Man o’War was far and away the most successful racehorse of his generation and, arguably, one of the greatest racehorses of all time. In fact, according to panel of experts assembled by the Associated Press, he was voted the greatest horse of the twentieth century, ahead of Secretariat and Citation.
Bred by August Belmont II, owned by Samuel D. Riddle and trained by Louis Feustel, won nine of his 10 starts as a juvenile in 1919. His sole defeat came in the Sanford Memorial Stakes at Saratoga, at the hands of the aptly-named Upset, whom he had beaten on six previous occasions, but owed more to the ineptitude of the acting starter than anything else. In the absence of starting stalls, after several false starts the runners were sent on their way before all of them, including Man o’War, were ready. Man o’War was eventually beaten a neck, conceding 15lb to the winner, but as Fred Van Ness of the New York Times reported, “There was scarcely a witness of this race who did not believe after it was all over that Man o’ War would have walked home, with anything like a fair chance.”
Man o’War was never beaten again. He didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby because his owner considered believed that a mile and a quarter was too far for a three-year-old at that early stage of his career. He did, however, run in, and win, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes – which would become the second and third legs of the “Triple Crown”, although the phrase wasn’t coined until a decade later – in 1920. In the Preakness Stakes, he beat the aforementioned Upset by 1½ lengths and, in the Belmont Stakes, beat sole rival Donnaconna by 20 lengths, setting a new world record for a mile and three furlongs in the process.
Man o’War faced older horses or, rather, an older horse, just once. On his final start, he faced Sir Barton, who’d won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes in 1919, in a match race for the Kenilworth Park Gold Cup at Windsor, Ontario. Man o’War won by 7 lengths, taking his career record to 20 wins from 21 starts and lifetime earnings to just under $250,000.