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The “mostest Hoss”
Concerning the long life, fast times, and astonishing fecundity of Man o’ War
April 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 3
In 1920 William T. Waggoner of Fort Worth, Texas, possessed a string of racehorses, hundreds of thousands of acres of prime cattle land dotted with oil wells, and the firm conviction, apparently born of experience, that everything has a price. That year a lustrous chestnut colt was running away from the nation’s best three-year-olds with ridiculous ease, and it occurred to Waggoner that this colt was the greatest thoroughbred that he or any other American horseman had ever seen or was ever likely to see. Waggoner wanted him in the worst way, and he offered $500,000 to the colt’s owner, Samuel D. Riddle, of Glen Riddle, Pennsylvania.
Riddle had paid $5,000 for the colt at the Saratoga Yearling Sales and had long since reached the same conclusion about him. Riddle rejected the Texan’s offer.
Waggoner must have been prepared for the initial rebuff. A textile manufacturer, Riddle was, after all, a wealthy man too. But Riddle was a Scot, a near man with a dollar. Playing upon this weakness, Waggoner raised his offer to $1,000,000. Again, Riddle turned him down.
“Well, how much then?” asked Waggoner.
“The colt is not for sale,” insisted Riddle.
Waggoner signed a blank check and gave it to him.
“You go to France,” said Riddle, “and bring back the sepulchre of Napoleon from Les Invalides. Then you go to England and buy the jewels from the crown. Then to India and buy the Taj Mahal. Then I’ll put a price on Man o’ War.”
Man o’ War was truly a horse without price. As no other horse before or since, he fired the imagination of the American public. When he came upon the scene as a two-year-old in 1919, thoroughbred racing was suffering. Antigambling legislation inspired by Governor Charles Evans Hughes had closed down racing completely in New York in 1911 and 1912, and a number of other states had followed suit. Many of the smaller stables had liquidated their stock, the big stables had shipped their horses to race in Europe, and the bottom had fallen out of the thoroughbred yearling market. No sooner had the ban been lifted, and the racetracks reopened, than World War I loomed. In 1919, purses and attendance were at record lows.
But once Man o’ War began racing, his name on a track program was certain to fill the grandstand. In time, policemen had to be assigned to prevent souvenir hunters from snatching hairs from his mane and tail, and his thundering hoofs became as much a part of the Golden Age of Sports as the crack of Babe Ruth’s bat or Bill Tilden’s whistling serves.
Man o’ War looked the part of a superhorse. At two he was lithe and leggy. At three he filled out into a magnificent animal, standing nearly 16.2 hands (about five and a half feet) at the withers, weighing 1,100 pounds, with a 72-inch girth. He had keenly alert eyes, flaring nostrils, and a white star on his forehead.
“Even when he was standing motionless in his stall with his ears pricked forward and his eyes focused on something slightly above the horizon which mere people never see, energy poured from him,” wrote sportswriter Joe H. Palmer. “He could get in no position which suggested actual repose, and his very stillness was that of the coiled spring, of the crouched tiger.”
John Hervey, a turf historian, saw Man o’ War as a horse “of heroic proportions with no surplus flesh anywhere.” Watching him in the paddock at Belmont Park, Long Island, before the running of the Withers Mile in 1920, Hervey wrote, “His beautiful head with its long star was held proudly and the long sinewy neck was curved like that of a war horse. The powerful quarters with their great bunches of muscles were the acme of power. …”
Quick, powerful, and fiery as he was, “Big Red,” as he was nicknamed, was nevertheless amenable in the stable. He did have his idiosyncrasies, however. He was a prodigious “doer,” as horsemen say, consuming great quantities of oats and hay. To thwart his tendency to bolt his feed, his groom, Frank Loftus, placed a bit in his mouth at mealtime.
When feeling frisky, Man o’ War would steal up behind his exercise boy, Clyde Gordon, snatch his hat in his teeth, and prance around his stall with it in a game of “keep away.” At times he showed signs of anxiety. When lying down he sometimes bit his hoofs, an equine habit similar to chewing one’s nails. To help quiet him down, a big hunter named Major Treat was placed in a stall next to him, and to ease Big Red’s jitters on race days, Gordon would mount Major Treat and accompany Man o’ War to the paddock and thence to the post. Man o’ War developed such a strong attachment to Major Treat that if he returned to his stall after a workout or a race and found Major Treat gone, he would snort angrily and slam the walls of his stall with his hoofs.
Even with Major Treat in attendance, Man o’ War radiated tension in the saddling enclosure before a race, buck-jumping until his trainer, Louis Feustel, gave his girth a final tightening. The hum of the grandstand and the music of the band had a tonic effect upon Big Red as he headed postward with Major Treat alongside. But near the post, after Major Treat had slipped away, the great horse lunged and reared in his anxiety to run, sometimes breaking through the webbing barrier time and time again until it was sprung by the starter.
Once a race was under way, Man o’ War never proved a serious problem for jockey Johnny Loftus (no relation to groom Frank Loftus), who rode him in all ten of his two-year-old races, or for Clarence Kummer, his rider in all but two of his races at three. Earl Sande, who rode Big Red only once, was amazed at the way he ran. “I never felt anything under me like that colt in my life,” gasped Sande in the winner’s circle after the Miller Stakes at Saratoga in the summer of 1920. “Why, he is a regular machine! He strides farther than anything I ever rode and does it so handily you wouldn’t think he was running at all! He is the ereatest horse I have ever ridden.”
Man o’ War was foaled on March 29, 1917, at the Nursery Stud of August Belmont II in the Bluegrass Country outside Lexington, Kentucky. Belmont had inherited his passion for racing and breeding from his father, a millionaire financier for whom Belmont Park and the Belmont Stakes were named.
August Belmont II served on New York State’s first racing commission and helped found the Jockey Club, racing’s governing body, which he ruled firmly for twenty-nine years, until his death in 1924. John E. Madden, one of this country’s most successful breeders of thoroughbreds, considered Belmont the most astute student of bloodlines he had ever known. It was Madden who said that the secret of producing racehorses is to “breed the best to the best—and hope for the best.”
Madden’s formula is as good as any, and it is how Belmont produced his equine masterpiece, combining as he did the bloodlines of Man o’ War’s sire, Fair Play, and his dam, who had been sired by the great English stallion Rock Sand, winner in 1903 of the 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, and the St. Leger—Great Britain’s Triple Crown.
On the male side of his pedigree, Man o’ War was fifteen generations removed from the Godolphin Arabian (born circa 1724), one of the three Arab and Barb stallions that the British consider the founders of the thoroughbred line. On his dam’s side, Man o’ War traced back to the Layton Barb mare, one of the forty-odd foundation mares of the thoroughbred line.
Fair Play was a first-class animal capable of carrying high weight over a distance, but he was hampered by a fractious temperament inherited from his sire, Hastings. During a race, Hastings would try to slam into other horses and savage them with his teeth as he raced by. He was no less vicious with humans, and he went to his death unreconstructed and unloved, having left his mark literally and figuratively on many a stablehand.
Man o’ War’s dam, Mahubah, on the other hand, was a big, rangy mare with a sweet disposition that she inherited from her father, Rock Sand, whom Belmont imported in 1908 for the then-record price of $125,000.
Mr. Belmont, then, got what he hoped for from the Fair Play-Rock Sand “cross”: a big, powerful animal capable of running a distance under heavy weight with the speed of a sprinter; a colt with the fire of Fair Play and Hastings, tempered by the intelligence and gentleness of Mahubah and Rock Sand. A dream horse.
The United States entered the First World War one week after Big Red was foaled, and Belmont, though sixty-five years old, volunteered. He was commissioned a major and sent to France, where one of his duties was the procurement of mules for the Army. Thus preoccupied, Belmont decided to sell his entire 1917 yearling crop with the exception of Big Red, whom his wife had originally named My Man o’ War in his honor, later dropping the “My.” At the last minute, however, Belmont changed his mind and cabled instructions to include Man o’ War in the consignment to the Saratoga Yearling Sales.
The twenty-one Belmont yearlings were to go under the hammer on August 17, 1918. A few days before the sale Sam Riddle went from stall to stall, looking them over carefully. In the last stall he saw a big chestnut colt that caught his eye, and he asked the groom to lead him outside where he could get a better look at him. It was Man o’ War. Riddle later recalled: “[As] soon as I saw him in the daylight he simply bowled me over. … I couldn’t think of anything but that colt after that. …”
In 1918 Riddle was a newcomer to big-time racing, having campaigned only a few middling horses. He had acquired trainer Louis Feustel from Belmont’s entourage and had come to Saratoga with his checkbook to build the nucleus of a racing stable. He wound up buying eleven yearlings for a total of $25,000.
A certain amount of resentment and jealousy attended Riddle’s good fortune in acquiring Man o’ War. A man approaching sixty, Riddle had about him the air of the full-time gentleman-sportsman; he could be pompous and blustery on occasion. But there’s a saying in the horse business that the expert is the man who is right once, and Riddle knew a good horse when he saw one. Furthermore, Man o’ War’s best interests always came first with him, and that is why Big Red did not compete in 1920 for what later became institutionalized, through publicity, as the tempting American Triple Crown—the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. It was Riddle’s belief that early May was too soon in the year to ask a soft-boned three-year-old to run a mile and one quarter, so he did not enter Man o’ War in the Kentucky Derby, preferring to start with the Preakness at a mile and one eighth later in the month.
After Man o’ War was his, Riddle had him broken at Saratoga before shipping him to his Glen Riddle Farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Before many months had passed, Riddle knew that his first impressions of Man o’ War had been right. In the early spring of 1919 Riddle shipped him to Belmont Park to get ready for the juvenile classics. The colt’s speedy workouts were soon the talk of the backstretch.
Unlike most fast-moving thoroughbreds, which run economically close to the ground, their hoofs shaving the turf, as it were, Big Red rolled along with tremendous jack-rabbitlike bounds, his stride measuring nearly ten yards. From a distance he appeared to be floating in slow motion. Only when spectators turned their field glasses on the horses running in the dust behind him was it possible for them to get a true sense of the blinding pace he was setting.
Feustel picked the sixth race on June 6, 1919, for Man o’ War’s debut, a five-furlong test for maiden two-year-olds over a straight course. In the paddock, beneath the wide-spreading chestnuts and oaks, the immemorial pageant repeated itself, owners and trainers leaning down to give last-minute instructions to cocky little men in shimmering silks. With his straw boater, bristling mustache, and florid complexion, Samuel D. Riddle looked every inch the expectant owner; Feustel fitted the role of the confident young trainer; and Johnny Loftus, in Riddle’s black and yellow silks, was very much the bantam rooster.
As the bugler blew “First Call,” Feustel told Loftus not to break the colt at the barrier: “Wait until they get out of your way, Johnny, then let him go after them.” At the start, Loftus let his six opponents break ahead and then gave chase. Before a hundred yards had been covered, Man o’ War was up with the leaders. At the first furlong pole Loftus gave him free rein, and in a few strides the race was all but over. Man o’ War dashed out in front; Loftus, looking for possible contenders and fearing someone might be sneaking up on the rail, turned to his left and to his right. With no horse close by, he began to pull up and was standing straight up in the stirrups at the finish line. Man o’ War had raced the five eighths of a mile in fifty-nine seconds, finishing five lengths ahead of his closest rival. As the Morning Telegraph reported next day, Big Red “made a half-a-dozen high-class youngsters look like $200 horses.” With his first race, Big Red set a pattern that he was to follow, almost without exception, throughout the remaining twenty races of his career. In the two years that he ran, he won twenty of his twenty-one races. His margins of victory ranged from a single length in two victories as a two-year-old to one hundred lengths when he won the Lawrence Realization at Belmont Park in September of 1920, defeating the only other horse in the race, an animal named Hoodwink.
Although today’s two-year-olds rarely carry more than 122 pounds, Man o’ War was handicapped at 130 pounds on six occasions. When three, in the Potomac Handicap at Havre de Grace, Maryland, he carried 138 pounds on a heavy, cuppy track and whipped the ears off a field of thoroughbreds.
As a three-year-old, Man o’ War set North American records for the mile (1:35 4/5); mile and one eighth (1:49 1/5); mile and three eighths (2:14 1/5); mile and onehalf(2:28 4/5); and mile and five eighths (2:40 4/5). All but the record for the mile and three eighths have since been eclipsed, which was to be expected. For one thing, racing surfaces today are considered a good two seconds faster per mile than they were in his day; for another, thoroughbreds now wear aluminum shoes, faster by far than the steel shoes worn by Man o’ War and his contemporaries. The lone record survives because a mile-and-three-eighths race is now infrequently run on a dirt (as opposed to grass) track.
To this day, an air of mystery surrounds Man o’ War’s only loss, in the Sanford Memorial at Saratoga on August 13, 1919. By that time Big Red boasted a string of six easy victories, all under jockey Johnny Loftus.
The morning of the race, Willie Knapp, who was to ride a colt named Upset from the Harry Payne Whitney stable, was sitting with Jim Rowe, Whitney’s trainer, on the steps of Rowe’s cottage. “You know, Mr. Rowe, we got a chance to beat Man o’ War this afternoon,” said Knapp.
As Man o’ War had beaten Upset soundly in their last race, Rowe replied, “Willie, you’re the craziest man I ever heard of.” Man o’ War was in at 130 pounds, along with Golden Broom, owned by Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords, Mrs. Riddle’s niece. Upset was to carry 115 pounds. Donnacona, The Swimmer, Armistice, and Captain Alcock completed the field for the six-furlong sprint.
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.
At 8:30 Man o’ War was exercised. He jogged half a mile and galloped a mile and a half three days a week. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday he was given fast workouts on the track. After that, he was walked until he had cooled off and then was bathed with a mixture of alcohol, arnica, and witch hazel to keep his muscles from getting stiff. Afterward, the bandages that he always wore except when racing were changed, and his hoofs were washed again.
Man o’ War had lunch at 11130. He took a final half-hour walk at 4, and at 5:15 his final meal of the day. He ordinarily ate twelve quarts of oats (twelve and a half on racing days)—or three quarts a day more than the average racehorse consumes when in training.
Of an evening Feustel, his stable foreman, George Conway, and the inevitable hangers-on would set up a table in front of Big Red’s stall and play cards. When they departed, Frank Loftus or Conway or some stable-hand slept on a cot in an adjoining stall, for warnings were forever reaching Riddle that “something is going to happen” to Man o’ War, and “look out for it.” As it turned out, these rumors were not without foundation.
But for all the care that Feustel lavished on Man o’ War, Riddle apparently wasn’t satisfied. He hired a private detective to watch Feustel.
Toward the end of Man o’ War’s three-year-old year, few owners were willing to send their horses out to eat his dust. On four occasions only one other horse could be found to face him at the post; on three occasions he went off at odds of 1 to 100 (even so, one professional gambler reportedly bet $100,000 on him for a return of $1,000). The charts of Man o’ War’s races in the Daily Racing Form of fifty years ago invariably read: “won easily,” “won cantering,” or “won eased up.” Nevertheless, Feustel’s archrival, Jim Rowe, was determined to defeat the champion again, this time with John P. Grier.
The crowd at Aqueduct Racetrack, Long Island, on July 10, 1920, numbered 25,000, the largest then in its history. They had come to see the Dwyer Stakes, in which only two horses were entered: John P. Grier and Man o’ War. The race was at a mile and one eighth, and Rowe had been carefully honing Grier for the test. At a mile, there were few faster horses in the country.
The Dwyer was, in effect, a match race. Before the race, Rowe went out on a long limb. “We’ll see if Man o’ War can beat a horse that can stay with him all the way,” he told reporters. “I think he’s ready to be taken, and Grier is the horse that can do it.” One tactless newspaperman noted that Man o’ War had had little trouble beating John P. Grier as a two-year-old. “That was last year,” said Rowe. “This is a different year, and an improved horse.”
Man o’ War had been campaigning hard and steadily, following up the Preakness with victories in the Withers and Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park and the Stuyvesant at Jamaica. Some people wondered whether Big Red might not have lost his edge. In addition, Grier was in at 108 pounds against 126 for Man o’ War. Eddie Ambrose, one of the nation’s hottest jockeys, would wear Whitney’s blue silks and brown cap.
All of this produced an unsettling atmosphere in the Riddle barn. Big Red’s handlers developed a case of the whammies. “Mano’ War isn’t screwed up as tight as he might be,” Feustel told Riddle. And in the paddock before the race, Riddle cautioned jockey Clarence Kummer: “Lay along with Grier all the way, and if you find you can win, don’t try to ride him out, but win by a length or two. I don’t want more made of Red than is necessary.” At the starting post in the back shoot, Man o’ War was on the rail, compact little Grier on the outside. A great roar came from the crowd as the race got under way. Many in the grandstand thought at first that Grier had been left at the post, for they could not see him, running, as he was, stride for stride on the far side of Big Red.
The two horses hit the half-mile mark in 46 seconds flat, a track record; the five-furlong marker in 57 2/5 seconds, a track record; the three-quarter pole in 1:09 3/5, a track record; the mile in 1:36 flat, a track record. No horse had ever been able to stay with Man o’ War in this fashion, and’it became obvious that one of them had to crack, and crack soon.
Kummer went to the whip, and Man o’ War regained the lead by a hair. Down to the wire they came, and then it happened: seventy yards short of the finish, Grier wilted. Ambrose smacked him once more with the whip, but when the little colt failed to respond, he eased up.
The Dwyer was the high-water mark of Man o’ War’s career. Never again would he be tested in this manner. Steam poured off his trembling body as he was walked back to the stables and sloshed with water. After Big Red had dried out, Frank Loftus tossed a black and yellow cooler blanket over him and walked him around the shed row for half an hour, occasionally feeding him a piece of sugar. Then he turned the horse loose in his stall of fresh, sweet-smelling rye straw. Man o’ War lay right down and slept for hours.
The last race of Man o’ War’s career was an unfortunate anticlimax, marked by evidence of attempted foul play. This was the match race at Kenilworth Park, Windsor, Ontario, on October 12, 1920, against Sir Barton, the four-year-old champion, at a mile and one quarter for a purse of $75,000 and a $5,000 gold cup.
In 1919, when Man o’ War had been cleaning up the two-year-old classics, Sir Barton had become the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. He was a magnificent animal, and it should have been a great race. But as so often happens in carefully arranged match races, one horse or the other fails to come up to the race in top form. Sir Barton wasn’t himself that day, and the track, dry and brick-hard, was not to his liking. Moreover, at the last minute his owner, J. K. L. Ross, of Canada, announced that his regular rider, Earl Sande, was being replaced “without prejudice” by jockey Frank Keough. No reason was given, but it was common knowledge that Ross had never forgiven Sande for saying, after his one ride aboard Man o’ War, that Big Red was the greatest horse he had ever ridden.
Man o’ War, the betting favorite, breezed home in easy fashion. But just as Big Red passed the finish line, Kummer stood up in his irons and his right stirrup leather broke, nearly causing him to fall. Had the leather given way seconds before, he might have been seriously injured or even killed. Back in the paddock, Feustel and Kummer examined the stirrup leather carefully. It had been partly severed by a sharp instrument. Who did it or why was never discovered.
Afterward, when the Jockey Club handicapper indicated that Man o’ War would have to carry even greater weights if he ran as a four-year-old, Riddle decided to retire the champion to stud. On the way south to his stud farm in Kentucky, Riddle displayed his horse to friends at the Rose Tree Hunt, outside Philadelphia. A great crowd showed up to pay tribute to the horse, Jack Dempsey and Bill Tilden among those who had journeyed to see him for the last time. And at the old Kentucky Association track in Lexington, Man o’ War was cantered around for yet another tribute.
Big Red had already given birth to the star system, which has had so much to do with transforming horse racing and breeding from a sport enjoyed by a handful of Whitneys, Wideners, Vanderbilts, and Phippses to the huge industry it is today, wherein a Buckpasser, say, can win more than $1,400,000 on the turf and then be syndicated at stud for nearly $5,000,000. Thoroughbred racing now boasts a yearly attendance of more than 40,000,000 persons at one hundred racetracks in twenty-eight states offering sixty races valued at $100,000 and up. Man o’ War’s earnings total of $249,465 would be considered peanuts today, but it was enough to make him the all-time money winner as of 1920.
During the more than twenty years that Man o’ War was at stud, hundreds of thousands of visitors filed through Riddle’s Faraway Farm to see the legendary chestnut and hear groom Will Harbut’s spiel: “He was folded March 29, 1917, at Major Belmont’s place, right over there. Mr. Riddle bought him for $5,000 at Saratoga as a yearling. … A man come here and offered a million dollars for him, and Mr. Riddles said no, lots of men might have a million dollars, but only one man could have Man o’ War. …” “Yes, sir, we turns him out every day.…”
“No, ma’am, he ain’t no trotter. …”
“Standstill, Red!” Man o’ War died of a heart attack at 12:15 P.M. on November 1, 1947, at the age of thirty. He had sired 386 registered foals, more than half of whom were winners, though none ever matched its father’s accomplishments. His funeral attracted a large crowd and in a tribute to Big Red at his death, The Blood-Horse magazine said :
Some others will remember the day he came back home to Kentucky and, under colors for the last time, was cantered along the sloppy stretch of the old Kentucky Association track, the faint light of winter gleaming on his golden coat.
The horsemen who came from all over the world to see him in his prime at Faraway will remember him vividly—the massive body, the wide sweeps of muscle, the great chest and abnormally wide spacing between his fore legs, the die-cut perfection of his legs and feet, the slight dip of the back deepening with the years, the high head, the imperial air, the feel of power and mastery. They will not look to see another like him.
But the tribute that has lasted for all the years since Man o’ War’s death was uttered by Will Harbut, who died just twenty-nine days before the champion: “He was de mostest hoss.”