Man o' War
Man o' War is considered one of the greatest thoroughbred racehorses of all time. During his career just after World War I, he won 20 of 21 races and $249,465 in purses.
By the prominent sire Fair Play, out of the mare Mahubah, Man o' War was owned and bred by August Belmont, Jr. (1851-1924), whose father's accomplishments were recognized through the naming of the Belmont Stakes. Belmont Jr. joined the United States Army at age 65 to serve in France during World War I. While he was overseas, his wife named a new foal "Man o' War" in honor of her husband. However, the Belmonts decided to liquidate their racing stable. At the Saratoga yearling sale in 1918, Man o' War was sold at a final bid of $5,000 to Samuel D. Riddle who brought him to his Glen Riddle Farm near Berlin, Maryland. The underbidder at the auction was believed to be Robert L Gerry, Sr.
As a Two-Year Old
Trained by Louis Feustel and ridden by Johnny Loftus, Man o' War made an impressive racing debut at Belmont Park on June 6, 1919, winning by six lengths. Three weeks later he won the Keene Memorial Stakes.
In the early 1900s, there were no starting gates. Jockeys circled around and then gathered their horses in a line behind a flimsy piece of webbing known as the barrier and were sent away when it was raised. In Man o' War's only loss, the Sanford Memorial Stakes, he still was circling with his back to the starting line when the barrier was raised (though some accounts give other reasons.) After the jockey got Man o' War turned around, he already was far behind the pack. In frustration, Johnny Loftus, the jockey, made major errors. Three times he put Man o' War in bad positions, getting boxed in by other horses. Despite this, he came close to winning, losing by only a half-length as Man o' War charged across the finish line, going much faster than any other horse on the track, and ultimately finishing second. The winner was Upset, whose name is sometimes erroneously thought to have popularized a new phrase in sports ("upset" meaning an upstart beating the favorite) Man o' War finished his two-year-old campaign with nine wins from ten starts.
As a Three-Year Old
In 1920, Johnny Loftus was denied a renewal of his jockey's license by the racing commission and was replaced as Man o' War's rider by . Loftus retired and became a trainer.
At three, Man o' War was a strapping 16.2 hands (167.6 centimeter) and weighed about 1,150 pounds with a 72-inch girth. That May, Man o' War was not entered in the Kentucky Derby because his owner did not like racing in Kentucky and believed it was too early in the year for a young horse to go a mile and a quarter. The previous year, Sir Barton had won the first-ever U.S. Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, though it was not called that at the time. It gained that prestige and importance 10 years later, when Gallant Fox accomplished the feat under a great deal of media attention.
In easily winning the 1 1/2 mile Preakness Stakes, Man o' War set a new Pimlico track record of 1:38 3/5 for a mile then was eased up for the final eighth of a mile to finish in a time of 1:51 3/5. The horse was next sent to Elmont, New York for the Belmont Stakes. Man o' War won the then 1? mile race by 20 lengths, setting another American record with a time of 2:14.20, beating Sir Barton's record set the previous year by over three seconds. That year he also won the Dwyer Stakes, the Travers Stakes, the Stuyvesant Handicap, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. As the racing season wound down, no one wanted to race against the seemingly invincible Man o' War, who had easily won every race he entered. In the Lawrence Realization Stakes, no other horse was willing to go up against him until finally a good racehorse named Hoodwink was good-heartedly entered by Mrs. Riddle's niece, Sarah Jeffords. Man o' War won by in excess of 100 lengths (some say more) while setting a new world record of 2:40 4/5 for a mile and five-eighths, besting the previous record by six seconds. His record still officially stands at the track.
The final start of Man o' War's career came in Windsor, Ontario, Canada in the Kenilworth Park Gold Cup, a race that for the first time was filmed in its entirety. For this 1 1/4 mile match race, Man o' War was running up against the great Sir Barton but easily drew away in the first furlong, showing a decided superiority to the first Triple Crown winner, and was slowed to win by seven lengths. Following his undefeated season of 11 straight wins, Man o' War was shipped to Lexington, Kentucky, to enter at stud at Elizabeth Daingerfield's Haylands and later moved to Riddle's Faraway Farm. Over his two-year career, Man o' War won 20 of 21 races, setting three world records, two American records and three track records.
(*The Kenilworth Park Gold Cup was in actuality a "match race" between Sir Barton and Man o' War. Another champion horse, Exterminator, was invited to compete in the race, since Canada did not allow match races. Due to the owners of the three not coming to a compromise on the conditions of the race, Exterminator was scratched, and in fact raced that same day on a different track.)
As a two-year-old, he carried 130 pounds in six races; few horses ever carried that much (at any age) as he did at that age. As a three-year-old, he carried as much as 138 pounds in races, giving away as much as 32 pounds to other horses. As a four-year-old, he would carry more than any horse had before, and after.
A Sire of Champions
As a sire, Man o' War was impressive as well; he produced more than 64 stakes winners and various champions. Though many believe that Riddle did not breed the stallion to enough good mares after the first five seasons, he still sired many great horses. Man o' War sired American Flag and Crusader who won successive Belmont Stakes in 1925 and 1926. Although there were no official champions in America at the time, both colts were generally considered the best three-year-old colts of their year, and Crusader was also largely accepted as the best racehorse of 1926. Among Man o' War's other famous offspring were 1929 Kentucky derby winner, Clyde Van Dusen, Battleship, who won the 1938 English Grand National steeplechase, and War Admiral, the 1937 Triple Crown winner and the second official Horse of the Year. Another of his offspring, Hard Tack, sired Seabiscuit, who was Horse of the Year in 1938. Man o' War's 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 all sire-line descendants of Man o' War. Many great horses, if you look long into their pedigrees, have some type of relation to Man o' War.
Man o' War died in 1947 at 30 of an apparent heart attack only a very short time after his longtime groom, Will Harbut, died. He was originally interred at Faraway Farm, but, in the early 1970s, his remains were moved to a new burial site at the Kentucky Horse Park, where his grave is marked with a statue by American sculptor, Herbert Haseltine. He has been the subject of four notable biographies: the first, Man o' War, by Page Cooper and Roger Treat, was published in 1950, and is a classic of its kind; Walter Farley, author of The Black Stallion series, also wrote a slightly fictional biography of Man o' War; in 2000, Bowen, Edward L. wrote an eloquent and thoroughly researched biography called Man o' War: Thoroughbred Legends from Eclipse Press; and in 2006, Dorothy Ours wrote a new, extensively sourced biography entitled Man o' War: A Legend Like Lightning.
Man o' War was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1957. Soon after, the Man o' War Stakes was made in his honor. In the Blood-Horse magazine ranking of the top 100 U.S. Thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century, Man o' War was ranked No. 1.
Through his sire, Man o' War is a descendant of the first English Triple Crown champion, West Australian, and Man o' War's dam, Mahubah, is a daughter of English Triple Crown winner Rock Sand. This male line traces to the Godolphin Arabian.