The “mostest Hoss”

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Saratoga’s regular starter was ill on the day of the Sanford, and his place was taken by C. H. Pettingill, an aging racing official. Nearly thirty years earlier Pettingill had attained a measure of fame by allowing a field of horses at Washington Park in Chicago to mill around for an hour and a half before he sprang the tape.

Down below the starter’s stand the graceful two-year-olds whirled, their jockeys maneuvering for place, crowding one another, eyes cocked on old Pettingill. Each time Man o’ War lunged, Knapp kept Upset right with him; then the pair turned around and tried to get lined up again. On the fifth lunge, Knapp yelled: “Johnny, let’s back up this time and maybe we can get a start.”

Loftus started to back up his mount and Knapp followed suit, but just for a step or two. Then he braced himself, ready to go. At that instant the tape flew up, the jockeys let out a whoop, and Golden Broom was off winging, his four white-stockinged legs driving like pistons. Upset was on his quarters, followed by Armistice and Donnacona. The jockeys aboard The Swimmer and Captain Alcock had been caught off guard and were now scrambling to get under way. Together with Man o’ War, also caught flat-footed, they were left at the post.

Big Red leapt forward and pounded down the track, nearly running into The Swimmer and Captain Alcock when they swerved across in front of him, causing Loftus to yank on the reins and lose more precious seconds. Loftus drove to the outside, trying to get past the horses between him and the front runners. Golden Broom was cutting a hole in the wind, with Upset still up close, moving easily. Flying into the turn for home, Golden Broom was on the rail, Upset on the outside, with Man o’ War now in third position.

 

There was no way for Man o’ War to get through unless Loftus took him to the outside again. Instead, he tried to fight his way between the two horses.

“We’d passed the quarter pole and were going to the eighth pole when I heard something right behind me and I knew it was Big Red coming at me now,” says Knapp. “I looked back and there he was. Johnny Loftus was riding like a crazy man and he yelled at me: ‘Move over, Willie! I’m coming through!’ So I yelled at him: ‘Take off! Take off, you bum, or I’ll put you through the rail!’ ”

Loftus swerved to the outside, and at that moment, with less than a sixteenth of a mile to go, Knapp went to the whip and Upset surged ahead of a sagging Golden Broom. Man o’ War and Upset ran for the wire, Big Red gaining with every stride, passing Upset with a giant bound—but a split second after they had crossed the finish line. It was Upset by a half length.

Loftus came back to win three more big races on Man o’ War—the Grand Union Hotel Stakes and the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, and the Futurity at Belmont Park —to wind up the horse’s two-year-old year. In all three races Big Red left Upset in the ruck, and in the Futurity he also beat Upset’s stablemates, Dr. Clark and John P. Grier.

 

William H. P. Robertson, editor of the Thoroughbred Record and author of The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America , believes that too much has been made of the Sanford and that it would long since have been forgotten had Big Red not gone on to such glory. In Robertson’s view, Man o’ War in 1919 was just another high-flying two-year-old that had its wings clipped after a poor ride and bad racing luck.

After the Futurity at Belmont, Man o’ War was unwound for a week and then shipped back to Glen Riddle Farm to enjoy a winter free of racing. At the same time, Jim Rowe began laying plans to humble him once again.

Rowe was one of the fine trainers of his day, but he was not a graceful loser. He was incensed when sports-writers considered Upset’s victory in the Sanford a fluke or worse, and he was not pleased when Man o’ War whipped Upset every time they met thereafter. Rowe was somewhat spoiled, for each year Whitney’s Brookdale Stud produced at least half a dozen classy youngsters for him to campaign in the big juvenile races. He was in the habit of winning these races, and Big Red had put a stop to it. With Wildair, John P. Grier, Upset, Damask, and Dr. Clark, Rowe raced against Man o’ War seventeen times and won only once, with Upset in the Sanford. John P. Grier, however, threw a real scare into the wonder horse in what was certainly one of the most exciting horse races in American history.

Although the 1920 season was again proving a winning one for Man o’ War, the strain of campaigning a public idol began to show in Feustel and Riddle, and relations between the two men went from bad to worse. Feustel was a temperamental individual and he took justifiable pride in his handling of Man o’ War.

Big Red was served his first meal at 3:30 A.M. Then he lolled in his stall until 7:30, when Frank Loftus curried and brushed him, combed his mane and tail, bathed his feet and head, and sponged out his eyes and nostrils.