Sunday, May 27, 2012

Man o'War

Lexington, KY. Visited April 2006


May is racehorse month at ISDP. Having thus far essayed the great  Secretariat  and the tragic Barbaro  we’re going back in time. This month’s subject is arguably the most dominant thoroughbred in the history of racing, the legendary Man o’War.

Man o'War with owner Samuel Riddle

Man o’War was foaled in March 1917 in Lexington, KY, bred by the Belmont family (of Belmont Racetrack fame). As a yearling he was sold to Samuel Riddle of Delaware County, PA who raised him at Glen Riddle Farm in Berlin, MD.

Here's a good brief video bio about Man o'War.

Man o’War began his racing career in impressive fashion with a six length victory at Belmont Park. After winning his first six starts Man o’War walked up to the starting line of his next race. In this era of racing there was no starting gate.  Horse races started with the lifting of rope along the starting line. Unfortunately the race started with Man o’War facing the wrong direction. Having to turn 180 degrees just to begin the race, he was in catch up mode from the get go. As the race came down the stretch Man o’War was bearing down on the leaders, but came up a nose short, finishing second. The winning horse was fittingly named Upset. It turned out to be the only loss of Man o’War’s 21 race career.

Man o'War in his only career loss, an upset to Upset

Man o'War ran his three year old campaign in 1920.  The Triple Crown concept had just come into popularity the year before in 1919 with wins by Sir Barton in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. However Samuel Riddle ended any idea of a back to back Triple Crown winners because he felt the Derby was too early in the year for a three year old to run. So Man o’War’s first start was at the 1920 Preakness. He won the race in a track record time, then went on to the Belmont where he won by 20 lengths over the only other horse entered; but nevertheless in track record time. He was so dominant as a three year old that it became difficult to find horses to run against him. In one race a last minute competitor was found, but wound up losing to Man o’War by 100 lengths. Lest one assume that the race was just a leisurely gallop, Man o’War set a world record for the distance with no competition. The horse nicknamed 'Big Red' raced eleven times as a three year old before retiring at the end of 1920.  His last race was a match race against 1919 Triple Crown winner Sir Barton, which he won by seven lengths.

Man o'War's final resting place at Kentucky
Horse Farm.  I was there by myself so I
used the standard 'Phillies hat in the
shot' to verify an authentic visit 

Man o’War was retired to stud at Faraway Farm in Lexington, KY. Above is some nice rare video of the horse in retirement.  What has cemented the horse’s legendary stature is his remarkable success on the track and as a sire. He fathered 64 stakes winners and several Triple Crown race winners. His best known son was War Admiral, Triple Crown Winner in 1937. Man o’War was the grandfather of the equally legendary Seabiscuit. Big Red lived a long and productive retirement, eventually dying of a heart attack in 1947 at the age of thirty. He was originally buried at Faraway Farms but was moved in the 1970’s to a prominent site at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. He’s buried there with his son War Admiral. I’ve visited the park a couple of times; originally on a little side trip prior to the first Together for the Gospel and most recently in October 2011 on an excursion prior to the CCEF Living Faith Conference.

Now for the big question – who’s the greater horse - the better "Big Red" -  Man o’War or Secretariat? Here’s how I break it down. Man o’War's race record is simply amazing.  And his success as a stallion in producing winners is remarkable.  Secretariat was just faster. And Secretariat ran overall against better competition and larger fields. What sets Secretariat apart is that his best times remain extraordinary times even compared to competition nearly forty years after he ran his last race. Like all time records, improvements in the sport over time should result in lower race times.  But Secretariat's Belmont race remains the greatest single performance by a racehorse in history. So the winner, by a nose, is Secretariat!

Just for fun, your blogger on the backstretch at Pimlico
track (site of Man o'War's first triumph) a few minutes
after the 2012 Preakness, won by I'll Have Another

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