Monday, August 29, 2011

The Great Man O' War

We often think of Secretariat as the greatest of all time, mostly because he is not a distant memory like the great Man o' War.  Born in March 1917, Man o' War won an astounding 20 of 21 races.  He brought much attention to horse racing just after World War I.  He won $249,465 in his career. 

The only race he did not win was the Sanford Memorial Stakes.  In those days there were no starting gates and the horses circled around and then lined up behind a piece of webbing and were sent away when it was raised.  In his only loss, Man o' War was still circling when the barrier was raised.  He only lost this race by a half-length.  The horse that beat him?  Upset. 

By prominent sire, Fair Play, his dam was Mahubah by the U.K. Triple Crown Champion, Rock Sand.  He was owned and bred by August Belmont, Jr.  Belmont joined the Army at age 65 to serve in France during WWI and while overseas his wife named a new foal "Man o' War" in honor of her admirable husband.

When the Belmonts liquidated their racing stable in 1918 the colt was sold for $5000 to Samuel D. Riddle (remember him from Seabiscuit?) who then took him to his Glen Riddle Farm in Berlin, Maryland.  He was chesnut in color.  By three, Man o' War was 16'2 and weighed 1150 pounds. 

He won his maiden race at Belmont on June 6, 1919 ridden by Johnny Loftus.  He was trained by Louis Feustel.  Three weeks later he won again at the Keene Memorial Stakes.  In 1920 Loftus was denied a license renewal and he was replaced by Clarence Kummer.

Man o' War often carried much more weight than the horses he raced.  As a two-year-old he carried 130 pounds in six races.  As a three-year-old he carried as much as 138 pounds and sometimes conceded as much as 32 pounds to other horses.

Unfortunately Man o' War was not entered in the Kentucky Derby.  His owner did not like racing in Kentucky and believed it was too early for a young horse to go a mile and a quarter.  But he did win the Preakness and he set a new track record that day (1:38 - 3/5 for a mile and was eased up to finish in a time of 1:51- 3/5).  He won the Belmont (it was then a 1 3/8 mile race) by 20 lengths, setting another American record with a time of 2:14.20.  That year he also won the Dwyer Stakes, the Travers Stakes, the Stuyvesant Handicap and the Jockey Club Gold Cup.  As the season went on no one wanted to race against the strapping chestnut colt. 

In the Lawrence Realization Stakes only one horse ventured out to run against the winning colt, Hoodwink, who was owned by Mrs. Riddle's neice, Sarah Jeffords.  Man o' War won by over 100 lengths and set a new world record of 2:40- 4/5 for a mile and five-eights, besting the previous record by six seconds, a track record that still stands.

His final race was against the famous Sir Barton (who won the Triple Crown the year before) in Windsor. Ontario in the Kenilworth Park Gold Cup.  This 1 1/4-mile race was an easy run for Man o' War who breezed to a seven length win.  This was actually a match race between the two famous colts.  Another champion horse "Exterminator" was invited to compete as Canada did not allow "match races" at the time.  Due to the owners not being able to come to terms with the conditions of the race, Exterminator was scratched and ran somewhere else on the same day.

This race was the first horse race ever recorded and you can watch it here.

Man o' War retired after the match race and went on to sire more than 64 stakes winners.  He sired American Flag and Crusader who both won the Belmont Stakes in 1925 and 1926. Other great ones include Battleship who won the 1938 English Grand National and Clyde Van Dusen, the 1929 Kentucky Derby winner.  Hard Tack (another offspring) sired Seabiscuit.  His most successful sons at stud were War Admiral and War Relic and War Relic's branch of the male line survives today. Tiznow, Honour and Glory and Bertrando are also all sire-line descendants of Man o' War. 

Man o' War was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 1957.  Soon after, the Man o' War Stakes was made in his honor.  In the Blood Horse ranking of the top 100 U.S. Thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century, Man o' War was ranked No. 1.

If you are interested, there are a few older books about the famous colt.

The first, Man o' War by Page Cooper and Roger Treat was published in 1950 and is a classic.  Walter Farley of The Black Stallion fame, also wrote a book. 

In 2006, Dorothy Ours wrote a new, extensively sourced biography entitled Man O' War: A Legend Like Lightening.

Man o' War died on November 1, 1947 at the age of 30 of an apparent heart attack only a very short time after his longtime groom, Will Harbut, died.  Somehow they know.  He was the first horse to be embalmed, and his casket was lined in his riding colors. Man o’ War’s funeral was broadcast internationally over the radio and over 2,000 people came to pay their final respects.

He was originally buried at Faraway Farm but in the early 1970's his remains were moved to a new site at the Kentucky Horse Park where his grave is marked today by a lovely sculpture. 

History fades unfortunately and we often forget about another great chestnut colt.  He was in my opinion as great and possibly greater than Secretariat if you consider his legacy.  But let's not split hairs.  He probably would have won the Triple Crown had he raced in the Derby and probably would have set a record.  It would have been interesting to see if that record would still stand today as Secretariat's does.  Maybe they had a match race in heaven.  I guess one day we'll all know.

Enjoy your last Monday in August!


  1. Thank you for this! Man o'War has been my hero since I was a little girl. I love Secretariat... but this was the man. And, I've always wondered how big he was...

    His confirmation can not compare to the TBs today. Nice bone and big feet... I wish our breeders would take a step back... just a bit!

    Suzanne (for some reason Google won't allow me to post under my profile on your blog)

    1. He was likely the greatest, Secretariat a very close second. Can't wait to read Dorothy Ours' book - it's going to the beach with me in a few weeks!


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