Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Kentucky Derby News - Man o' War Centennial


Observing Man o’ War centennial at Kentucky Derby 143

May 2, 2017 Kellie Reilly/

It’s a curious fact of American racing history that its greatest Thoroughbred legend, Man o’ War, didn’t contest the nation’s most celebrated race, the Kentucky Derby (G1). But in 2017, as we celebrate the centennial of Man o’ War’s birth, the blood of “Big Red” pulses through the veins, however distantly, of every single horse in Derby 143.
All but one descend from Man o’ War through the circuitous routes of the pedigree, via his daughters, his sons’ daughters, or even grandsons’ daughters, nestled deep inside the family tree. In this way such key influences as Raise a Native (sire of Mr. Prospector), Storm Cat, Danzig, Buckpasser, and Seattle Slew (who boasts several crosses of Man o’ War between his sire and dam) receive their portion.
Man o’ War’s male line still exists, although relying on a single chain that has yet to have a link weak enough to break. It appears to be forged solidly at present, its strength reinforced by a Hall of Famer still standing stud today – Tiznow, the sire of Irap, who would put an unexpected garland on the Man o’ War centenary if he can win the Derby.
Born on March 29, 1917, at Nursery Stud near Lexington, Kentucky, August Belmont II’s chestnut son of Fair Play and Mahubah arrived just before the United States entered World War I.
As historian Kent Hollingsworth described it in The Kentucky Thoroughbred, the colt “was recognized as something apart from the start, for he had uncommonly long legs, a fiery red coat, and a presumption the world was his.”
The war altered forever the history of the globe, and the foal’s trajectory as well. In 1918, owing in part to his wartime responsibilities, Belmont dispersed nearly all his yearlings. He entertained the idea of keeping that promising chestnut, the one his wife, Eleanor Robson Belmont, had named Man o’ War in his honor. Yet he too went under the auctioneer’s hammer at Saratoga, ultimately bringing $5,000 from Samuel Riddle.
His trainer, Louis Feustel, later commented that he didn’t fill the eye at that tender stage. Hollingsworth records Feustel’s honest assessment for posterity:
“Very tall and gangling, he was thin and so on the leg as to give the same ungainly impression one gets in seeing a week-old foal.”
Man o’ War later developed into the compelling presence that elicited marvels from observers. 
In his magisterial Sire Lines, Abram S. Hewitt recalled seeing the mighty champion in the Belmont Park paddock, ahead of the Futurity S. The passage of time couldn’t dim Hewitt’s memory, still conveying a sense of immediacy, a freshness:
“a magnificent, copper-colored chestnut colt, with ears pricked. He radiated majesty, energy, and power – a veritable Alexander – awaiting the moment for new worlds to conquer. It was 55 years ago, and we never saw such a sight again.”
And that was Man o’ War as a two-year-old, not even at peak maturity! The handy winner of nine of 10 starts in his 1919 juvenile campaign, while carrying 130 pounds on several occasions, he suffered his lone career defeat in the Sanford Memorial S. at Saratoga. The problematic start of the Sanford, Man o’ War’s traffic trouble on the inside, and his furious finish that fell a half-length short at the wire, contributed to the Spa’s reputation as a “graveyard” of champions. And the name of the horse who beat him passed into the sports lexicon – Upset. Man o’ War had no trouble dusting Upset in all their other meetings, past and future.
Man o’ War, who went off as the heavy odds-on favorite in each of his 21 career races, would have been the bettors’ overwhelming choice for the 1920 Kentucky Derby. But Riddle was never interested in shipping his prized colt out “west,” as the Eastern establishment viewed Kentucky. His oft-cited reason was the concern about a three-year-old having to tote 126 pounds, over 1 1/4 miles, in early May.
“How Man o’ War would have laughed had he known of his owner’s solicitude for him,” Hewitt commented.
In his absence at Churchill Downs, Paul Jones, whom Man o’ War had drubbed at two, scored a front-running 16-1 upset in the May 8 Kentucky Derby. Old foe Upset, part of the entry favored at 8-5, was beaten a head after a prolonged duel.  

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