Virtual Worlds: The Odd Case of American Hero, the Greatest Horse that May Have Lived

Recently in the forums were some mention of a race back in 2003 Jockey Club Gold Cup with a record time being recorded yet no mention of the horses name. His name was American Hero.

Portions of this article was first reported by journalist  JASON A. ARCHINACO in 2006 in the Research Gate news. This is a historical look back.


THE GREATEST HORSE that ever lived may have never lived at all.

Those even vaguely familiar with the sport of horseracing know of Secretariat. Still others know of Spectacular Bid, perhaps the greatest horse to never win the Triple Crown.

But who, if anyone, knows of American Hero, the greatest horse that may have ever lived? Spectacular Bid was a phenomenal horse, winning 26 of his 30 starts with his career earnings topping $2.78 million.During his out-standing career, Spectacular Bid’s greatest achievement came on Feb. 3, 1980, at Santa Anita Park. On that day, carrying 126 pounds as a four-year-old, Spectacular Bid set the world record for one and one-quarter miles,The same distance as the Kentucky Derby, finishing in 1:57.80.2Spectacular Bid’s record was so remarkable that it survived even his own death, more than 23 years later, on June 9, 2003.

But, records are said to be made to be broken. A little over three months after Spectacular Bid’s death, “The Jockey Gold Cup” was run at Belmont Park. On Sept. 27, 2003, a field of five three-year-olds, all carrying 121 pounds lined up to contest the one and one-quarter mile distance. There was no reason to expect anything extraordinary would occur that day. The field of horses, although impressive, was not brilliant. Three of the horses—Orpheus, Smokin, and Alpha Ultimo—were all previous stakes winners. A fourth, Perfectly Clear, was an allowance-class winner. And the last, American Hero, was a first-time starter. But, the extraordinary did occur that day. When the starting gates flung open,

American Hero shot to the lead with none of the previous winners contesting him. His lead built quickly as he separated himself from the field. By the half-mile mark, American Hero’s lead was a commanding 13 lengths run in a blistering fraction of 45.75. The fast fraction that ticked across the tote board suggested a rabbit that would fade by the six furlong mark. But by the six furlong mark, American Hero had stretched his lead over Orpheus to 16 lengths, continuing his dizzying pace with a 1:09.02 split and showing no signs of fading. American Hero continued pressing the lightning-fast pace, flashing a split at the one-mile mark of 1:32.67, just off the world record set by Dr. Fager in 1968, and increasing his lead over the distant second Orpheus to 18 lengths. The final two furlongs were simply a race be-tween American Hero and history. And history would be made. American Hero never faded. Instead, he continued on his torrid pace through the remaining two furlongs—and ended his historical run with a time of 1:56.58, beating the distant Orpheus by nearly 19 lengths and shattering the world record for one and one-quarter miles by more than a second. To put the time in perspective compared to Spectacular Bid’s record, had American Hero and Spectacular Bid been racing side by side, American Hero would have defeated Spectacular Bid by seven to eight lengths.


Alas, the gods would have it that American Hero would never see a track again as his racing career would end with one start, one win, and one world record. Nor would the gods permit him to find his way to stud.

American Hero was no more—stricken down. If American Hero was a real horse, the term might be “dead”. But American Hero was no real horse. He was just computer code in a virtual world run by the owners and operators of, Virtual Sports, Inc. As such, his death was more positively termed by Virtual Sports as a “deactivation”. One day after American Hero’s record-setting run, VirtualSports announced that American Hero was being “deactivated”, “for the best interest of the game”.

That is the saga of a horse and the wonder of what could of been. It was a tough decision by the management of HRP and one that was debated and will probably always be debated. But it was a decision that was deemed made to be fair to all in the game. Many questions remain which included what was the true value of the horse? What would he have earned on the track or at stud? This we’ll never know. The owner of the horse was compensated, this compensation has remained private between both parties.

Categories: Races

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