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Current top earner California Chrome
Here are the top 10 money earning Thoroughbreds of all time as compiled by the North American official statistics collector Equibase. These are gross earnings and do not take inflation into account. Under Equibase's rules, only one start in North America makes a horse eligible for this list.
California Chrome is the newest member of the list, as of his win in the 2016 Dubai World Cup. He is a California-bred who started out in restricted state-bred company and improved to be competitive in open company. He won the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and seemed to be a lock to win the Belmont as well, but he didn't fire and Tonalist won the race. After a couple of lackluster races, he won again in November in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar. As a 4-year-old, he shipped to Dubai to run second in the 2015 Dubai World Cup at Meydan and didn't race again until January of his 5-year-old season. During his time away, original co-owner Steve Coburn sold his 30% share to Taylor Made Farm, with the new partnership of Perry Martin and Taylor Made named "California Chrome LLC". He won the San Pasqual at Santa Anita, then shipped to Meydan in Dubai where he won a prep race and then the 2016 Dubai World Cup, where the winner's share of the $10 million purse put him at the top of the all time earnings list. Since then, he has won the San Diego Handicap, Pacific Classic, Awesome Again Stakes, Los Alamitos Winter Challenge, and finished second in the Breeders' Cup Classic taking him to total earnings of $14,502,650 in 26 lifetime starts. He is supposed to be retired after his final start in January 2017 in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup.
Espoir City had 40 starts with 17 wins, 10 seconds, and 3 thirds, with total earnings of $11,443,812. He only started once outside of Japan where he finished 10th in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic. Many would say he doesn't belong on this list since all his starts but the one were in Japan where the purses are inflated and most of the races restricted to Japanese-bred horses, however his one U.S. start put him on Equibase's official records.
Curlin is a horse who many would pick as the best horse of his decade. He was named Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008, and was also Champion 3-year-old in 2007 and Champion Older Male in 2008. Some of his major wins include the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic, Jockey Club Gold Cup (twice), Dubai World Cup, Preakness Stakes, Stephen Foster Handicap, and Woodward Stakes. Curlin retired with 11 wins in 16 starts and earnings of $10,501,800, the most ever by a thoroughbred race horse at the time and American racing's first $10 million winner.
Cigar retired in 1996 after racing 33 times with 19 seconds and 4 thirds, with total earnings of $9,999,815. He started as a turf horse but met with little success until he moved to the dirt in 1994 where he became a superstar, reeling off 16 straight wins to break Citation's record for consecutive wins. He won the 1995 Breeders' Cup Classic to cap off an undefeated 10-for-10 that year, and closed out his career finishing third in the 1996 Breeders' Cup Classic after winning the inaugural Dubai World Cup. He was retired to stud where he turned out to be sterile, leading to a huge insurance pay-off. He was then sent to live at the Kentucky Horse Park where he was the main attraction in the Hall of Champions until his death in 2014 from complications of osteoarthritis in his back.
Skip Away retired in 1998 after racing 38 times with 18 wins, 10 seconds, 6 thirds, and total earnings of $9,616,360. He was competitive in the 1996 Triple Crown, but really came into his own late in the season, winning the Woodbine Million and Jockey Club Gold Cup (defeating Cigar). As a 4-year-old he raced in top company, closing out the year with wins in the 1997 Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic which started a 9 race win streak that lasted through the 1998 Woodward Stakes. His last two starts were lackluster, leading to his retirement.
Flintshire raced in Europe until age 4 when he shipped to the US to finish second in the 2014 Breeders' Cup Turf. After that he became a globe trotter, winning the 2014 Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin, finishing second in the 2015 Dubai Sheema Classic, finishing second in the 2015 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in France, back to the US to win the 2015 Sword Dancer at Saratoga, back to France to finish second in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, and back to Hong Kong to finish second in the Hong Kong Vase again. In 2016, he stayed in the US and won the Manhattan at Belmont Park, the Sword Dancer at Saratoga, and closed out the year with second place finishes in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont and the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita. He has 8 wins, 12 seconds, and a third place finish in 24 career starts with total earnings of $9,589,910. Flintshire was retired to stud at Hill 'n' Dale Farms near Lexington, Kentucky, and will stand his first season as a sire in 2017.
Gloria de Campeao retired in 2010 after 25 starts with 9 wins, 6 seconds, and 3 thirds and total career earnings of $9,258,355. He was bred in Brazil and raced there until late in 2007 when he shipped over to France to race at Longchamp once then on to Dubai. Most of his career and the majority of his earnings were in Dubai including a second in the 2009 Dubai World Cup and winning the 2010 Dubai World Cup. His only start in the US was the 2009 Arlington Million where he finished 9th, so he is also one who many think should be left off the list, however, like Espoir City, he is included because of Equibase's qualification rules.
So You Think was born in 2006 and retired in 2012 after a career that spanned 23 races with 14 with, 4 seconds and 1 third and career earnings of $8,696,325. He was bred in New Zealand and mostly raced in Australia until shipping to Europe in 2011 with some success. His only US start was the 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic where he finished 6th after his owner paid a huge supplement just to get him in the race. He didn't race again until the 2012 Dubai World Cup where he finished 4th. He only raced two more times, winning the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh and the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot.
American Pharoah rose to fame in 2015 when he became the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown. After winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, he only raced three more times, winning the Haskell Invitational, finishing second in the Travers, and winning the Breeders' Cup Classic, the latter completing the so-called "Grand Slam" of a Triple Crown sweep plus the Classic. He retired after that with 9 wins and 1 second in 11 starts and career earnings of $8,650,300. He is standing as a stallion at Coolmore America (Ashford Stud) in Kentucky.
Fantastic Light was born in 1996 and retired in 2001. He races a total of 25 times with 12 wins, 5 seconds, and 3 third, and total career earnings of $8,486,957. He started his career in the UK where he won many major races. He raced in the US four times, winning the 2000 Man O'War Stakes, finishing 4th in the 2000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, 5th in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Turf, and winning the 2001 Breeders' Cup Turf for his final career start. He also shipped to Dubai to win the 2000 Sheema Classic and 2nd in the 2001 Sheema Classic, to Hong Kong to win the 2000 Hong Kong Cup, and Japan to finish 3rd in the Japan Cup. He stood at stud in England, Japan, and Australia, but was pensioned in 2012 and lives on a farm in Newmarket, England now.