Man o’ War, one of the two or three best racehorses in the history of the sport in North America, is celebrating his 100th birthday anniversary this year, and a special exhibition has been mounted in his honor at the National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs.
Called “the mostest horse that ever was” by his groom, Will Harbut, Man o’ War won 20 out of 21 races in his storied career.
Bred at Lexington, Kentucky at Nursery Farm by Jockey Club chairman August Belmont II, Man o’ War was sold when Belmont dispersed all of his yearling breeding stock and joined the Army, aged 65, to fight in World War I. While Belmont was overseas, his wife named the foal Man o’ War in honor of her husband. 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. Two years later, Riddle declined an offer of $400,000 for the horse.
Man o’ War, would make his first start for trainer Louis Feustel on June 6, 1919 at Belmont Park.
“Man o’ War was unusually impressive from the time of his first start,” says Ed Bowen, racing historian and a former editor-in-chief of BloodHorse. “He had an incredible aura, as compared to Exterminator and some of the other stars of the era. He was a bright, luxurious chestnut with a high head and haughty manner, and he won most of his races with a great flourish.”
Turf writer Joe Palmer wrote, “He could get in no position which suggested actual repose, and his very stillness was that of a coiled spring, of the crouched tiger.” His stride was measured at 28 feet, believed to be the longest of all time.
In ten races during his 2-year-old season of 1919, Man o’ War posted nine wins, none coming by less than a length. His only loss as a juvenile—and for his career—came in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, when he started slowly, was hemmed in traffic, and could not make up enough ground to defeat Upset.
Man o’ War was even better at age three, winning all 11 of his starts. Despite carrying high weight assignments in many of his starts that year, he set records in eight of them. Man o’ War won the Preakness Stakes; the Belmont Stakes by twenty lengths; the Dwyer Stakes; the Travers Stakes; the Lawrence Realization by 100 lengths; and the Jockey Club Gold Cup before resoundingly defeating 1919 Triple Crown winner Sir Barton by seven lengths in the Kenilworth
Park Gold Cup match race. That was his final career start on October 12, 1920, and Man o’ War retired with a record of 20 wins and one second from 21 races.
Standing in retirement primarily at Faraway Farm in Kentucky, Man o’ War sired the 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral among many other high-class racehorses. Man o’ War died at age 30 in 1947, and his remains were moved from Faraway Farm to the Kentucky Horse Park during the 1970s. His gravesite and the iconic bronze statute nearby by sculptor Herbert Haseltine are among the most popular attractions at the park.
Kentucky horseman Ira Drymon said, “He touched the imagination of men and they saw different things in him. But one thing they will all remember was that he brought exaltation into their hearts.”