If you ask a non-racing fan to name a racehorse, the chances are pretty good that they will be able to name Man o’ War. The legendary horse’s popularity transcended racing, and he is almost as recognized as a sire as he is for his accomplishments on the racetrack. Winning 20 of his 21 career races, Man o’ War went on to sire Crusader, War Admiral, and Hard Tack. It is rare for a horse to succeed as wonderfully in both aspects of a racing career as Man o’ War did.
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Man o’ War was foaled in Kentucky on March 29, 1917. All thoroughbreds are given a universal birthdate of January 1 for racing purposes, so when Man o’ War began his racing career in June of 1919 he was actually a little over two years old. He won his debut at Belmont Park by six lengths and went on to have a stellar rookie year, capturing multiple stakes races at Aqueduct and Saratoga. During that two-year-old season, Man o’ War won four races in a span of 18 days. Such a performance would be unheard of today. Horses seem to be less durable and take longer to recover than they did in the early days of racing. His only career loss came in that rookie year when the horse was not facing the right direction at the beginning of a race. No starting gates were used in 1919. Horses were compelled to line up behind a rope and begin from a walk-up start. As the rope dropped to begin the race, Man o’ War was turned sideways and surrendered several jumps to his competitors. It is notable that in the match race featuring two of Man o’ War’s most famous offspring, Seabiscuit and War Admiral, a walk-up start was also used at the request of War Admiral’s trainer.
Trained at age two by Louis Feustel and ridden by jockey Johnny Loftus, Man o’ War embarked upon his three-year-old campaign with a new jockey in the irons. Loftus had been denied a jockey’s license and subsequently became a trainer. The new rider was Clarence Kummer. Kummer and Man o’ War were surely positioned to make a run at the Triple Crown, but the horse’s owner refused to run in Kentucky and bypassed the first jewel of the Crown. In the Preakness and Belmont, Man o’ War won with ease and broke existing track records. His dominance was perceived to be so great that no other horses would race against him.
Man o’ War took the track for the final time in the Kenilworth Park Gold Cup to compete against Sir Barton in a match race. Sir Barton had won the Triple Crown in Man o’ War’s two-year-old year. The race is also noteworthy because it was the first race to be filmed in its entirety. Man o’ War was so dominant in the race that his jockey slowed him near the end, but the incredible horse still won the race by seven lengths.
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By the time his historic career was over, Man o’ War had set three world records, two American records, and three track records. The colt was a horse for the ages and he was only aged three. The decision was made to send Man o’ War to stud in Kentucky. He would spend the next 22 breeding seasons siring 379 foals. The most successful of these offspring were War Admiral and War Relic. The War Relic line still exists today, and Man o’ War appears no less than 17 times in the bloodline of 2015 Triple Crown Champion American Pharoah
Man o’ War suffered a heart attack and died on November 1, 1947. His longtime groom, Will Harbut, had died just a short time before. Many speculate that Man o’ War was grieved by the loss of his human companion and simply lost the will to keep living. Racehorses and the grooms who care for them share a deep and special bond.
After his death in 1947, Man o’ War was buried at the Kentucky Horse Park and honored with a statue fashioned by famed sculptor Herbert Haseltine. He was also honored with inclusion in the National Racing Hall of Fame. The horse has also been named as the No.1 Thoroughbred Champion of all time by The Bloodhorse. Sports Illustrated has also named Man o’ War as the greatest racehorse of all time. Every year, many fans of horse betting make a visit to Man o’ War’s final resting place in tribute to this great champion.
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