Whenever one reads the history of the great Man o’ War, he learns not only about his racetrack exploits, but his stud career as well. Unfortunately, he is not learning the truth about the stud career part.
Conventional wisdom has it that Man o’ War was bred to ordinary mares and that he could have improved upon his total of 64 stakes winners if only owner Samuel Riddle had spent millions on his mates. We are told that he was kept as virtually a private sire (which was true) and it is intimated that Riddle did not plan his matches with adequate care and that he did not know enough about pedigrees to handle the great stallion’s book (not true).
Which is where Friar’s Carse comes into the story. For Riddle actually planned the mating of this filly so that when she became a broodmare she would be an outstanding mate for Man o’ War and would effect an inbreeding experiment he had been considering. No man who plans that far ahead and who thinks a mating through to that extent is ignorant of bloodlines.
In American Race Horses of 1941, John “Salvator” Hervey wrote about Riddle’s experiment. Matching Man o’ War with Friar’s Carse would produce a 2 x 2 cross of half brothers Fair Play and Friar Rock (both out of Fairy Gold) and a 3 x 3 sex-balanced cross of Rock Sand via Mahubah and Friar Rock. Or, more simply put, the results of such matches would be inbred to both Rock Sand and Fairy Gold. Riddle’s brainchild was tried four times and four times it produced outstanding results.
War Relic was the only male, but he was a good racehorse and a better sire and it is his name which will live on in glory as that ancestor which has carried the male line of Man o’ War into the 21st century. Then there are War Relic’s three sisters: Speed Boat, winner of the Test; War Kilt, winner of the Demoiselle; and unraced Anchors Ahead. Speed Boat’s family is responsible for such top horses as champions Level Best and Sword Dancer, Anchors Ahead for Clever Er Tell, Powder Break, Count of Honor and Hostage and War Kilt for Queen To Conquer, the ill-fated champion Roving Boy and Sandtrap.
So apparently Mr. Riddle knew something about inbreeding in general and about how to inbreed Man o’ War in particular. (It is worth mentioning, however, that Friar’s Carse was also bred to sons of Man o’ War four times – once each to American Flag and Crusader and twice to War Admiral with disappointing results, so obviously the closeness of the inbreeding was the key.)
Today, of course, this unique inbreeding comes down to modern horses in a most potent way via the good racehorse and excellent sire In Reality, who is inbred to War Relic 3 x 3 through a son and daughter. Imagine taking this inbreeding a step farther and using a Sword Dancer-line horse with In Reality and getting a double cross of War Relic to his full sister Speed Boat. This exact breeding pattern resulted in the multiple Grade 1 winner Cutlass Reality, who defeated two horses of the year – Alysheba and Ferdinand – in the 1988 Hollywood Gold Cup. Or imagine a little mare named Ellen’s Best, who could only place at the racetrack but was saved for breeding because she was inbred to War Relic and Speed Boat. Ellen’s Best was no *La Troienne, but she gave us Hail To All, who won the Belmont and Travers.
Friar’s Carse did not leave all these fine horses behind, however, without having a good foundation in the first place. She not only descended from a great female family, but was a champion runner as well. However, Friar’s Carse had temperament problems, which might make one doubt breeding her to a horse from such a hot sire line (Display) as Man o’ War. According to Riddle, temperament problems did crop up with Speed Boat, who became a champion like her dam despite her nervous disposition.
Friar’s Carse descended from the Penelope branch of the Prunella family via the famous Dixie, whose pre-Civil War exploits earned her enough notoriety so that she was painted by no less a master than Troye. She carried a remarkable nine crosses of Pocahontas, and was inbred to Himyar, Hermit, Bend Or and to St. Simon and his sister Angelica.
Man o’ War was actually not Friar’s Carse’s first mate. That was Col. E. R. Bradley’s redoubtable Black Toney. To his cover, she produced the stakes placed filly Black Carse, whose great-granddaughter Hasty Queen II became 1984 Broodmare of the Year.
Although Hasty Queen II also foaled the good runner Hasty Flyer, it was her son Fit To Fight by Chieftain who really made the history books. In fact, Fit To Fight may well be the last Handicap Triple Crown winner this country produces unless a bonus is one day proffered for a horse who can win the three major New York handicaps – the Metropolitan, Suburban and Brooklyn. The races have been moved around and changed in distance several times, which has made it more difficult for horsemen to point their horses for the series and handicaps in general have fallen from favor. Nobody wants to carry weight anymore. But Fit to Fight was owned by Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stables and his connections accepted the challenge, their fine horse obliging with a compelling 12 1/2 length win in the Brooklyn Handicap under 129 pounds on a very sloppy racetrack. He was only the fourth horse in history to accomplish the task, writing his name in history alongside such giants of the turf as Whisk Broom II; Tom Fool and Kelso.
Fit To Fight has also been a very good sire, siring a wide variety of tough and versatile horses. Using his blood is an excellent way to procure a cross of Friar’s Carse and matching him with mares from the more prolific War Relic or Damascus lines is an effective way of doubling or tripling Sam Riddle’s inbreeding plan.
The first of the Man o’ War-Friar’s Carse daughters was Speed Boat and it was the opinion of Sam Riddle that she was the fastest daughter of Man o’ War ever. If her disposition was her undoing at the racetrack, it did not affect her ability to produce a good horse, for she took the minimum number of years required to foal a champion of her own, Level Best. For all that, Level Best did have some of her dam’s personality traits.
Level Best was by Equipoise and sold as a yearling for $7,600 at Saratoga in 1938. A very speedy two-year-old, Level Best won eight of 11 starts, six stakes, and never ran worse than third. Slop was the same as a dry track to her, and she frequently beat colts.
Level Best was, however, a horrible gate horse, once knocking her head against the side of the contraption so hard that her eye swelled shut, another time losing several teeth. Despite her tough juvenile campaign, she returned at three to win the Coaching Club American Oaks, but her owner allowed that preparing her for such a difficult race in effect ruined her, as she had been battling influenza throughout the spring. She returned at four to win again, but her two year old season had robbed her of her destiny.
At the height of her beauty and power, “Salvator” wrote of her, “Level Best is, like Equipoise, a dark, rich liver-colored chestnut, very similar in shade ….and shows strong resemblances to him. She derives from him her great antipathy to the stall-gates, her quick, airy ways, her frictionless, flying gait, her ability to race over bad as well as good tracks, her consistency and her campaigning quality. She is sweet tempered and docile around the stable, a good feeder and shipper, is of medium size and will mature into a mare of about 15 3/4 hands. Everything about her bespeaks the race mare.”
Level Best lived to the grand old age of 25. Although she never produced a daughter equal to herself, she did get the good Bull Lea colt Level Lea, who won the Jockey Club Gold Cup and today her name lives on through all horses with lines and crosses of such good ones as Levelix, Hail To All, Barb’s Delight and Bonhomie. Her best daughter branch belongs to Uno Best, a daughter of *Sir Gallahad III who is the third dam of Kentucky Oaks winner Sun And Snow, herself a stakes producer.
Despite her racing talent Level Best did not leave the most potent branch of Speed Boat. Rather it was for a filly named Swing Time, who could not win a single race, to make the largest impact on the breed. In 1950, Swing Time foaled a daughter of By Jimminy named Highland Fling and it is stories like hers which make up much of racing’s more fascinating lore.
Unraced due to a split pastern, Highland Fling was covered by Sunglow, who stood for a mere $500 stud fee, and in the spring of 1956 she foaled a small chestnut colt who raced for Brookmeade Stables as Sword Dancer. Sword Dancer was not a precocious individual and took eight tries to break his maiden, but by the time his juvenile season had ended, the colt had won the Mayflower Stakes and placed in the rich Garden State Stakes as well, thus earning a 122 Experimental weight.
Sword Dancer was among the favorites for the 1959 Kentucky Derby and he very nearly won it. After engaging in a stretch-long bumping match with eventual winner *Tomy Lee, Sword Dancer was beaten a nose. His rider’s vigorous claims of foul fell on deaf ears and the result stood. Sword Dancer then ran second in the Preakness before starting to blossom under the careful handling of Elliott Burch.
Burch used a plan that eventually worked for him with another classic horse, Arts And Letters, and ran Sword Dancer against his elders in the Metropolitan Mile prior to the Belmont Stakes. The colt won them both, then went on to take the Travers, the Woodward and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. In the latter two races, he defeated defending Horse of the Year champion Round Table, and in so doing became Horse of the Year for 1959.
Sword Dancer returned to run again at four, and added the Suburban and Grey Lag Handicaps as well as another Woodward to his totals. He retired with earnings of $829,610.
Although his dam had never produced another horse even half so good, Sword Dancer’s exploits at the racetrack got him a good books of mares. Although he had a very respectable 2.03 average earnings index and sired 5% stakes winners, he was considered a failure and exported to France in 1970. He eventually ended up in Venezuela, where he gained some measure of revenge over the non-believers by becoming the leading broodmare sire of 1978.
Sword Dancer did, of course, leave something behind in the form of Horse of the Year and major sire Damascus. He also left the champion filly Lady Pitt (Coaching Club American Oaks, Mother Goose S., etc.), whose family is responsible for the good runners Blitey (Test S.), Brooklyn Handicap winner The Liberal Member and Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Dancing Spree.
But of course it is Damascus, with his array of fine offspring – Highland Blade, Bailjumper, Honorable Miss, Private Account, Timeless Moment, Cutlass, Sarsar, Time For A Change and many others, who keeps Speed Boat’s blood alive. It is a legacy Sam Riddle would be proud of.
Anchors Ahead, the one unraced member of the Man o’ War-Friar’s Carse siblings may not have a family member as well-known or highly regarded as Damascus, but keep in mind that many of her relations’ blood are out there to use for inbreeding. These are good horses, too, if not great ones who have names like Clev Er Tell, Sette Bello, Count Of Honor and Hostage. Keep them in mind for your favorite In Reality horse.
The same can be said of War Kilt, though she has two young sires to represent her branch, Light Of Morn and Now Listen as well as the good runner Sandtrap. The best daughter branch of War Kilt, Black Eyed Lucy, has been fraught with tragedy. Black Eyed Lucy’s best son, champion Roving Boy, died after breaking both back legs in the Alibhai Handicap at Hollywood Park, a tragedy that no one who saw it will ever forget. To make matters worse, Black Eyed Lucy’s best granddaughter, A Wild Ride, a multiple Grade 1 winner, was injured in the 1991 John Morris Handicap at Saratoga and was later destroyed after she foundered.
War Relic, the lone male produced from the Man o’ War-Friar’s Carse matches, was everything his owner hoped for and more. Unraced at two due to a sprained back, and slow to begin, War Relic developed into an outstanding racehorse and sire and it is unlikely we will see his name fade from pedigrees any time in the foreseeable future.
War Relic’s only major campaign was as a three year old. He established his credentials by winning such major stakes of his day as the Massachusetts Handicap and the Narragansett Special, the former in record time, the latter in which he defeated Triple Crown winner Whirlaway. He returned to run at four, but could not win in three starts.
The son of Man o’ War was described by “Salvator” as “very much of the Fair Play-Man o’ War type”, a “light golden chestnut, over sixteen hands tall, rather high off the ground and of striking port and station. His lines are preeminently those of speed, but of that speed which is sustained, his stride being long and strong but well controlled. In his three-year-old form he looked a bit growthy and unfinished and a year more should do much to mature his powers. Being very green when the season opened, it took him some time to find himself, but when he did he created the impression of being one of the best of the sons of his mighty sire.”
Prior to his death in 1963, War Relic got 14 stakes winners. Doesn’t sound like very many, does it? But look at who they were: Intent (the agent through which Man o’ War’s male line lives on – Intent got Intentionally who got In Reality); Battlefield (broodmare sire of Arts and Letters); Iltis, dam of My Dear Girl, who is responsible for making up the other half of In Reality’s 3 x 3 War Relic inbreeding; and how about the sire Relic? Relic gave us Olden Times, Chappaquiddick (second dam of Lure); El Relicario (broodmare sire of Vigors); Pieces of Eight and Venture II to name only a few.
And the very versatility of horses who carry the War Relic line is remarkable. Without even looking very hard there is top juvenile sire Salt Lake; the good miler and sire Fighting Fit; Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Very Subtle; and excellent classic sire Caro. So we’d have to say that Mr. Riddle’s little experiment worked pretty well.
Perhaps Friar’s Carse’s most lasting legacy is the blood of Rock Sand. This 1903 English Triple Crown winner was truly one of the great progenitors, yet his male line never caught on in the U. S. save a handful of Pilate horses, Eight Thirty in particular. All of Friar’s Carse’s Man o’ War offspring are inbred to Rock Sand and her presence is so powerful in the pedigrees of good horses today that she alone has given more substance to Rock Sand’s American contribution than any single male ancestor ever could. She is a treasure for this as well as for being proof positive that Mr. Samuel D. Riddle did, indeed, know exactly how to breed a good horse.
New Reines-de-Course from Friar’s Carse’s family are the great mare herself of course, and her descendents Black Carse, Hasty Queen II, Speed Boat, Anchors Ahead, Honor Bound, War Kilt and Lady o’ War. Before much longer, the daughters of Man o’ War may begin to dominate the Reine-de-Course list, settling once and for all what kinds of mares visited Man o’ War.