Mae West and Mister Ed in “Mae West Meets Mister Ed,” (Season 4, aired March 22, 1964)
courtesy Everett Collection—Courtesy Everett Collection
By Colleen Kane
May 4, 2016
Mae West and Mister Ed in “Mae West Meets Mister Ed,” (Season 4, aired March 22, 1964).
courtesy Everett Collection—Courtesy Everett Collection

A horse is a horse. Of course (of course), but anyone who knows a horse aficionado knows that there are many exceptions to this rule — that is, many special horses. Another unavoidable truth of horses is the steep costs of ownership.

Read next: Sports Illustrated: How to Pick the Kentucky Derby Winner

On the other hand, a few of these special horses can sometimes earn fortunes in prizes and breeding fees well worth the cost of owning them.

So, in honor of this weekend’s Kentucky Derby, let’s take a look at rich and famous horses, both real and fictional, by the numbers. We’ll begin with one horse’s six-figure stud fee, and count up to some of the most stratospheric costs and payoffs associated with horses.


Priciest Horse Sperm

Kentucky Derby hopeful Tapit grazes after and early morning workout on the track at Churchill Downs in 2004.
John Sommers II—Reuters

When valuing thoroughbreds, one rule of thumb is that breeding can be worth 10 times what the racing side provides. The polar opposite of a cheap date, the famous gray stallion Tapit costs $300,000 per breeding session — double the cost of any other thoroughbred racehorse out there. This translated to a predicted total of over $30 million in 2015, according to Bloomberg.

Tapit’s offspring have performed very well at the races (one won the 2014 Belmont Stakes, another was in last year’s Kentucky Derby), and the stallion may have another decade of breeding ahead of him. Owner Anthony Beck, who paid a mere $3 million for Tapit 11 years ago, called him “the most valuable animal in America.” He now has an estimated value of $120 million.


Most Valuable Severed Horse Head

The famous bloody severed horse head scene in The Godfather, John Marley, 1972
courtesy Everett Collection—courtesy Everett Collection

No one forgets the shocking scene in the classic mob film “The Godfather” when a Hollywood producer awakens to find the severed head of his horse in his bed. Let the following detail add to the discomfort generated by that scene: the horse head that director Francis Ford Coppola opted to used was real. Coppola didn’t put out the hit for that creature — it already had a date with destiny at a dog food plant in New Jersey, so it probably didn’t cost very much.

However, in the fictional Godfather universe, pre-decapitation, the prized stud horse Khartoum was said to be worth $600,000 in 1950s dollars, or (depending what year this event occurred) anywhere from around $5.3 million to nearly $6 million now.

Bonus Most Valuable Severed Horse Head Location: Two years ago, the historic Beverly House in Beverly Hills where that scene was filmed was listed for sale at an astonishing $135 million, having first hit the market in 2007 with an even higher asking price: $165 million.


Highest Earning Dressage Horse

Matthias Alexander Rath of Germany performs on his horse Totilas during the 'Preis der Teschinkasso' dressage competition in 2014.
Alex Grimm—Bongarts/Getty Images

In 2010, the Dutch Warmblood stallion Moorlands Totilas sold for an undisclosed amount, said to be anywhere from €9.5 to €15 million (about $12 million to $18.5 million today). As of 2015, Totilas is retired, but in his day he was called variously the best dressage horse of all time and a rock star of the horse world. That sale was just one part of a banner year for Totilas, because in 2010 one of his embryos sold for €32,000, or just under $40,000 in today’s dollars. In all, he earned €1.4 million (approx. $1.7 million today) in his first year of stud work.


Wealthiest Horse’s Head with Human Body

BOJACK HORSEMAN (Season 2, ep. 203, aired July 17, 2015)
Netflix—courtesy Everett Collection

The dark Netflix animated comedy series BoJack Horseman follows the life of a washed-up star of a schmaltzy hit 1990s family sitcom “Horsin’ Around,” who happens to have a horse’s head on a human body. Although he’s a has-been, BoJack still lives in a modern L.A. house with a pool and a view and drives what appears to be a R129 Mercedes SL. And he is able to spontaneously buy a fine dining restaurant out of spite and a yacht as an excuse to see a former flame.

This inspired two Reddit users to do some elaborate speculative math to come up with BoJack’s net worth. One determined at least $26-39 million, adding that if his Horsin’ Around paycheck approached $1 million per episode, by the end of the show as happened with other hit ’90s series, it could be as much as $100-200 million. Another user, basing off a line of dialogue that BoJack made $30,000 per episode, put it at a more modest $10-20 million.

Of course (of course), this is conjecture from sources best described as “some guy on the Internet,” because BoJack is not real.

BoJack Horseman the real-life streaming program is doing OK for itself as well. Netflix doesn’t disclose viewer data other than user-generated star ratings, but the series was renewed for a second season within days of the first season’s 2014 premiere. And the unstoppable entertainment juggernaut Netflix is not a penny-pinching programming producer: according to CAA TV literary agent Peter Micelli, “the cheapest show is $3.8 million per episode,” while one of its stars, Kevin Spacey, makes $500,000 per episode and Chelsea Handler got $10 million for her recent Netflix docu-series.


Priciest Race Horse Sale of All Time

Jockey Kent Desormeaux crosses the finish line aboard Fusaichi Pegasus (L) to win the Kentucky Derby in 2000.
Michelle Wilkins—AFP/Getty Images

Thoroughbreds are investments. As with other types of investments, sometimes it pans out, sometimes not. Fusaichi Pegasus was purchased for $4 million as a yearling and went on to win the 2000 Kentucky Derby. That same year, he was sold to the global stallion operation Coolmore Stud for between $60 and $70 million. But no matter how spotless the pedigree, horses are still animals, so they can be unpredictable. The first racehorse to sell for over $10 million (at $10.2 million), Snaafi Dancer, never raced because he was too slow, then was useless as a breeder due to fertility problems, so he was retired to Florida.


Most Expensive Horses (and Horse Heads) of All Time

Mae West and Mister Ed in “Mae West Meets Mister Ed,” (Season 4, aired March 22, 1964)
courtesy Everett Collection—Courtesy Everett Collection
Mae West and Mister Ed in “Mae West Meets Mister Ed,” (Season 4, aired March 22, 1964).
courtesy Everett Collection—Courtesy Everett Collection

A horse is a horse. Of course (of course), but anyone who knows a horse aficionado knows that there are many exceptions to this rule — that is, many special horses. Another unavoidable truth of horses is the steep costs of ownership.

Read next: Sports Illustrated: How to Pick the Kentucky Derby Winner

On the other hand, a few of these special horses can sometimes earn fortunes in prizes and breeding fees well worth the cost of owning them.

So, in honor of this weekend’s Kentucky Derby, let’s take a look at rich and famous horses, both real and fictional, by the numbers. We’ll begin with one horse’s six-figure stud fee, and count up to some of the most stratospheric costs and payoffs associated with horses.


Most Valuable Retired Thoroughbred

Jockey Tom Queally with owner Khalid Abdulla (L) and trainer Sir Henry Cecil after winning the Qipco Sussex Stakes on Frankel at Goodwood racecourse on July 27, 2011 in Chichester, England.
Alan Crowhurst—Getty Images

Over a three-year flat-racing career, the white-socked bay horse Frankel won about $4.8 million in prizes. Now retired, Frankel is the prize for owner Saudi Prince Khalid Abdullah Al Saud, the premier stud in a stable worth nearly $400 million. As of last year, Frankel was valued at $150 million, based on sales of “similar-caliber studs” like Tapit. However, note that Frankel will get a £125,000 (approx. $182,000) stud fee for each resulting foal, while Tapit, as previously mentioned, pulls $300,000 per session.


Most Expensive Horse Meat Scandal

Employees of the DDCSPP (Departmental Directorate of Social Cohesion and Protection of Populations) conduct a verification of the origin of meat in a supermarket in France in 2013, during a food fraud scandal over horse meat sold as beef.
Sebastien Bozon—AFP/Getty Images

In January 2013, four British supermarket chains pulled beef products from their shelves in the UK and Ireland after they were found to contain horse DNA. The levels found initially were low in most products (.3% and under) except for Tesco Everyday Value Beef Burgers, which turned up 29.1% horse meat, and some beef lasagne products found later contained 100% horse meat.

The resulting scandal quickly cost Tesco to drop nearly £300 million in value, or about $453.1 million in current U.S. dollars. By the next month, sales of frozen burgers had dropped by 43% and frozen meals by 13%. In April, Tesco reported its first drop in annual profits in 19 years, with post-tax profit plummeting almost 96% from the previous year.

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