But two years ago, after being sold to stud in Japan, Ferdinand was slaughtered. As CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, it was probably for food, just as tens of thousands are slaughtered every year in the United States. But the slaughter of a champion has outraged the thoroughbred community in America.
Nick Zito, the winning trainer in this year's Belmont Stakes, is part of a growing movement to ban the killing of horses for human consumption.
"The horse is a special animal in America," says Zito. "He's a symbol."
Americans don't eat horses, but three U.S. plants slaughter horses for export, including a brand new slaughterhouse in Illinois.
"It's marketed in Europe like the other meats," says Cavel International manager James Tucker.
Tucker says many horse owners see their animals as livestock, not as pets.
"We have a lot of horse people who say it should happen," says Tucker. "They see it as a service. We recycle a resource that's otherwise wasted."
The way that horses are killed - a steel bolt into their heads - is also central to this debate. Critics believe that too often it takes more than one blow and that makes the process inhumane.
Gail Vacca of American Horse Protection Coalition treats her retired racehorses like rich uncles. She believes that slaughter betrays a horse's trust in man.
"And then in the end when we are through with them, we're going to drag them to the slaughterhouse and let them suffer a miserable death?" she says. "Absolutely it's betrayal."
Critics of this practice say slaughterhouses miss too much.
"That's absolutely false," says Tucker. "If we would miss, too many times we would be shut down by the USDA."
Two bills to shut down horse slaughter altogether are stalled in Congress.
"You know a horse is really part of our culture, and you know I think when you lose your culture, you lose your soul," says Zito.
For now, America's three horse slaughterhouses will stay open for business, unless the law changes, and horses are treated as pets - not protein - at the finish line of their lives.