

Though Winning Colors never again won at the Grade 1 level after the Kentucky Derby, she was named Champion Three-Year-Old Filly of 1988 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.

Holy Bull (1991 - 2017):

Holy Bull showed brilliance from the moment he stepped hoof onto the racetrack. The big, grey son of Great Above was undefeated during his juvenile season in 1993, highlighted by a win in the Futurity Stakes (G1). He continued his winning ways in 1994 and, after an uncharacteristic loss in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, Holy Bull captured the Florida Derby (G1) by 5 3/4 lengths and the Blue Grass (G2) by 3 1/2 lengths.

Horse racing fans were confident that the Warren Croll owned and trained horse would win the '94 Kentucky Derby, but Holy Bull finished a disappointing twelfth as the betting favorite. The sting of that loss didn't stick around for long; Holy Bull recovered to win the Met Mile (G1) by 5 1/2 lengths against older horses, then defeated horses of his age in the Dwyer (G2), Haskell (G1), and Travers (G1). He ended his three-year-old season with a win in the Woodward (G1). By the end of the year, he had defeated both the Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin and the Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Tobasco Cat.

After such a spectacular season, he was the easy choice for the Eclipse Awards for Champion Three-Year-Old Colt and Horse of the Year.

He started his four-year-old campaign with an easy win in the Olympic Handicap but was pulled up in his next race, the Donn Handicap (G1). Post-race examinations found that the horse had a bowed tendon and the decision was made to retire him. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.

Holy Bull had success at stud at Jonabell Farm, which was later sold to Darley. He sired the likes of Champion Two-Year-Old Macho Uno, Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, Flashy Bull, and Sunny Ridge. His daughters also produced Grade 1 winners Judy the Beauty and Caravaggio.

Holly Bull was euthanized due to infirmities of old age at twenty-six years old.

Skip Away (1993 - 2010):

In a sea of chestnuts and bays, grey horses tend to stand out. Skip Away's coat color was the reason his owner and trainer Hubert "Sonny" Hine purchased him; his wife Carolyn's eyesight was diminished and she wanted a horse that would be easy for her to see on the track. They landed on Skip Away for a modest price of $30,000 - this number was later reduced by $7,500 to cover the price of surgery for the bone chips discovered in his ankle; the surgery was never performed and the $22,500 horse went on to accomplish great things.

An ever consistent racehorse, Skip Away won eighteen of his thirty-eight career starts and was second or third in sixteen others. Twice second in graded company at two, Skip Away won the Blue Grass (G2), Ohio Derby (G2), Haskell (G1), Woodbine Million (G1), and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) (over Cigar) during his three-year-old season in 1996. He had also been third in the Florida Derby (G1), second in both the Preakness (G1), second in the Belmont Stakes (G1), and third in the Travers (G1). That glittering record won him the Eclipse Award for Champion Three-Year-Old Colt that year.

Skip Away was good at four, too. He captured the Massachusetts Handicap (G2), Suburban Handicap (G2), the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) for the second time, and ended the year with a six-length win in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). He again won an Eclipse Award, this time for Champion Older Horse.

Skip Away reached the peak of his career at the end of 1997 through 1998. His wins in the 1997 Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic were the first two races in what would become a nine-race win-streak that included victories in the Grade 1 races the Donn Handicap, Gulfstream Park Handicap, Pimlico Special, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Woodward Stakes. The gorgeous grey was so accomplished during his five-year-old season that he was again named Champion Older Horse and earned Horse of the Year honors.

Skip Away stood at stud for twelve years after his retirement and passed away on May 14, 2010, from an apparent heart attack at Hopewell Farm. He is buried at Old Friends Equine in Georgetown, KY.

Tapit (2001 - Present):

Tapit, a son of Pulpit, had a short racing career marred by various health issues. He won his two starts as a juvenile, including the Laurel Futurity (G3), but took some time to get back to the track at three due to shin issues. When he did finally return for the Florida Derby (G1), he finished unplaced, a result later explained by the discovery of a lung infection. He won the Wood Memorial (G1) when he returned the following month, but was again unplaced in his next two races - the Kentucky Derby and Pennsylvania Derby.

With all of those struggles, the decision was made to retire the promising but unlucky grey colt. He entered stud at Gainesway Farm in 2005 for a fee of just $15,000 - a price that would later prove to be an incredible bargain. He was immediately successful with his first crop, which included '08 Champion Two-Year-Old Filly Stardom Bound among 15 other stakes winners, and had another Champion by 2011 when Hansen was named Champion Two-Year-Old Colt.

Today Tapit is known as one of the best sires of modern times. He's sired 31 Grade 1 winners and nine Champions to date. Among his long list of notable (mostly grey) progeny are names like Flightline, Frosted, Essential Quality, Unique Bella, and Untapable.


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