Who is the greatest Phoenix Stakes winner?

October 7th, 2021

With a history that dates back to 1831, the Phoenix S. at Keeneland is the oldest Thoroughbred stakes race in the United States.

The race is now one of the most live preps for the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1), but great horses ran in the Phoenix before the Breeders' Cup was even a figment of imagination.

Let's take a look back at some of the greatest winners of the Phoenix, and then you tell us — who is the best of them all?

Coaltown (1948)

The Calumet Farm standard-bearer was the forgotten horse in 1948, as he raced in the shadow of his Triple Crown-winning stablemate Citation.

But Coaltown was a champion all the same.

He defeated older horses in the Phoenix, by 2 1/2 lengths, in only his third start, back when the race was in the spring. He went on to be named the champion sprinter of 1948.

The next year, Coaltown stepped out even farther from behind Citation's shadow. He won nine of his 12 starts at age four, including the Washington Park H. and the Arlington H., and was named Horse of the Year.

Lexington (1853)

Lexington was one of the greatest horses of his time.

Though he is only known to have raced seven times and retired early because of blindness, he did enough on the racetrack to be one of the greats.

He won the Phoenix, then known as the Association Stakes, in his first start. He did so under the name Darley. After he was purchased by a syndicate headed by Richard Ten Broeck, he moved south and was renamed Lexington.

At Metairie Race Course, in Louisiana, Lexington had a thrilling rivalry with Lecomte, the horse who handed him his lone defeat.

He defeated the clock on April 2, 1855, when he set a record of 7:19 for four miles, even though he lost a shoe. After his retirement from racing, Lexington became one of the great stallions of his time.

Lexington stands outside a barn. (Photo from the New York Public Library Digital Collections)

Ten Broeck (1875)

Though Aristides turned the tables in the first Kentucky Derby later that year, Ten Broeck (named after Lexington's co-owner) got the best of Aristides in the Phoenix Hotel S. That victory, over a track heavy with mud, was Ten Broeck's first.

He raced through age six, won 23 of his 30 races, and was retroactively named co-champion older male in both 1876 and 1877 by Thoroughbred Heritage.

Eminently versatile, Ten Broeck set records for distances as short as a mile and as long as four miles.

As popular a horse as there was in his era, he even lured Congress to adjourn early and take the train to Pimlico.

His final race, a victory in a match race over previously undefeated California star Molly McCarthy, is the subject of the folk song "Molly and Tenbrooks."

Wise Dan (2010)

Wise Dan began his career on the main track.

He graduated in his second start on the Polytrack at Turfway Park and cleared his first allowance condition in a sprint on the Churchill Downs dirt. His first graded stakes appearance, which came in just his fourth start, came in the 2010 Phoenix.

After he tracked the pace set by longshot Goldzar, Wise Dan rallied in the final furlong to catch favored Hollywood Hit and win by a half-length.

Wise Dan would not try grass for the first time until nine months later, when he took a shot in the Firecracker H. (G2). At 14-1, Wise Dan won, and the rest was history. He went on to win two editions of the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) and two Horse of the Year crowns.

And we no longer call that race the Firecracker. We call it the Wise Dan.

Xtra Heat (2002)

Xtra Heat isn't the only filly to win the Phoenix, though she is the greatest of them and perhaps the toughest.

Though she started her career modestly, with a win on debut for a claiming $25,000 tag, she shot up the class ladder. She won five consecutive stakes after that debut and a total of seven stakes at age two.

She raced 13 times at age three and won nine times, including a score in the Prioress S. (G1). She finished second, beaten only a half-length, that year in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and earned champion three-year-old filly honors.

She won seven of her 11 starts at four, including a dominant, three-length score in the Phoenix.

Last week, we asked you who the greatest winner of the Awesome Again S. was. All horses got some votes, but with 90% of the vote, It's fair to say California Chrome still has a posse!