Man o' War
On Saturday afternoon, May 1, as you raise your mint julep to toast the Kentucky Derby, make a few extra clinks to honor past stars of the famous race, those Thoroughbred horses who once whipped around the tracks at lightning speed and often captured our hearts.
Arguably the nation’s most famous Thoroughbred, Man o’War is buried at the entrance to Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. “Big Red,” as the chestnut stallion was nicknamed, won 20 of the 21 races he entered; the one he lost went to the appropriately named steed Upset.
Man o’ War was born in Lexington on March 29, 1917, during World War I (hence his name). Two years later, he breezed through his first race, winning by six lengths. A slew of wins and broken records followed. Big Red famously did not like having any horses in front of him, and it showed. While he never raced in the Derby, he won the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, the two other components of racing’s Triple Crown. The record he set in the latter held for 50 years.
Man o’ War was a star off the track as well. He sired 64 champions, including War Admiral, the 1937 Triple Crown winner, and was Seabiscuit’s grandfather. He died in 1948 of a heart attack.
He and War Admiral are buried side by side in Kentucky Horse Park. Their graves are among the most popular sites for the thousands of people who visit the park and its museums every year.
“Even if they don’t know why Man o’War was famous, they know his name,” says Cindy Rullman, who handles public relations for the park. “They know he was a great horse.”