Artist: Debra Pero
Title: Distant Thunder: A Tribute to Man o’ War
Born Mar. 29, 1917 in Lexington, KY, Man o’ War was the product of high hopes and careful breeding by August Belmont. Belmont never realized his dreams for the colt, as war intervened and he had to sell his entire crop of young thoroughbreds. The big, leggy, red colt caught the eye of Sam Riddle, who was impressed by the stature of the youngster as much as his pedigree, and he purchased him for the relatively low price of $5,000. His intuition paid off, as Man o’ War (nicknamed “Big Red”) not only broke records in his early races, he smashed them! Once he won by 100 lengths! In a match race with a Triple Crown Winner, he won by 7 lengths! It is said he never fully extended himself in a race, but always had plenty to spare at the finish.
Man o’ War won 20 out of the 21 races he entered. His one defeat (to a horse named Upset, oddly enough, and this event is the source of that sports term) came as a result of an error on the part of the starter. Man o’ War was facing sideways and not in the gate when the starter released, and Man o’ War got boxed in at the rail. He chased down and nearly caught Upset, but simply ran out of track. Later, Upset’s owner was reported to say that he regretted the loss at the hands of his own colt, as Man o’ War deserved to go undefeated.
Man o’ War never ran the Derby, but did win both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. He set records that stood until lighter weight aluminum horse shoes and a different track surface became part of the sport. Riddle retired him after only 2 years of racing because he feared the increasingly heavy handicaps assigned to Big Red would cause injury.
Man o’ War went on to sire over 400 foals, fully 200 of which became champions in their own right. Two notables are Battleship, who won the English Grand Nationals, and War Admiral who was the 1938 Triple Crown Winner.
Shown in the panel are Man o’ War’s jockey, Clarence Krummer, his owner, Sam Riddle, and his life-long groom. Will Harbut.
Man o’ War died in 1947, just a few days after Will, who described him as “de mostest hoss dat ever was.” I think we might have to agree.