Man ‘O War
Man ‘O War is considered by many historians of the American turf as their greatest horse of all time.
Affectionately named “Big Red”, a nick name to be bestowed fifty years later on another bright chestnut named Secretariat who would be considered as his equal. Man ‘O War was by Fair Play – Mahubah by Rock Sand and was bred by August Belmont II at his Nursery Stud. He stood 16.2 hands at full growth.
Fair Play, also bred by Belmont, was a superbly bred horse of high class ability, and plenty of attitude. He had the unfortunate luck of being born the same year as the great undefeated Colin. His race record of ten wins and eleven seconds in thirty-two starts, include a poor six race stint in England as a four year old. He was sent to England due to racing being shut down in New York, a result of the anti gambling laws. Fair Play did not take too well to grass racing and his temper became so bad that he eventually refused to run.
Fair Play’s sire was Hastings, a notoriously volatile stallion who was a son of Spendthrift sired by Australian, who in turn was by West Australian. Fair Play’s dam Fairy Gold was by Bend Or by Doncaster by Stockwell. Mahubah was a high strung sort as well. Her sire Rock Sand, the 1903 Triple Crown winner in England, was so violent, his stall needed to be padded to protect him. Man ‘O War inherited some of these traits but was not as violent. He was more a strong willed, take no prisoners sort.
Sold to Samuel D. Riddle for $5,000 as a yearling, Man ‘O War would win twenty of twenty-one races in his life time. His only defeat came in the Stanford Memorial Stakes to the appropriately named Upset. He was never entered in the Kentucky Derby but he did win both the Preakness and Belmont, leading many to speculate that the Triple Crown would have been his.
Among his biggest wins were the Dwyer Stakes, the Travers Stakes, Stuyvesant Handicap and the Jockey Club Stakes (now known as the Gold Cup). His dominance was so mighty that owners began to refuse to enter their horses in races where Man ‘O War was entered. His final start was against the previous year’s Triple Crown winner Sir Barton.
The Kenilworth Park Gold Cup would be the race against Sir Barton that determined who was the superior horse. Run at Kenilworth Park in Windsor, Ontario, the race was a mile and a quarter (ten furlongs) in distance. Exterminator was invited as well but his connections opted not to participate. The race was filmed in its entirety. Man ‘O War won the race by seven lengths, but it must be told that he received a six pound advantage from Sir Barton and that Sir Barton was battling a chronic foot problem which flared up during the race.
With nothing left to prove on the track, Man ‘O War was retired to stud. He started his stud career at Hinata Farm in Kentucky, until two years later when Riddle purchased Faraway Farm, where Man ‘O War would stand for the rest of his life.
Samuel Riddle was very hesitant in offering services to mares owned by other breeders outside of his own mares and that of his family. He limited Man ‘O War to only twenty-five mares per season. This severely limited the stallion’s reach to infuse the breed with his superior genetic qualities.
Despite the limited books Man ‘O War was very successful at stud as he sired sixty-four stakes winners (17%). Among the champions he sired were American Flag and Crusader, consecutive winners of the Belmont Stakes in 1925 & 1926 along with Clyde Van Dusen, winner of the 1929 Kentucky Derby.
His best son on the track was War Admiral, winner of the 1937 Triple Crown. War Admiral was a small but impressive horse who became one of Man ‘O War’s best sons at stud. Among War Admiral’s progeny were major race winners Blue Peter (US), Mr. Busher, Navy Page and Admiral Vee. His best daughters on the track were Busher (1945 Horse of the Year), and top handicap mare Searching. Busanda another very good daughter on the track (Alabama Stakes, Suburban Handicap etc) was the dam of Buckpasser and Bupers. War Admiral was also the broodmare sire of Never Say Die (St. Leger Stakes) and Hoist the Flag.
Another son of Man ‘O War was Hard Tack, a severely volatile animal, whose lasting claim to fame was as the sire of Seabiscuit. Seabiscuit would become one of the most adored horses in American turf history and his legendary match race with his “uncle” War Admiral became a storied race. A fine and entertaining movie based on the best selling book written by Laura Hillenbrand, is a fun way to understand the importance of this legend.
War Relic became the best son of Man ‘O War at stud and also the main source of the continuation of the male line to today. War Relic was inbred 3 x 3 to Rock Sand through his dam Friar’s Carse by Friar Rock by Rock Sand. War Relic would sire Battlefield, Relic and Missile but his most influential son would be Intent. A two time winner of the San Juan Capistrano Handicap, Intent sired Intentionally who would in turn sire Tentam and In Reality, the sire of Known Fact, Smile, Believe It, Valid Appeal and Relaunch. From Relaunch comes Honor and Glory and the Breeder’s Cup classic winner Skywalker (sire of Bertrando) and Cees Tizzy (sire of two times Breeder’s Cup Classic winner Tiznow).
Man ‘O War’s daughters also became good broodmares. Vagrancy, Blue Swords, Dauber, War Plumage, Level Best, Dawn Play, High Fleet and Mata Hari were some of the best on the track from daughters on Man ‘O War.
Man ‘O War was unparalleled in popularity as to his racing career. He was a legend in the making with scores of books and essays in countless publications expounding his achievements. Those who saw him run were in awe of his dominance, speed and charisma. His place in sire lines while somewhat over taken is still alive. A horse born one hundred years ago and still revered by many as the greatest, is something to be said about his importance to not only racing during his time but to racing of future generations.
Will Harbut, long time groom of Man ‘O War, summed up his friend the best, “He was da mostest hoss there ever was”. Indeed.
(Illustration by Ellen Smith. Photo of Man ‘O War and Will Harbut courtesy of Faraway Farm)