Sam Riddle on Man o' War Part Two

Unfortunately, Sam Riddle’s recollections of Man o’ War’s 2-year-old campaign were not among the aforementioned papers discovered in Mary Simon’s box of old articles and papers. But what follows is a riveting account of Big Red’s three-year-old campaign.

Like with all history, we choose to believe what we want, as there are always different versions of events, from famous battles to famous quotations to sporting events such as Babe Ruth pointing to centerfield before hitting a home run that landed in that exact spot. Not knowing anything about Sam Riddle from a personal standpoint, and having dealt with thousands of owners in the past half century, I merely am relaying his own words as he recalls events and how he wishes to present them. Whether they are 100 percent accurate or embellished, they certainly are fascinating and enlightening, and told with total recall.

So let’s continue Man o’ War’s story, as told to racing writer Neil Newman and transcribed back in 1938, with Riddle’s preface regarding Big Red’s overall career on the track and at stud.

“The history of Man o’ War is too well known to necessitate repetition, suffice it to say that my prediction that he was the cheapest horse I ever bought has been proved beyond question. Man o’ War and his sons and daughters that have raced in the gold and black silks have won for me in excess of $1,000,000 to say nothing of what I collected through stud fees, the sale of yearlings, and the sale of his sons and daughters after they had been broken and raced by me.

“At three, when Man o’ War was being trained for his first start, the Preakness, he was sent a mile at Belmont Park and dubbed (urban dictionary definition meaning rejected or ditched) the last quarter, which misled clockers and observers to hazard the opinion he would not go on. Four days later, he came out again and worked to the satisfaction of his friends and foes alike.

“It must be noted that Man o’ War always worked faster than he raced. Prior to his match race with Sir Barton in Canada, he worked a quarter in :21 1/5 and was not driven.

“For the Preakness, he was brought into the paddock early. The day was hot and humid, there were motor cars all over the place, he had to be led through a lane of cops, which added to his excitement, and he was pretty well worked up by the time he reached the receiving paddock. In addition, it marked the first time Clarence Kummer ever rode him. He had been scraped three times by motor cars, and was so excited we figured he was at least 20 pounds off his real form.

“Kummer asked me to permit him to take the colt to the post alone without a lead pony. This I was reluctant to do, and said to Kummer, ‘Clarence, Loftus (Man o’ War’s previous jockey) was the only man that could do that.’ In passing, let me state that Loftus was the finest jockey I have ever seen. I had first call on him the year before, Jack Ross had second call. He rode Man o’ War in all his races at two and Sir Barton in all his races at three. As I said before, I think Loftus was the outstanding rider of his time.

“Kummer continued to coax me and finally I consented. The result was Man o’ War, as soon as he got on the track, started to run away, with Kummer frantically trying to restrain him. Passing the stands, the crowd in a frenzy of excitement yelled, ‘Man o’ War, Man o’ War.’ He pricked his ears, started to pull himself up, and in a moment the red-coated rider who leads the parade grabbed his bridle and the danger was past. Big Red trotted sedately to the post, and on the word being given he dashed to the front and won as he pleased.

“After that he won the Withers, Belmont, and Stuyvesant (under 135 pounds) in effortless fashion, but his next race, the Dwyer at nine furlongs at Aqueduct, was provocative of a contest that was still the topic of conversation whenever it is mentioned, eighteen years later. Jimmy Rowe thought he had a ‘rod in pickle’ (defined as a punishment in waiting) for us in the shape of the chestnut three-year-old John P. Grier, a son of Whisk Broom, out of Wonder, by Disguise, owned by Harry Payne Whitney and named after his good friend and adviser, a member of Charles D. Barney and Company.

“John P. Grier was a good racehorse who had finished second in the Futurity the year before and had been carefully prepped with the Dwyer in view. In this race, Man o’ War, by reason of his victories in the Preakness, Withers, and Belmont had picked up penalties that brought his weight up to 126 pounds, whereas John P. Grier had escaped all penalties and was ‘tossed in’ at 108 pounds. As a matter of fact, Feustel and George Conway, the foreman, had little stomach for a race with John P. Grier under the weights. They wished to have ‘Big Red’ remain in his stall, let John P. Grier win the Dwyer, pick up a penalty, and then meet him under more equitable weights.

“To strengthen this position, on the morning of the race, Saturday, Feustel took Man o’ War out and worked him a mile in 1:37, took him back, cooled him out and fed and watered him as usual – this with the idea of forcing the issue and trumping my hand if I wished to run him. They told me what had transpired when I arrived at the stable about noon, so I went over to Clyde Gordon, who always worked Man o’ War, took him aside and said to him, ‘What did you do with Big Red this morning?’ Gordon answered, ‘Mr. Riddle, the work did not hurt him, he just flowed along; it took nothing out of him. He will be ready for the question this afternoon, never fear.’ So I decided to run him, work or no work, oats or no oats, and instructed Feustel to van him to Aqueduct.

“That afternoon I took Clarence Kummer aside in the saddling paddock and told him, ‘This horse worked this morning. When he breaks, Grier will break with him. Let him come along with you, don’t get in front of him, but stay with him until the eighth pole, then drop his head down and win by about two lengths.’

“Two trotting horsemen went to the three-quarter pole to time him for the first six furlongs. They snapped their watches as Grier and Man o’ War swept past and then swore their watches must be wrong as they had stopped at 1:09. Halfway down the homestretch, which is a long one at Aqueduct, Eddie Ambrose went to the whip and Grier opened up a gap of two lengths. The vast crowd, almost hysterical, chanted the dirge, ‘The favorite’s beaten; Grier wins.’ Prior to the race Harry Whitney said to me, ‘Sam. I’m going to beat you today and I hate to do it.’ He was thinking of that day sixteen years before when his great filly Artful had put paid to the account to the hitherto unbeaten Sysonby in the Futurity. I merely answered, ‘You do not know what you are up against.’

“When Grier opened up two lengths on Man o’ War, Kummer became excited and reached down and hit him with his whip. Big Red nearly ran from under him. He drew up on Grier and at the eighth pole they were head and head. Then Man o’ War drew out and won by two lengths (actually 1 1/2 lengths) in 1:49 1/5, a new world’s record for the distance.”

Man o’ War then went to Saratoga, where he won the Miller Stakes and Travers Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths, in which he set a new track record of 2:01 4/5 while under restraint, defeating his only conqueror, Upset, who had seven lengths on John P. Grier. Riddle, however, bypassed comments on those two races and went straight to the mile and five-eighths Lawrence Realization at Belmont.

“In the Lawrence Realization Stakes it looked as if Man o’ War would have a walkover, which would have cut the value of the stake in half. To circumvent this I persuaded Walter Jeffords, the husband of Mrs. Riddle’s niece, to start a colt of his named Hoodwink, a chestnut colt that he had purchased as a yearling for $4,000, whose dam is the great-granddam of Colonel Maxwell Howard’s grand three-year-old Stagehand (who won the Santa Anita Derby and then defeated the older Seabiscuit in the Santa Anita Handicap in his next start). Walter Jeffords agreed with the proviso that I in turn must instruct Kummer not to permit Man o’ War to show up Hoodwink as he had Donnacona in the Belmont Stakes, who he beat by twenty lengths. To this I agreed and you can imagine Walter Jeffords’ rage and mortification when Man o’ War trotted in what the chart is pleased to term 100 lengths in front of Hoodwink.

“Now a length is usually reckoned at ten feet, so this would be a thousand feet, more than an eighth of a mile. Under the circumstances Walter was burning up and intimated I had given him what is termed the ‘nine of hearts,’ by not instructing Clarence Kummer to permit Hoodwink to remain within hailing distance of Man o’ War. So I took him to Kummer and asked Kummer to tell Walter what riding instructions I had given him. He confirmed all I had said, but added it was impossible to execute the orders, for when he tried to restrain Man o’ War, the colt fought for his head, and fearful he might cross his legs and come down, he was reluctantly forced to let out a couple of wraps.

“However, in my opinion, the greatest race Man o’ War ever ran was when he won the Potomac at Havre de Grace.”

The race before, Man o’ War romped in the Jockey Club by 15 lengths over his only rival Damask, shattering the track record by more than three full seconds, “under a pull,” according to the chart.

Riddle continued, “The distance of the Potomac is a mile and a sixteenth and Man o’ War was weighted down with 138 pounds. Pitted against him were such as Wildair 108 pounds, Blazes 104-1/2 pounds, etc. etc. Jimmy Rowe had tried to knock Man o’ War over with John P. Grier and then with Upset, the latter at Saratoga in the Travers Stakes, in which Man o’ War picked up 129 pounds, conceded six to Upset, winner of the Latonia Derby that year, and fourteen to John P. Grier. Man o’ War beat both Upset and John P. Grier in a romp. Still, Jimmy Rowe wasn’t convinced Man o’ War was invincible that year, so in the Potomac he tried a third string to his bow in the shape of Wildair, who had won the Metropolitan Handicap that year at the expense of Thunderclap and On Watch.

“Blazes had been a good stakes winner at two and three and his trainer, that lovable character ‘Uncle Billy’ Garth, was so sanguine Blazes was going to win that he wanted to make a private bet with me on the result at $200 even up. This I refused to do, but agreed to lay Blazes to win, $200 at the closing odds. Billy Garth’s confidence was strengthened by the condition of the track. It was in wretched shape, cut up and heavy, a surface that Blazes loved and one that it was felt would seriously handicap Man o’ War. Again, Feustel had his doubts. He tried to prevail upon me to withdraw the colt, pointing out the track conditions coupled with the weight he was giving away would probably bring about his defeat.

“But the spectators had come to see Man o’ War run, his name had been put in the entry list the night before, and I was determined to see if he were horse enough to surmount the obstacles against him. Once again he justified the faith reposed in him by his legion of admirers, and at the finish line was the best part of two lengths (again 1 1/2 lengths) in front of Wildair. He won in new track-record time for the distance, 1:44 4/5. (Wildair finished 15 lengths in front of Blazes).

“And that was the last time the American public ever saw Man o’ War in action. About a month later he went to Kenilworth Park, Canada to meet Sir Barton in their match race at a mile and a quarter. Sir Barton, owned by Jack Ross and trained by Guy Bedwell, was a racehorse of the highest class, but that afternoon he was only the shadow of the horse he had been. Man o’ War without being extended won by seven lengths in new track-record time of 2:03.

“That concluded the labors of Man o’ War on the racetrack. In the two seasons he ran he started in 21 races, winning 20, was second in the other and earned $249,465, making him the leading American money winner up to that time.

“Determined to utilize him as a stock horse when his racing days were over, I purchased land in Kentucky not far from Lexington and established the Faraway Stud with Man o’ War at its head.

“He was a success at the outset. In his first season he sired seven winners of 14 races and among them were American Flag, winner of the Withers, Belmont, and other stakes, By Hisself, Gun Boat, Maid At Arms, and Florence Nightingale, all good stakes winners.

“Since the retirement of Man o’ War, I have been fortunate in owning, either through breeding or by purchase, a number of good horses, not to be mentioned in the same breath as Man o’ War, naturally, but several of them stakes winners of class.

“And that brings up the question as to which was the greatest son of Man o’ War. While the racing public might consider this rank heresy I am not satisfied as yet in my own mind whether Man o’ War’s mantle as a racehorse should fall on the shoulders of Crusader or War Admiral. Possibly the current racing season may clarify the situation, but at this writing, as Will Honeycomb would phrase it. ‘There is much to be said on both sides.’”

This was before War Admiral’s 4-year-old campaign when he won 10 of his 12 starts. As a 3-year-old and 4-year-old he would win 17 of his 19 starts. In a separate document, here are Riddle’s comments about a young War Admiral.

“When he came up from Kentucky as a yearling, he was about as big as a goat. Nobody paid any attention to him. While he worked very well at the farm, we had rather a heavy boy on him, and in consequence he never showed. But when we got down to Havre de Grace in the spring of the year, Dr. R.D. Connely, the great veterinarian, was there. One morning we were trying him, and for the first time War Admiral opened our eyes. This veterinarian couldn’t get anything out of me. He asked what I thought of him, and I said he was all right. But from that time on we were careful of this little horse. We were satisfied that we had something very nice, and fast, much better than an empty stall.

“We only ran him six races as a two-year-old. He never was out of the money. He lost two races and won four. Then he improved so that he became a very good horse as a three-year-old. When we left the stable we measured him. He was 15 hands, 2 1/2 inches ((No, fans of the Seabiscuit movie, he was not 18 hands tall) and weighed 1050 pounds. Before he went to Florida, before he went into the Widener Handicap, he measured exactly the same; he never grew any bigger, and I don’t think he ever will.

“He eats well and is a good hay eater. He is a great sleeper and nothing annoys him. He is like a dog, and he is a good traveler, ships well. The only time he gets started is when he goes to the post. He wants to run and knows the prize is at the other end, and he wants to hurry up and go out and get it.”

Meanwhile, at the time of his recollections, Riddle was preparing to celebrate Man o’ War’s 21st birthday.

“We are going to have his birthday party on the twenty ninth of March. I believe the governor is going to speak. Clem McCarthy is going to broadcast it on the radio, and we have induced Harris Scott to make a speech. We are going to have a big cake with a lump of sugar in the middle for Man o’ War, with twenty one electric lights on it, and the big bell is going to strike twenty one times, and we are all going to be there.”

He added, “We are taking great care of him, and we are hoping he will live forever.”

Little did he know that his wish would come true.

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