Man O' War
Jamaica Racetrack on June 22, 1920
Man O' War
When 65-year-old sportsman August Belmont II, son of the founder of
Belmont Park, volunteered to fight in World War I in 1917, his young
wife named their new colt My Man O' War in honor of her husband's
patriotism. Still at war, Belmont sold the chestnut-colored horse to
textile magnate Samuel Riddle the next year. Man O' War galvanized the
slumping sport of horse racing and became a national hero.
Man O' War won 20 of 21 races during a career that spanned 1919 and
1920. He ran with sheer dominance winning one race by 100 lengths even
though handicapping rules required him to carry as much as 138 pounds.
Nicknamed Big Red and described as a living flame, he became so
valuable that Riddle turned down a blank-check offer for him. In 1999,
a panel assembled by the Associated Press deemed Man O' War the
greatest horse of the twentieth century.
Intrigue followed the powerful thoroughbred. He required 24-hour
security, as fans tried to pull souvenir hairs from him and he
regularly received death threats. In his only loss, Big Red was caught
sideways at the start and lost by a half-length to a horse
appropriately named Upset. The starter of the race was blamed for
springing the starting tape prematurely, and rumors of a fix
After Riddle retired Man O' War, due to his increasing handicap
weight, the big horse sired nearly 400 foals (including 1937 Triple
Crown winner War Admiral). Man o' War died in 1947 at the age of 30 of
an apparent heart attack only a very short time after his longtime
groom, Will Harbut died. Big Red's burial service was broadcast
nationally and included nine eulogies.
He was originally interred at Faraway Farm, but in the early 1970s
his remains were moved to a new burial site at the Kentucky Horse Park
where his grave is marked with a statue by American sculptor, Herbert