‘The Mostest Horse’: Introducing Man o’ War With StoryWood Bowties
“He’s got everythin’ a horse ought to have and he’s got it where a horse ought to have it. He’s the mostest horse.”
Those are the iconic words spoken by groom Will Harbut about Man o’ War, widely considered one of the best Thoroughbred racehorses of the 20th century.
In an illustrious 21-race career, the son of Fair Play was beaten only once by a horse ironically named Upset. His major victories included the Preakness, the Belmont, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Man o’ War might have won the Kentucky Derby, too, completing what would later be known as the Triple Crown, but his owner Samuel Riddle believed that May was too early to send a 3-year-old over the grueling 1 ¼-mile distance.
Bred by August Belmont, Man o’ War was foaled at Nursery Stud near Lexington, Ky. At age 65, Belmont joined the Army to serve in WWI, and his wife named the colt in his honor.
Riddle purchased Man o’ War at the 1918 Saratoga yearling sale for $5,000, approximated at $80,000 in today’s dollars.
Trainer Louis Feustel had to develop Man o’ War slowly. The colt often fought his exercise riders, and is well-known for having once gotten loose for over 15 minutes on the racetrack.
“Big Red” won his first six starts by open lengths under jockey Johnny Loftus. In his one loss, the Sanford Stakes, Man o’ War had a terrible start – in those days, there were no starting gates. Horses lined up behind the “barrier” and took off when it was raised; according to various sources, Man o’ War was sideways when race began.
After making up the ground he lost at the start, Man o’ War got boxed in behind rivals and had to be checked when they began to tire. Still, he made a rally down the stretch and came up a neck short to Upset, to whom he was conceding 15 pounds.
Man o’ War was never again defeated. He made his 3-year-old debut with a win in the Preakness, then set an American record in the Withers: 1:354⁄5 for the mile. Man o’ War would set a world record in the Belmont Stakes, running 1 3/8 miles in 2:14 1/5. It was two seconds faster than the European standard, and three seconds faster than Sir Barton’s American record.
The Stuvesent was next, which the colt won with total ease. In the Dwyer, Man o’ War was challenged by a competent rival, John P. Grier; the dual threat scared away all competitors, turning it into a match race.
The two 3-year-olds screamed around the racetrack in unison, completing the first ¾ mile in 1:09 2/5, an American record. John P. Grier had to rally back around the turn after Man o’ War pulled away slightly, and they were timed in a record-breaking 1:35 3/5 for the mile. Down the stretch, John P. Grier briefly looked like the winner, but jockey Clarence Kummer smacked Man o’ War with the whip and he pulled away to a two-length win in the final 50 yards. Their final time for 1 1/8 miles was a world-record 1:49 1/5.
Wins in the Miller and the Travers followed, then the Lawrence Realization, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the Potomac. Man o’ War’s final career win came in the Kenliworth Park Gold Cup against Sir Barton. It was the first race filmed in its entirety, and was later shown in theaters across the country.
Riddle chose to retire the two-time champion at the end of his 3-year-old season. The horse had already carried 138 pounds, and would have undoubtedly been assigned to carry even more weight at four.
Though he started his stallion career at Hinata Farm, Man o’ War was moved to Faraway Farm in 1922. Over 500,000 people signed Faraway’s visitor book to see Big Red, shown by his longtime groom Will Harbut. Man o’ War was leading sire in 1926 and runner-up in 1928, 1929, and 1937.
He was pensioned in 1943, died at age 30 in 1947, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1957. Man o’ War’s memory lives on in his sons and daughters, the most famous of which was probably War Admiral, winner of the 1937 Triple Crown.
Man o’ War’s barn at Faraway fell into disrepair until 2008, when Greg Goodman purchased the property and renamed it Mt. Brilliant Farm. Goodman had the stallion barn fully restored, and even had Man o’ War’s former stall door installed in his office.
Man o’ War was truly “the mostest hoss,” and is regarded by many as the best Thoroughbred in history.
StoryWood Bowties has sourced a limited amount of wood from the former Faraway Farm, and crafted it into an ultra-exclusive line of men’s accessories. We will be producing just 25 Man o’ War wooden bow ties, each of which comes with a set of one-of-a-kind cufflinks. The bow ties are each stamped with a serial number and note of authenticity.
Man o’ War box sets are available here.