There is a letter I always expected to get and never did. It went something like this, “With all the Reines-de-Course you’ve done, why have you never done the dam of Man o’ War?” Well, even though no one ever asked…..here she is.
Man o’ War’s dam, the 1910 Rock Sand mare Mahubah, traced to the No. 4 (Bay Bloody Buttocks) family, branch 4-C (Maniac). It’s no use looking for classic winners and great racemares among the first few dams of Man o’ War because there aren’t any.
In The Great Breeders And Their Methods, historian and bloodline student Abram Hewitt tells us that Mahubah’s dam, *Merry Token, made her way to the stud of August Belmont via a most unusual path.
Her second dam, Mizpah, was a common claimer for five years in England and was routinely bought back by her owner for “about $75.00” when claimed. She earned only a little more than 500 pounds. Both her sire, Macgregor, and broodmare sire, Underhand, were failures at stud.
Mizpah’s daughter, *Merry Token, was a better runner than her dam, winning twice at five furlongs as a two-year-old and twice more at a mile as a three-year-old, though not in very good company.
*Merry Token was then inexplicably bought by the American trainer Eugene Leigh, who handled Ben Brush, Bramble and the great international runner Epinard, and he in turn passed her on to August Belmont.
“Why Belmont should have bought a mare of this class,” Hewitt puzzled, “sired by Merry Hampton, a proved failure as a sire and whose first two dams were also sired by proved failures is simply unknown to the author, and is really beyond his comprehension.”
Yet something attracted Belmont to the mare. Whether he investigated *Merry Token’s pedigree in depth or whether he simply looked at her with better eyes than the harsh glance Hewitt turned upon her, Belmont found something of worth in the mare who would become the second dam of Man o’ War. Let us take a look at what he might have seen:
The inbreeding of *Merry Token’s sire, Merry Hampton, certainly stands out: He is 3 x 2 to half siblings Haricot and Broomielaw, out of foundation mare Queen Mary. In addition, he carries two Pocahontas (1837) lines via Rataplan and Stockwell. He is tail-male to Eclipse and is inbred to Touchstone (out of Banter).
Mizpah added a second significant dose of Banter via Jocose and a third line of Touchstone and she also brought in three lines of Epsom Derby winner Emilius, who was inbred to Eclipse. There is most certainly class, and more than a little promise, in such a pedigree.
But no matter, really, why Belmont was taken with *Merry Token. He had, in effect, acquired a mare – the only mare in history – whose blood is responsible for two American Triple Crown winners, Assault and War Admiral. If we count Seattle Slew and Affirmed, one can mark four in her column.
The First Major Cross
*Merry Token’s first mating was to English Triple Crown winner Rock Sand. This mating added more Stockwell/Pocahontas and more Touchstone. The first result was the minor stakes winner Sandmole. The next product was Mahubah, dam of Man o’War.
Hewitt tells us that Mahubah was a nervous filly and that once she had broken her maiden, Belmont elected to take her home to be bred. Her mate would be the hot blooded son of Hastings known as Fair Play and he would add to her Rock Sand blood a cross that soon became known to one and all as a “nick” of uncommon worth.
The Fair Play/Rock Sand Cross
Imagine a world in which we had no Man o’ War blood – and by that we mean, think of no In Reality, who is inbred to War Relic, or no Raise A Native, who owns a line of American Flag, just to mention two horses!
Now imagine no Cri De Coeur descendents like Mt. Livermore or Distinctive, no Etoile Filante kin like Grindstone or Arts And Letters, no Mlle. Dazie – so no Nashua, thus no Mr. Prospector, no Oval, so no Shut Out and thus no Blackball or The Axe II and so forth. How about no Mad Hatter? That would mean no Rosern, which would mean no Sunglow, and thus no Damascus… we could fill several pages. These magnificent animals are the legacy of the Fair Play/Rock Sand cross.
The next question of course is why it worked so well. Why this particular cross of all crosses should produce a Man o’War.
Well, for starters, the pair are saturated with Pocahontas, six lines in all, but that’s not terribly unusual for horses of the day. What is unusual is a three-way cross of half siblings Maid of Palmyra and Tadmor x2. This pair trace to a mare called Monimia (1821 by Muley-Precipitate Mare). Then, another line of this immediate family is added via Hastings through the mare Morgiana (Muley out of a daughter of Precipitate Mare). It is a quite complex inbreeding, perhaps the key that woke this combination to account for so many grand horses – they were the living proof.
De Mostest Hoss
What can we write about Man o’ War that has not already been written? Even now he is routinely referred to as the greatest horse who ever trod upon the soil of an American racetrack.
What was it about this burnished chestnut that caused normally taciturn men to search their vocabularies for superlatives, much as Secretariat caused Charles Hatton to do those many years later? Perhaps one of today’s finest writers, Edward L. Bowen, said it best.
“Most champions, even great ones, define themselves on the racecourse. We admire and understand their shiny strengths, but in so doing, we also come to understand or suspect their limits. Those who saw Man o’ War apparently never found a hint of limit.” What an amazing thought.
Abram Hewitt, who saw the colt in person, also gives us a look at what it must have been like to stand in the presence of such a giant of the turf. “There were some large trees in the Belmont paddock, as well as clumps of laurel. Rounding some of the laurel bushes, one was flanked by tall trees whose branches nearly met overhead, like a gothic arch. Underneath this arch, framed by the dark shadows behind, stood 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.”
The Record Book
For the record, Man o’ War ran 21 times and won 20 of them, his only loss at the hands of the infamous Upset. He would likely have run longer and more years if the handicappers had not been wont to weight him down with heavy burdens along the lines of Phar Lap.
During his brief but brilliant career, however, he made impressions that have lasted almost a century. In his first start, a five furlong straightaway, he won by six lengths. Later, he would go on to win the Belmont at the 1 3/8 miles at which it was run in 1920. He won the Preakness as well but was withheld from the Derby because Samuel Riddle felt that it was too much to ask of a young horse.
In between these races, he won the Keene Memorial, Youthful, Hudson, Tremont, Grand Union Hotel, Hopeful, and United States Hotel Stakes, the Futurity, the Lawrence Realization, the Dwyer, the Withers, the Stuyvesant H., the Miller S., the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Potomac Handicap and the famous match race with Triple Crown winner Sir Barton in Canada. He routinely carried 130 pounds, including six times as a two year old, and won under up to 138 pounds. North American and track records fell before him as he won the Belmont by 20 lengths, the Lawrence Realization by nearly 100 lengths.
The only horse to beat him, Upset (in the Sanford Memorial), saw his heels six times later on. And the best horses to meet him, like John P. Grier and Sir Barton, though remarkable animals in their own right, could not keep pace with him.
It was almost too much to ask that Man o’ War be as great a sire as he was a racehorse, and yet he was a very good sire indeed. Common knowledge has it that he was bred to mares of poor quality, but this is not really so.
Among his best runners were 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral, Kentucky Derby winner Clyde Van Dusen, Belmont winners American Flag and Crusader, Coaching Club American Oaks winners Bateau and Edith Cavell, and Travers winner Mars.
His most important contribution to the stud book in tail-male was War Relic, who won the Massachusetts Handicap and Narragansett Special. It is via War Relic that Man o’ War lives on via Intent-Intentionally-In Reality. This sire line has representatives from Valid Appeal’s sons, the sons of Relaunch and a handful of others like Judge T. C., Known Fact and Believe It. Thanks to Man o’ War, the stud book is not Eclipse only, but also has the wonderful Matchem line alive and well.
Man o’ War’s daughters were equally special beings. No less than 13 of them are currently designated Reines-de-Course: Valkyr, Judy O’Grady, Warrior Lass, Salaminia, Hostility, Firetop, Boat, Anchors Ahead, Spotted Beauty, Furlough, Frilette, Speed Boat and War Kilt. There are a fair amount of others just waiting in the wings for us to so designate them – Baton Rouge and Seaplane among them.
The bottom line, of course, is that Man o’ War contributed richly wherever you place him in history – as a racehorse, establishing a sire line, or begetting fine broodmare daughters. Perhaps he did not, indeed, have any limits.
The Other Children
Mahubah, fortunately, did not have just one foal. Mated monogamously to Man o’ War’s sire Fair Play, she also produced Levithian Highweight and White Plains Handicap winner Masda, Jockey Club Gold Cup winner My Play, the winner Playfellow and unplaced Mirabelle.
Today, one finds My Play occasionally in a pedigree, most famously via Spectacular Bid lines. Mirabelle’s branch of the family is responsible for two very nice animals – the 1980 French Two Thousand Guineas winner In Fijar and recent G1 winner Delaware Township, now a sire in Florida.
Then, of course, there is the great sister, Masda. Mahubah, while a wonderful trivia question as the dam of Man o’ War, would hardly be Reine-de-Course material if she had had just one famous offspring, and a male offspring at that. Masda was nowhere near Man o’ War’s equal on the racetrack, for who could be? But as a producer, she was very fine indeed.
Sister To A King
Imagine what kind of inferiority complex poor Masda would have had had she known that her kid brother was going to grow up to be the most famous racehorse in history! And while she is hardly a household name, once her descendents are mentioned, she becomes quite famous in her own right.
There is no question whatsoever that Masda appears in the pedigree of two of the best horses ever to run anywhere – 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault and double Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Miesque. She is the third dam of Assault, the venerable “club foot comet”, while she appears in Miesque’s pedigree via her broodmare sire, Prove Out, who was previously most famous for defeating both Secretariat (in the Woodward) and Riva Ridge (in the Jockey Club Gold Cup). Masda is the fourth dam of Prove Out.
Also tracing to Masda is Equal Change, second to Ruffian in the 1975 Coaching Club American Oaks. From Equal Change descend such good horses as Whywhywhy, a Futurity (G1) winner, Nayyir, a Group 2 winner in England, and multiple G1 placed Make Change, a stakes producer and second dam of this year’s stakes placed classic hopeful Andromeda’s Hero.
Still, where Masda is concerned, one cannot help but return to the story of Assault. Triple Crown winners are, after all, few and far between.
Masda, like Man o’ War, was bred by August Belmont but was later acquired by the Whitney Stud. There she was bred to Whitney’s home sires – Broomstick, *Chicle and the like. The *Chicle mating resulted in the filly Incandescent, who was a high class claiming filly that won the Plymouth Rock Claiming Stakes. It was while risking her in this manner (claiming races) that Whitney lost her to Robert Kleberg, master of King Ranch.
Kleberg bred Incandescent to the mighty “chocolate soldier” Equipoise and the resulting foal was a sickly filly named Igual. So poorly did the weak youngster first respond to treatment, that the dam of Assault was very nearly destroyed. Then, when an abscess under her stifle joint was found and treated, she began to blossom. Igual never ran, but she did live to produce her great son and to proudly serve the Mahubah line.
Her first two foals were the winner Equal Chance, and the unplaced Masomenos. Her third foal, born in 1943, was Assault.
Assault himself almost never made it to the races. As a foal, playing in an open field, he stepped on a spike and ran the sharp object through the wall of his hoof. Though the foot eventually healed, it was always malformed and the wall of his foot would be forever thin, causing no end of problems in his shoeing. It was this injury and the resultant malformation of the foot from whence his nickname “the Clubfoot Comet” originated.
Even trainer Max Hirsch was doubtful that Assault would hold together, so obviously did he sometimes favor the foot. And yet, when all was said and done, Assault had made 42 starts and had finished in the top three in 31 of them. It just took him a while to find himself.
The chestnut colt was not a particularly precocious two-year-old, but he did win the Flash Satkes and placed in the Babylon Handicap.
At three, he won his Derby by eight in the mud, his Preakness by a neck over a fast track and his Belmont by three, also over a fast surface. In addition, he won the Dwyer S., Westchester H., Pimlico Special and Wood Memorial.
Returning at four, he was a fine handicapper, winning the Brooklyn, Butler, Suburban, Grey Lag and Dixie Handicaps and placing in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. In the Butler, he won under the heaviest impost of his career, 135 pounds, over such top-class horses as Stymie and the great mare Gallorette.
Talked into a match race with the great gelding Armed, a seemingly less-than-sound Assault lost badly. In the end, he lost more than the race when, despite his outstanding triumphs earlier in the year, Armed was named Horse of the Year.
When Assault ran fifth in his first start at five, Kelberg retired him, but the colt sadly proved sterile at stud. Returned to training, he won the Brooklyn Handicap and placed in the Edgemere, but he was but a shadow of his former self. Finally, he was retired a second time.
Oddly enough, he was able to impregnate a handful of Quarter horse mares in a pasture breeding setting, but this brush with fertility did not carry over to his own kind. He became a treasured pensioner and family pet, and lived until the grand old age of 28, when he was euthanized after breaking a leg in a paddock accident.
There was, and always will be, something rather tragic about Assault. But the knowledge that his full sister, Equal Venture, lives on through Equal Change and her brood is some comfort.
The Eternal Bloodline
Best of all, Assault serves to illustrate just how truly special Mahubah really was. Her son, Man o’ War, sired a Triple Crown winner and her daughter, Masda, is the third dam of another. No other filly or mare can make such a claim.
In addition, Man o’ War appears in the pedigree of Seattle Slew, not only via his War Admiral double but via the Flaming Swords/Baton Rouge cross in the dam of Hail to Reason.
Affirmed, also, carries Man o’ War in his pedigree, but to a lesser extent, via American Flag and one War Admiral line.
Thus Mahubah is as important a single mare as one is likely to find. Dam of perhaps the greatest horse of all time, dam of a daughter to carry on the bottom line as well.
Mahubah, therefore, is now where she has always deserved to be – on the Reine-de-Course list, along with Man o’ War’s full sister, Masda. Few mares are more deserving of placement on this list, or any list of great producers.