Man o’ War

By Hisself

The Man o’ War Legacy

Ellen Parker

…and the sheer beauty of him produced in me a feeling of awe and almost worship.  I was moved as though I listened to the Seventh Symphony or viewed the Winged Victory; and this was fit and proper, for my eyes were drinking in a piece by the greatest of all masters.”  —John Taintor Foote

The above quotation was not written specifically about Man o’ War. But it might well have been, had the author been addressing the presence of the great Thoroughbred in 1920. The quotation is doubly fitting in light of the fact that the great horse himself can best be described as a legend kept alive today by just such a medium – quotations.

Take your pick: “De mostest hoss.” Or owner Samuel Riddle’s profound, “Thoroughbreds don’t cry.”  Or how about this one: “Of all the great horses which have thundered over the American turf, Man o’ War remains the standard by which Thoroughbreds are judged for class. Those who saw him race said Sysonby and Colin might be compared with him; that Twenty Grand and Equipoise might have tried him. Those who know only his reputation have challenged it with successive stars: Count Fleet, Citation, Tom Fool, Native Dancer, Swaps, Nashua, Kelso, Buckpasser, Secretariat….. but contemporary excellence pales before a legend.”

Those last words appear as Man o’ War’s epitaph. It would, according to Patrick Robinson’s Classic Lines be “irreverent to dispute them, and futile to embellish upon them.”  Yet turf historians seek further words to describe the essence which was “Big Red.” Secretariat, despite being described as being his only personal reference point, brought Man o’ War alive to thousands of present-day racing fans. Those fortunate enough to have witnessed Man o’ War firsthand were able to give tangible comparison of his greatness.

For some, in fact, it seemed that Man o’ War merely provided an analogy for Secretariat.  Both were big, red chestnuts. Both were champions at two. Each was beaten by a longshot at Saratoga. Both won multiple classic races.  Both ran their last race in Canada.  Each was even a slight disappointment at stud, since he was expected to duplicate himself – an impossible task.  The parallels were many.

The final irony was that Secretariat, while coasting through an additional furlong after his Belmont win, equaled Man o’ War’s record for a mile and five eighths.  But for all the comparisons, Man o’ War stands alone.

And while it was widely believed at the time that he did not get superior books of mares and was kept as virtually a private stallion, time put paid to that nonsense.  Horses like War Relic and his siblings War Kilt, Anchors Ahead and Speed Boat alone are proof that Samuel Riddle had a plan for Man o’ War and the great stallion’s record as a broodmare sire with Reines-de-Course like Judy O’Grady, Boat, Furlough, Frilette, Hostility, Valkyr, Spotted Beauty and Firetop, to name just a few, prove him an indelible stamp on the breed.

Further, he accomplished what hundreds of good sires do not. He begat a great son to carry on the line.  Not the Triple Crown winner War Admiral, but an earner of less than $90,000 named War Relic.  He would not likely have warmed his sire up as a racehorse, yet it is his male line that is responsible today for the perpetuation of a legend which began with an unwanted Moroccan stallion and lives on today in the blood of In Reality and what little is left of Olden Times, the only remaining tail-male links, to Man o’War in direct descent today in America.

Pedigree experts throughout the years have been known to comment that no one ever really lives long enough to see the true influence on the breed of any one major stallion. Which is easy enough to buy; maybe in 2082 we’ll know all that Bold Ruler gave us, but it seems a little early to close that chapter of Thoroughbred breeding given Seattle Slew’s notable contribution.

Any comparisons of Man o’ War to modern stallions is moot anyhow.  He was not even afforded Bold Ruler’s opportunity at stud, much less the sires of today who cover over 200 mares in dual-hemisphere seasons. So it is laughable to say that he sired “only” 64 stakes winners.  That number was more than about 95% of his peers, and as many as the wonderful *Princequillo, who stood at Claiborne Farm, and cannot be said to have lacked suitable mates.

A quick glance at the history books will point out that Man o’ War descended from a sire line which seemed destined for oblivion. He was a descendent of Match ’em, who, along with Eclipse and Herod, is one of three founding sires of the Thoroughbred line. Each of these stallions trace further to the true scions of the breed: The Byerly Turk, the Godolphin Barb (or Arab) and the Darley Arab.

Match’em belongs to the tribe of the Godolphin Barb, rumored to have fallen as low as a cart horse in London before his being rescued by a benevolent Earl who brought his name to eternal glory in the annals of Thoroughbred breeding. Curiously, the Godolphin Barb sired only 90 foals. But from two matings to the mare Lady Roxanna came Cade, sire of Match ‘em, and Regulus, broodmare sire of Eclipse.

Thus the Barb was directly responsible for two of the three founding lines of the modern racehorse. His story is worth retelling in relation to Man o’ War’s own, whether it is fable or truth. For in discussing a legend, nothing could be more appropriate than discussing the legend from which he sprang.

The Barb

As if Man o’ War’s own history were not fable enough in itself, his foundation sire, the Godolphin Barb, has a story so steeped in pathos and romanticism that Man o’ War’s own nearly pales in comparison.

Depending upon which account one reads: the golden bay was either Barb or Arab; either given to or stolen by the French in Morocco; did/didn’t pull a cart in London; and did/didn’t win Lady Roxanna (dam of Lath, Cade and Regulus) “in battle”.  Whatever story most impresses the reader, one fact at least is clear:  The Barb did live to be responsible for Match’em and Eclipse.

One favorite account of Scham’s story (Scham is Arabic for ‘sun’) appeared in a children’s book written in the 1940’s. Authored by Newbery Medal Award winner Marguerite Henry, it is titled King Of the Wind. And while its basis lies in fact, it is richly interwoven with the type of poetic license expected of such a chronicle.

Its preface is titled “The Great Son”, which is the story of Man o’ War’s last race – a match with Triple Crown winner Sir Barton at Kenilworth Park in Canada.  Also included are the supposed thoughts of Man o’ War’s admirers when they learn of Riddle’s decision to retire the colt after the match.

According to Henry, the fans wanted him to race “just one more time”, preferably at Newmarket in England. Newmarket was their choice because Man o’ War had been excluded from the British Stud book, owing to an obscure, untraceable female relative unaccepted during the days of the notorious “Jersey Act” which disallowed some American horses their heritage from the general stud book. After Newmarket, Henry tells us, the fans though everything would be made right.

Apparently Riddle had his own thoughts on the subject, which included the story of the Godolphin Barb “who had not raced at Newmarket either. Who had no pedigree at all.  It had been lost.  He had to write a new one with his own blood, and the blood of his sons and daughters.”

However much of Ms. Henry’s tale is true, whether regarding Sam Riddle’s thoughts or the origins of the Barb, it is nonetheless fascinating: Scham, an orphan foal, finds his way from the desert of Northern Africa to the grassy hills of the Earl of Godolphin’s Gog Maog (God’s Downs) in England. There he sires three famous sons out of Lady Roxanna: Lath, Cade and Regulus. All of the above activity was supposedly attended by a mute Moroccan horseboy named Agba, and an alley cat called Grimalkin.

And while the existence of Agba might be suspect, a cat is nearly always depicted in paintings of the famous stallion. Still another fanciful portion of the story is a description of the events following The Barb’s death: The Earl of Godolphin had placed an unmarked headstone over the stallion’s burial plot and, when asked why it was not engraved, he replied:

“I shall trouble you with a very short answer. It needs none. You see, the golden bay was tended all his life by a boy who could not speak.

“So I have kept the tablet clean. It is for you and for me to write here our thoughts and tributes to the King of the Wind, and the slim brown horseboy who loved him.”  Yes, it is a children’s book.  But we are not alone in having been drawn to its magic.

Besides, a major portion of the Man o’ War legend is intact. And should even a portion of the Scham-Agba story be true, it would be ironic indeed that a great racer like Man o’ War, whose own monument is a Kentucky landmark, had been begotten by a horse whose ancestry remains a virtual mystery, and who lies in an unmarked grave.

It is said that Allah commanded the wind to condense itself, so that a creature would proceed from it. The horse was the result. That America’s greatest racehorse should have such origins does not seem beyond the realm of possibility.  And as we watch the reality of the World Cup, and other major racing in Dubai, it gives us an even deeper appreciation for the Arabian heritage of the Thoroughbred from which Man o’ War descended.  Or a feeling of the story of the Godolphin Barb having come full circle if you prefer.

 Match ‘em

Match’em, the Godolphin Barb’s great grandson, was described as an “excellent, honest horse” and although “probably short of brilliant speed, he transmitted his honesty.  It became standard practice among breeders to use “Snap for speed and Match’em for truth and daylight.” (Snap, by Snip, being a very fast son of the influential Flying Childers).

It is interesting to note that while stoutness does appear in many a Man  o’ War relative, both Olden Times and Intent, top speedsters of their time, might be fascinated to learn that the line lacks precocity. Both passed it on to their offspring in abundance.

Match’em, then, was considered a good, but not great racehorse. Among his victories was “The Whip”, a most important contest of his time, the trophy of which was reputed to belong to King Charles II, and later contained the mane and tail hairs of the great Eclipse.  But it was as a stallion that Match’em gained real importance, and it was as the tail-male ancestor of Man o’ War that he gained immortality. Thus were the origins of Man o’ War, whose own career as a racehorse is a story in itself.

Man o’ War As A Racehorse

The story (or apocrypha if you prefer) goes that, one spring morning at Belmont Park, Man o’ War was working out. Obviously impressed by the colt’s speed, a railbird inquired about his parentage. “Who’s he by?” asked the gentleman.

“By hisself, generally,” responded the groom – still another part of the legend, which adds a good bit of spice to such basic facts as these:  Man o’ War set track records for 1-1/8 miles, 1-3/8 miles, 1-1/2 miles and 1-5/8 miles.  He carried 130 pounds six times as a two year old and was defeated only once, by a horse named, appropriately, Upset.

The charts of his glorious victories provide not one iota of the magic of the animal in person. And, since racing is not just a numbers game, the statistics seem a little dull compared to what must have been the awesome reality of his presence.

But legend and statistics – along with a few photographs – are unfortunately, all modern racegoers have of Big Red.  Unless, of course, they’re lucky enough to have caught the latest rerun of “Kentucky”, the 1938 classic movie about Thoroughbreds based on John Taintor Foote’s “A Look of Eagles” which was reprinted in Pedlines.

As a prelude to the main portion of the story, color motion pictures of the grand stallion are actually shown. And for a moment or two, he lives again.

Man o’ War was not a Triple Crown winner, but he sired one. And history generally concedes the Triple to him, since owner Riddle did not approve of racing three-year-olds in the 1-1/4 mile Kentucky Derby so early in their sophomore season.  Riddle obviously adjusted his thinking when he started Man o’ War’s son, War Admiral, in the 1937 Kentucky Derby, the first leg of his Triple crown.

Nonetheless, the imposing chestnut Man o’ War captured nearly every other important fixture of his time and he certainly had the pedigree of a good one:  Man o War was a son of the fiery Fair Play and the mare Mahubah, a daughter of English Triple Crown winner Rock Sand.  As a racehorse, Mahubah won only $390, but she became an exemplary producer, also foaling Man o’ War’s full siblings Masdah, a stakes winner and producer, as well as Jockey Club Gold Cup winner My Play.

Mahubah’s 1917 foal was bred by August Belmont II at Nursery Stud near Lexington, Kentucky and was foaled March 29.  He was a gangly colt of uneven disposition, something he no doubt inherited from the obstinate Fair Play and his sire, the hot-blooded Hastings.

When Belmont put his entire yearling crop up for sale in 1918, there were no interested parties, so the colt was sent up to the Saratoga sale in New York, where his $5,000 price pleased trainer Louis Feustel, who had handled both the sire and dam and saw potential in the rawboned youngster.

From the beginning, that potential was realized.  In his first start, Man o’ War was bet down to 3-5.  He produced a six length victory. Just three days later, he won his first stake, the Keene Memorial, by three lengths.  He followed those efforts with a four length win in the Youthful Stakes.

Two days after the Youthful, Man o’ War carried 130 pounds to victory in the Hudson Stakes, giving the runnerup 21 pounds. His next effort, also under 130, was the Tremont Stakes.  It produced a like result.

Man o’ War then won the United States Hotel Stakes at Saratoga, prior to his sole defeat in the Sanford Stakes. Again carrying 130 he was beaten by Upset, a colt who never approached Man o’ War’s form again and who is known for little else.  Man o’ War soundly defeated Upset on numerous other occasions.

Between his sparkling victories, Man o’ War defeated his highly regarded stablemate, Golden Broom, in a three furlong trial.  Time for the 3/8 was a fantastic :33.  Thus, even though many of his final times are not that impressive to modern racegoers, the raw, natural speed of an exceptional athlete was definitely possessed by the Riddle colt.  And, with the exception of John P. Grier, it is highly unlikely that the rival existed who could try Man o’ War to the limit of that speed.

There is some conjecture about Man o’ War’s name.  Generally speaking, it is conceded that Mrs. Belmont named the colt my Man o’ War, since her husband was indeed going off to war.  Later the “my” was dropped and it matters little, since under any appellation, his greatness was assured.

When Man o’ War went into winter quarters to prepare for his three-year-old campaign, he was generally considered the finest racer of the year.  (The American Triple Crown was as yet undesignated, so Sir Barton’s accomplishments in the 1919 classics were somewhat overlooked.)

His lone defeat at the hands of Upset was summarily dismissed by experts.  Even in defeat, he gave something to history, since historians could eventually note that even Man o’ War was beaten once.  So pronounced was the belief in Man o’ War that one writer remembered of that loss: “Never will his courage be questioned henceforth…” Thus, the defeat served to establish, at least in the eyes of one reporter, the unshakable character of the colt – as some of his victories had obviously failed to do.

Perhaps the best modern analogy is Seattle Slew’s loss to Exceller in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup.  That courageous, aching loss established the colt’s greatness in the minds of many when Slew’s Triple Crown over what was thought to be questionable competition never did.

The rest of Man o’ War’s career was a monotonous series of classic wins, track records, weight carrying prowess and versatility. Since he had not won a Kentucky Derby of his own, it seemed most fitting that in his final start, he should lower the colors of the only Triple Crown winner available to test him, Sir Barton.

It was equally fitting that, at stud, he should sire not only a Triple Crown winner in War Admiral, but still another Kentucky Derby winner in Clyde Van Dusen (1929). Among his other classic colts were American Flag and Crusader, back-to-back Belmont winners.  Even the redoubtable Mr. Prospector did not sire so many classic sons.

At the time of his retirement, Man o’ War had little to prove to the racing community.  To those of us who accept that when a classic three year old is retired to stud it is because of syndication pressure, Man o’ War’s reason gives pause.  Riddle was aware that any colt who could shoulder 130 pounds at two as easily as had his Fair Play son, would garner nothing but back-breaking burdens in the handicap ranks.

And his three year old season had been a glory. Among his more impressive wins:  The Withers Mile, just 11 days after his Preakness win, Man o’ War raced the mile in 1:35 4/5; the Belmont Stakes, by 20 lengths, setting an American record of 2:14 1/5 for the (then)1-3/8 miles.  Only 10 days later, he returned to annex the Stuyvesant Handicap, carrying 135 pounds, and winning by eight lengths over his only rival.

Still other examples of his excellence are the Dwyer, in which John P. Grier “hooked” him – Man o’War won in new American Record time of 1:49 1/5 for the nine furlongs, after internal fractions of 1:09 3/5 and 1:36.  In the Lawrence Realization, he defeated his only other rival by 100 lengths while setting yet another new American standard of 2:40 4/5 for 1-5/8 miles.  He had broken the old record by 4-1/5 seconds.

In the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Man o’ War raced 1-1/2 miles in 2:28 4/5, a record later lowered by his son War Admiral.  And at Havre de Grace, he carried 138 pounds to a new track record of  1:44 4/5 for the 1-1/16 miles, giving 30 pounds to the runner-up.

After his glorious finale in Canada, defeating an admittedly ailing Sir Barton, Big Red was retired as the leading earner of his time.  His totals were 20 wins in 21 starts and a bankroll of $249,465.

Though his career as a stallion was colored from the outset by criticism of Riddle’s keeping him as a “private stallion”, history tells us that Man o’ War’s owner was wiser than anyone gave him credit for.  Whether one counts his classic colts or the many wonderful broodmare daughters who represent him – Salaminia, Judy O’Grady, Boat, Furlough, Anchors Ahead, Speed Boat, War Kilt, Frilette, Hostility, Valkyr, Spotted Beauty, Firetop – mares who gave us horse like Fappiano, Relaunch, Silver Spoon, Surfside and Nijinsky II  – Man o’ War’s sire career was an overwhelming success.

And perhaps it was “down on the farm” that he was remembered best, for as Will Harbut was once quoted as saying, “A man comes here and offers a million dollars for Man o’ War. But Mr. Riddle says ‘no.’ Lotsa men can have $1 million, but only one man can have Man o’ War, ’cause he was de mostest hoss.”

Man o’ War As A Stallion

Before his death, Man o’ War was visited annually by thousands of people, including Mr. Dionne, the father of the famous quintuplets of Canada. When Dionne thanked Will Harbut for letting him see Man o’ War, that worthy replied, “Don’t care so much about you seeing Man o’ War, but I sure want him to see you.”  (From Sire Lines, by Abram Hewitt).

Yes, Man o’ War’s legend continued into the stud – and it is in this context, perhaps more than in the sometimes dry statistical recitations of his racing records, that quotations helped to perpetuate his greatness.  Even Walter Farley, who acquainted an entire generation of American youngsters with the racetrack in his wonderful Black Stallion series, wrote a book about Man o’ War.

A major portion of the story was fictional, but his description of Man o’ War’s career as a sire was not.  For example:

“Man o’ War was truly the kind from which dreams are made.  And it was a woman, a Miss Daingerfield, who managed Man o’ War when he was retired.  She made him as famous a sire as he had been as a racehorse, with the help of an Englishman named William Allison, a writer  who knew the pedigrees of horses as well as anyone in the world.

“Even Man o’ War couldn’t have done it alone. He needed Lady Comfey (dam of  Belmont winner American Flag), Colette (dam of stakes winner By Hisself), Star Fancy (dam of Belmont winner Crusader), The Nurse (dam of Coaching Club American Oaks winner Edith Cavell), and Blue Glass (dam of stakes winner Broadside), to name just a few.  They were the mares who helped make his first five years at stud the dramatic success it was.

“He sired 26 stakes winners during those years.  Four were $100,000 winners and one of them, Clyde Van Dusen, copped the Kentucky Derby, the only big race which Man o’ War missed.

“After his retirement, he was cantered each day, going down the back roads and lanes of Lexington.  First Clyde Gordon rode him, then John Buckner, Miss Daingerfield’s stud groom.

“He never got lazy and fat. He’d run like a colt when he was turned loose in his paddock. And his first foals – well in the very first crop were American Flag and By Hisself, Gun Boat and First Mate, Florence Nightingale and Maid at Arms, Flagship and Lightship. Thirteen foals in all, nine of them chestnuts like their sire.

“While he was a very successful sire, he never got colts with the early speed he’d shown himself.  They didn’t do too much at two, but matured slowly.  They raced best at three and later.

“American Flag was the best of his first crop, then came Crusader and Mars and Edith Cavell the next year. Scapa Flow (a colt who won the Futurity, not to be confused with the mare Scapa Flow who gave us Fairway and Pharos), and Genie and Bateau and Clyde Van Dusen followed. Those were his outstanding runners, but he had other colts winning, too…

“War Hero and Boatswain came along in the 1929 crop and War Glory in 1930, all pretty good horses.  But we had to wait until 1934 before he struck it rich again with the champion War Admiral, and the great filly, Wand.  And after them came War Relic.

“At stud, he had at least one offspring win a race each year from 1924 through 1953.  That’s a span of 30 years.

“After those first five crops, he experienced a decline. Not that he didn’t get winners, but never again was the proportion of exceptional horses the same as it had been in those first few years.

“It wasn’t due to the decline of Man o’ War himself.  He’d remained a vigorous, healthy stallion.  Instead, it had been the lack of distinguished mares with which the farm had been restocked after Miss Daingerfield’s retirement in 1930. The mares which had been purchased by Mr. Riddle after that had, for the most part, been inferior to those in the first band.  And, of course, Mr. Riddle would allow very few mares not his own to be bred to Man o’ War.”

Farley’s contention is substantiated by Abram Hewitt in Sire Lines: “What was remarkable about Man o’ War’s record as a sire was that it was as good as it was in the face of the miserable opportunity afforded him by owner Riddle, whose mares were of markedly subnormal quality, and who kept Man o’ War virtually as a private stallion and limited his book to 25 mares a year.

“If Lexington could handle a book of more than 70 mares a year, without apparent impairment in the quality of his produce, it is almost certain that Man o’ War, with his Herculean constitution, could have done the same. A book of 50 mares would have doubled his opportunity, but such is fate sometimes, even among  the greatest of heroes.”

Blood Horse editor Kent Hollingsworth heartily concurred:

“The mares selected to be bred to Man o’ War were an uncommonly bad lot, undistinguished as runners or producers, and it was from these that Man o’ War became an extraordinary success. In his first five crops, he sired 90 named foals, and 26 of these won stakes.

“If  Man o’ War had been afforded the opportunity of Nasrullah or Bold Ruler, his record as a sire would have been more illustrious than his record as a racehorse. Such a stallion we have yet to see.”

Such a stallion, indeed.  Which is one area, at least, in which Secretariat cannot be compared to Man o’ War.  His first few crops of foals tended to disappoint and his best male runners, General Assembly and Risen Star were unable to carry on the line in tail-male.  Further, his best all-time runner, Lady’s Secret, was a disappointment as a producer.

Today, Secretariat is best known as a broodmare sire, no doubt because his physical appearance was more like the two best broodmare sires in his pedigree, *Princequillo and Discovery.  And his daughters are prized as producers of sires like Storm Cat, A. P. Indy and Gone West.  It is best, however, to note that those sires also came from extremely strong tail-female lines and are not great sires just because Secretariat happened to sire their dams.

Man o’ War’s statistics are truly impressive whatever the real truth may be about the quality of his mares:  He sired an amazing 29% stakes winners as compared to the 3% average of the breed. He was leading sire in 1926 with progeny earnings of $408,137. And as a broodmare sire, he was among the leaders for 22 years. His Triple Crown winning son, War Admiral, was leading sire in 1945, and leading broodmare sire in 1962 and 1964.

Man o’ War died at the ripe old age of 30, shortly after the death of his beloved groom, Will Harbut, who passed away on October 3, 1947. Had Harbut lived to see two such great sons as War Admiral and War Relic pass along Man o’ War’s genes (not to mention the success of Man o’ War’s daughters as producers), he would certainly  have been proud. Perhaps he could even have found some superlative to surpass his “mostest hoss” description.

 Historical Influence:  War Admiral, War Relic and Those Fabulous Daughters

“All things considered, War Admiral was better than Seabiscuit,” wrote Kent Hollingsworth in The Great Ones.  Which is, of course, is opinion and probably not a very popular one given the big Seabiscuit surge after a book and a movie captured fans’ attentions – if only for a little while.  Still, it is worth noting that Seabiscuit himself was a Man o’ War grandson, sired by the Saranac winner Hard Tack.

What really matters to the history of the breed, however, is that if the stud careers of Seabiscuit and War Admiral are considered in assessing their relative merit, War Admiral is the hands-down victor.

His Triple Crown victory in 1937, especially his Belmont win, gained War Admiral the respect of all in the racing community. Never a good gate horse, the little bay stumbled at the start of the 1 ½ mile classic, won with ‘speed to spare’ and set a track record of 2:28 3/5 -all this while suffering an injury which would put him out of action for four months.   Recalling that valiant win, Kent Hillingsworth noted, “Blood spurted from the wound and sprayed War Admiral’s underbelly as he scrambled away from the gate; this was the blood of Man o’ War.”

Yet for all his commendable courage, War Admiral was unable to defeat Seabiscuit in their famous match race at Pimlico.  It was a loss which would cost War Admiral his Horse of the Year title and caused some turf historians to argue Hollingsworth’s statement that War Admiral was the better horse.

Nonetheless, the plain little bay, so vastly different from his sire in appearance, retired with fine credentials. He did not disappoint as a sire.  And, despite his having made a name for himself as basically a good sire of broodmares, a closer look at his record will verify that he was a leading sire by any standards.

He was leading sire in 1945 when his daughter, Busher, was Horse of the Year.  In 1948, he was the leading sire of juveniles and had out that season’s champion, Blue Peter (not to be confused with the Fairway-line European of the same name).  War Admiral was leading broodmare sire in 1962 and again in 1964.

That his daughters produced such top class sires as Buckpasser and Hoist the Flag alone, not to mention fine regional stallions like Flying Lark, would have ensured his capability of perpetuating his sire’s legacy alone.  But one cannot help but have wished for a sire son to carry on in tail-male as well.  There was one rather intriguing son, however.

This fellow, bearing the stamp of Whitney and Vanderbilt blood was named Cold Command.  He earned $206,225 as a runner, winning stakes like the Westchester and Saratoga Handicaps and he was most certainly sound, running 118 times.

Out of the *Mahmoud mare Monsoon, he was a half brother to Rattle Dance and Madison and his third dam, Truly Rural, was inbred to Sylvabelle via Elf and Sylvan.  He was also inbred to Belle Rose via Pink Domino and Royal Rose and to half brothers Harry of Hereford and Swynford.  Dam Monsoon had a cross of half siblings Black Cherry and Bay Ronald.  He was rich in the speed blood of Domino and Bend Or and he found a permanent place in the record books of Washington state as a top sire.

Among his more noted get were Turbulator, Sparrow Castle, and Gallant Command, all among leading money-winning Washington-breds.   And he has been found rather recently, too.  Zulu Whiz by Meritable was a foal of 1981 who won several stakes and over $227,000.  His second dam, Really Uptown, was by Cold Command.  Then there are the half siblings Whatdidtheysay and Whatdidshesay who are out of Zulu Whiz’s half sister sister Opalescence.  Whatdidtheysay placed in a California stake; Whatdidshesay won a minor stake in Washington.  Finally, there is Kid Katabatic, who won over $626,000.  By Katowice, his second dam, Jeff’s Ann, was by Cold Command.

War Relic was a horse of another color, in more ways than one.   A chestnut colt who was unraced at two, War Relic would save his finest contribution for the stud. Not that he possessed no prowess as a competitor. In fact, his total earnings of $89,545 were quite respectable for the time (he was a foal of 1938).

Yet the essence of greatness was never quite within his grasp, and he is probably best remembered for a race which he lost – the 1941 Saranac Handicap. In that contest, it appeared that War Relic was victorious over Triple Crown winner Whirlaway who had raced extremely wide throughout and finished across the track, – and a nose in front – of War Relic.

When Whirlaway was later forced to give War Relic 11 pounds (the Narragansett Special), the Man o’ War son was able to reverse the decision. Still, no one hinted at potential greatness for War Relic, even after that exemplary performance.

The following season at four, he could not win in three starts and was soon retired to stud as the last of the good stakes winners by his sire.  (Man o’ War was 21 years older than his most important producing son.)

Even War Relic’s record as a sire seems inconsequential until it is considered that, from just 14 stakes winners, came champion Battlefield (broodmare sire of champion Arts and Letters), plus Intent, Relic and Missile.

Intent and Relic?  The key(s) through which Man o’ War’s tail-male line survives today.  And oddly enough it is the condensation of War Relic’s blood (In Reality is inbred to him and inbreeding to In Reality is very potent) that leads the family line.

Thus, but for the colt who almost beat Whirlaway in a photo finish (and needed a larger weight concession to actually defeat him), the Match’em line might well have suffered the fate of the Herod clan and have been swallowed whole by the Phalaris blood which now permeates the breed.

All this from an unwanted Arabian stallion of unknown heritage who sired but 90 foals. Upon reflection, the title “Father Of The Turf” might truly fit the Godolphin Barb.

And what of the glorious daughters? Their produce reads like a veritable Who’s Who in the racing world:  Armada, second dam of Sailor; Baton Rouge, fourth dam of Hail to Reason; Binnacle, third dam of Bally Ache; Blois, second dam of Roman Brother; Coquelicot, fourth dam of Riverman and dam of Pavot;  Firetop , second dam of Doubledogdare and fourth of Nijinsky II;  Frilette, second dam of Counterpoint, third dam of Silver Spoon; Maidoduntreath, second dam of Kelso; Martial Air, third dam of Cannonero II; Speed Boat, third dam of Sword Dancer and fourth of Hail to All, both Belmont winners – and there are many others.

Also tracing in direct female descent to Man o’ War daughters are such major stakes winners as High Gun, Stymie, Marshua, Pucker Up, Riva Ridge, Spy Song, Judger and Fiddle Isle.  And of the great sires of our time, horses like Mr. Prospector carry him via American Flag; Seattle Slew is inbred to him four times via War Admiral x2/Flaming Swords/Baton Rouge; Danzig has a line via War Admiral.  Seattle Slew’s great son A. P. Indy has Slew’s four Man o’ War crosses plus an extra from Busanda in his Buckpasser contribution.  Sadler’s Wells (Hail to Reason’s inbreeding to Man o’ War), Holy Bull (War Relic and War Admiral), Sunday Silence (Hail to Reason’s double plus Frilette, Sunset Gun and Free France)….it seems almost imperative that a great sire carry Man o’ War blood.

What continues to amaze us after all this time is that even people who know better keep insisting that Man o’ War must somehow have done all this alone.  That his mares were “below average”.  Well, he may have improved them, but no sire makes it alone.

Still, perhaps it should not surprise us that people hang on so hard to the thought that this residue of Man o’ War’s greatness should transmit itself in more potent fashion than all others. For here is a horse like no other, whose very lifetime is common knowledge to non-racegoers.  The man who has never heard of Ruffian or Seattle Slew will know Man o’ War.

So as long as there is racing history, Joe Palmer’s tribute to the great horse will stand alone as the single, most moving tribute to Man o’ War’s impact on his life and times in general and on the breed in particular:

“He was as near to a living flame as horses get, and horses get closer to this than anything else. It was not merely that he smashed his opposition, or that he set world records, or that he cared not a tinker’s curse for weight or distance or track or horses.

“It was that 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 still poured from him.  He could get in no position which suggested actual repose, and his very stillness was that of a coiled spring, of the crouched tiger.

“All horses, and particularly all stallions, like to run, exultant in their strength and power.  Most of them run within themselves, as children run at play.  But loose in his paddock, (he) dug in as if the prince of all fallen angels were at his throatlatch, and great chunks of sod sailed up behind the lash of his power.  Watching, you felt that there had never been, nor could there ever be again, a horse like this one.”


Ellen Parker’s Man o’ War article originally appeared in serialized form in Pedlines #120 thru #122 in 2006.