On both hats: Silks
on the side,
"Horse of the Century" on back.
How to Order
ADMIRAL - SEABISCUIT
Hold your strength
till the barriers fly,
then close with the leaders eye to eye.
Thundering hooves and the mad jammed race,
blood in the nostrils, sweat in the face.
And children, remember wherever you are,
you carry the blood of Man o' War.
MAN O' WAR
When thoroughbred racing needed a boost, Man o' War unleashed his
blazing speed and came to the rescue. Though he competed for only
two years, he energized a reeling sport.
There was a thickness to Man o' War that probably came from his voracious
Let's look at the world of racing that Man o' War entered in 1919: Racing
in New York had been eliminated in 1911 and 1912 because of antigambling
legislation led by Gov. Charles Hughes. Other states had taken up Hughes'
crusade. Many stables had folded and some of the bigger ones had moved
While racing was legalized again in 1913, World War I soon dominated
the public's attention. Attendance and purses were at record lows
when Man o' War made his debut on June 6, 1919.
By the time he retired 16 months later, he was a national hero, joining
Babe Ruth as the first shining stars of the Roaring Twenties. The
charismatic horse's popularity had brought fans back to the track.
Man o' War went to the post 21 times and won 20 races. He won one
race by an incredible 100 lengths and triumphed in another carrying
138 pounds. He whipped a Triple Crown champion by seven lengths in
a match race.
He brought international recognition to Kentucky breeders and made
the United States the racing center of the world. When he retired,
he held five American records at different distances and had earned
more money than any thoroughbred.
In a mid-century Associated Press poll, he was overwhelmingly voted
the greatest thoroughbred of the first half of the 20th century.
Not only did Man o' War perform like a superstar on the track, the
chestnut-colored horse (though he was nicknamed "Big Red")
looked like one. At 3, he was a strapping 16.2 hands (about 5-foot-6)
and weighed about 1,125 pounds with a 72-inch girth. His appetite
also was huge, as he ate 12 quarts of oats every day, or about three
quarts more than the average racehorse. He ran in big bounds as well,
with his stride measuring an incredible 25 to 28 feet.
Bred by August Belmont II, son of the founder of Belmont Park and
for whom the Belmont Stakes was named, the future champion was foaled
on March 29, 1917 at Nursery Stud near Lexington, Ky. His sire was
Fair Play and his dam was Mahubah, the daughter of Rock Sand, the
1903 winner of Britain's version of the Triple Crown (the 2,000 Guineas,
the Epsom Derby and the St. Leger). He was 15 generations removed
from the Godolphin Arabia, one of three Arab and Barb stallions considered
to be the founders of the thoroughbred line.
Originally, Belmont's wife named the horse My Man o' War, after her
soldiering husband, who was stationed in France during World War I,
but the "My" was later dropped.
Belmont's military involvement prompted him to sell his entire 1917 yearling
crop. Sportsman Samuel Riddle, owner of the Glen Riddle Farm, was the
beneficiary of this decision. Accepting the judgment of trainer Louis
Feustel, Riddle purchased the rangy colt, who seemed too large for
a yearling, for $5,000 at the Saratoga yearlings' sales. "As soon
as I saw him, he simply bowled me over," Riddle said.
At the beginning, Man o' War's aversion to the bridle and saddle
caused problems. "He's nice and he's smart, but don't ever try
to force him or you'll come out second best every time," a stable
boy said. "Ask him and he'll do what you want. Push him and it's
Under Feustel's training, patience paid off, and the energy of Man
o' War was harnessed. His debut, in a five-furlough maiden race against
six other 2-year-olds at Belmont, was no contest. The fans reportedly
screamed and pounded the rail as jockey Johnny Loftus tightened the
reins at the stretch, slowing Man o' War to a virtual canter. But
the horse still won by six lengths.
"He made half-a-dozen high-class youngsters look like $200 horses," wrote
the turf editor of the New York Morning Telegraph.
Following his smashing debut, Man o' War won three stakes races,
at three different New York tracks, in the next 17 days.
His winning streak was at six when Man o' War raced in the Sanford
Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 13. It is Man O' War's most remembered
race -- because it is the only one he would lose.
Starting gates were not yet used, and horses were led up a tape barrier.
A fill-in starter had difficulty getting the horses ready and they
milled around. While Man o' War apparently was backing up, the tape
was sprung. Man o' War "was almost left at the post," the
Louisville Courier-Journal reported.
After a slow start, Man o' War was third as the field headed for
home in the six-furlough race. Blocked by close quarters, he had to
go to the outside in the final eighth. Though he gamely made up ground,
he missed by a half-length of overtaking the winner, who at 115 pounds
carried 15 fewer pounds than the 11-20 favorite. The winner was named,
rather appropriately, Upset.
Big Red, who beat Upset in their six other meetings, finished the
year with easy victories in the Hopeful and Futurity, giving him nine
victories in 10 races.
In 1920, Man o' War won all 11 of his races, with Clarence Kummer
aboard nine times. Big Red didn't race in the Kentucky Derby because
Riddle believed that a soft-boned 3-year-old should not have to run
1¼ miles in early May. Instead, he set his sights on the Preakness
(Man o' War held off an Upset charge to win) and Belmont (a 20-length
victory in a two-horse field).
After winning the Travers against two horses at Saratoga, only one
colt challenged Man o' War in his next race. Well, it wasn't exactly
a challenge as Big Red, the 1-100 favorite, defeated Hoodwink by 100
lengths in the 1 5/8th-mile Lawrence Realization at Belmont Park.
He was 1-100 again in winning the Jockey Cup at Belmont Park, and
then he was saddled with the excessively high weight of 138 pounds
for the Potomac Handicap. After being a bit fractious at the post,
he assumed command and won easily.
Man o' War's last race was against Sir Barton, who in 1919 had become
the first to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. Like most
match races, it was hardly competitive. At Kenilworth Park, in Windsor,
Ontario, Man o' War won the $75,000 purse and $5,000 Gold Cup by defeating
the older Canadian-owned horse by seven lengths.
When Riddle was informed that Man o' War would have to carry even
more than 138 pounds as a 4-year-old, he retired his horse to stud.
Man o' War held American records for the fastest mile, 1 1/8 miles,
1 3/8 miles, 1½ miles and 1 5/8 miles. His total earnings were
$249,465, a record at the time.
Don't feel sorry for Man o' War because he stopped racing so young.
He proved to be quite a stud. In 1926, his issue won $408,137, breaking
a 60-year-old record. Among his 386 registered foals were 64 stakes
winners, including 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral, 1929 Kentucky
Derby winner Clyde Van Dusen and Battleship, the winner of the 1938
Grand National Steeplechase in England.
In 1921, a Texas oil millionaire, William Waggoner, offered $500,000
for Man o' War. Riddle turned him down, as he did when Waggoner increased
his offer again, first to $1 million and then a blank check. "The
colt is not for sale," he said.
Although Man o' War spent most of his life in Kentucky, he never
raced there. He died there, though, at the age of 30 of a heart attack
on Nov. 1, 1947 in Lexington.
By Larry Schwartz