Man O’ War, known by his followers as Big Red, was undisputedly the first racehorse to captivate the nation. Though Big Red was defeated only once, the flaming chestnut maintained a figure of perfection to his last breath. As his fan base grew, so did the advantage his competitors had on him. In one race, horseracing’s first celebrity gave up thirty-two pounds to his opponents, and still showed them his heels. However, Man O’ War, never had the opportunity to run as a four year old and his record as an older horse will forever remain absent from the history books.
Why did this happen? Big Red’s owner, Samuel D. Riddle, sent his trainer, Lou Feustel, to ask Walter Vosburgh, a New York Racing Secretary, what weights he would assign his horse if he was to campaign the colt as a four year old. Without hesitation, Vosburgh informed Feustel, “Lou, I can’t tell you exactly what weight I’d put on him next year, but I’ll say this much – I wouldn’t start him in his first out at a pound less than 140.”* Upon hearing the news, Riddle said, “Retire him, he’ll never run again.”* Without hesitation, he chose to retire his legend that, in 1999, The Bloodhorse magazine would hail as “The Best Racehorse of the 20th Century”.
Our imagination is the place Man O’ War’s ‘unraced’ years can live; we can only dare to dream what he would have etched into horseracing’s history. I ask again, “Why did this happen?”