Owned and bred by Calumet Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, Citation was a bay colt, the son of Bull Lea and the mare, Hydroplane. Trained by Hall of Famer Ben Jones and his son, Hall of Famer Horace A. "Jimmy" Jones, Citation was originally ridden by Al Snider and later by Steve Brooks and Eddie Arcaro.
Citation won his first start as a two-year-old at Havre de Grace, Maryland. He then broke the Arlington Park track record at 5 furlongs in his second start. For the year he would race nine times, winning eight of them and earning $155,680. His only loss came at the heels of his stablemate, Bewitch, in the Washington Park Futurity, which the filly won in track record time for 6 furlongs. Citation racked up victories in the Elementary Stakes, Futurity Trial, Futurity Stakes, and Pimlico Futurity. He was named champion 2 year old.
Citation started the 1948 racing season with two victories over the older horse Armed, who had been named thoroughbred racing's 1947 Horse of the Year, in an allowance race and the Seminole Handicap. It is rare for a 3 year old to beat older horses so early in the year, let alone a top handicap star like Armed.
After Citation won the Everglades Stakes and the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah Park, Snider drowned while fishing off the Florida Keys. Calumet Farm hired Arcaro, one of Snider's friends. In Arcaro's first start on Citation, they lost to Saggy in the Chesapeake Trial Stakes. This would be the last race that Citation would lose for almost two years.
Citation avenged the loss to Saggy in the Chesapeake Stakes, which he won over Bovard by 4 1/2 lengths, with Saggy well back. Citation followed with his final Kentucky Derby prep, a win in the Derby Trial Stakes.
In the Kentucky Derby, ridden by Arcaro, Citation won by 3 ½ lengths over his stablemate, eventual 1949 Horse of the Year Coaltown, and Arcaro gave the widow of former jockey Al Snider a share of his Derby purse money. Citation was then sent to Baltimore where he won the Preakness Stakes by 5 ½ lengths. From there he won the Jersey Stakes before going to Elmont, New York and becoming the 8th Triple Crown winner by capturing the Belmont Stakes, tying the stakes record of 2:28 1/5 set by the 6th Triple Crown winner, Count Fleet.
Citation then won the Stars and Stripes Handicap, equalling Armed's track record. He then won the American Derby and the Sysonby Mile. After that came the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 2 miles, which he won by 7 lengths over 1947 Preakness winner Phalanx. He then won the Empire City Gold Cup at 1 5/16 miles.
In Citation's next start, he scared off all the competition. He won the Pimlico Special in a rare walkover. Citation then traveled to California, where he finished the year with two wins, including in the Tanforan Handicap at Tanforan Racecourse.
By the end of his three year old season, Citation had a career record of 27 victories and two seconds in 29 starts and earnings of $865,150. He had also amassed a 15 race winning streak. For his performances, Citation was named Horse of the Year.
Injuries kept Citation from racing in 1949 but he came back to race in 1950, winning his 16th race in a row at Santa Anita Park (a streak that would stand alone among major North American stakes horses until Cigar equaled the feat in 1994-96). His owner, Calumet Farm, had brought Citation back from his injury in 1950 with the intention of Citation becoming the first horse to win $1 million in earnings, but he ran up against a buzzsaw in the form of the English import Noor, who beat Citation 4 times (Citation carrying more weight in the first three encounters), in the Santa Anita Handicap at 1 1/4 miles, the San Juan Capistrano Handicap at 1 3/4 miles in world record time, the Forty Niners Handicap at 1 1/8 miles in track record time, and in the Golden Gate Handicap, this time conceding weight to Citation, in a world record of 1:58 1/5 which stood as an American record on a dirt track until the great Spectacular Bid finally broke it 30 years later. Citation's times in these races would have also been records; he was denied his opportunity to become a millionaire at age 5 solely because Noor ran faster than any horse in history up to that point. Citation himself set a world record in winning the Golden Gate Mile Handicap in 1:33 3/5 in a race that Noor sat out; this record stood for over 30 years.
Citation would be brought back by his owners one more time at age 6, in 1951, to attempt to reach the million dollar mark. After two third place finishes, Citation finished out of the money for the first time in the Hollywood Premiere Handicap. After another loss in the Argonaut Handicap, Citation returned to form, with victories in the Century Handicap, American Handicap, and finally, the Hollywood Gold Cup, winning over his stablemate, the mare Bewitch. The Gold Cup victory put him over $1 million in career earnings, and he was then retired to stud.
Citation retired after the Hollywood Gold Cup. As a sire at Calumet Farm he produced a number of noteworthy offspring including Hall of Fame filly Silver Spoon and 1956 Preakness Stakes winner, Fabius.
In 1959, Citation was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. He died on August 8, 1970 at the age of 25. He is buried in the horse cemetery at Calumet Farm.
The memory of Citation was honored after his death when Dwayne Wallace, Chairman of Cessna Aircraft Company selected the name Citation for the new business jet Cessna was designing. Hints of Citation's legacy can be found in the jet's logo in the form of a horseshoe background. Even today, pictures of Citation line the hallways of Cessna's buildings.