A slow-out-of-the-gate biography of Thoroughbred legend Man o’ War (a relation of Seabiscuit) that eventually crosses the finish line with a flourish.
The #1 American racehorse of the 20th century set an unprecedented number of speed records in his two-year racing career. Born in 1917, the colt was named not after a warship but in tribute of his owner, August Belmont, who, although 65 years old at the outbreak of World War I, quickly volunteered to serve his country. By 1918, Belmont, busy with the war effort, was forced to close his racing stable, and Man o’ War was bought by Sam Riddle, at the urging of his wife and his trainer. The rest is history: The colt, known as Big Red, began setting speed records. Of 21 races, he lost only one, the controversial 1919 Sanford Memorial Stakes to two-year-old Upset. Ours provides a wealth of statistics that makes for slow reading—Man o’ War’s speed at each furlong of every race, his incredible 25-foot-long stride, a track record that would remain unbroken for more than 70 years. A plethora of detail about figures including owner Riddle, jockey Johnny Loftus and trainer Lou Feustel hamper the narrative as well. Sadly, we don’t learn much about the personality of Big Red, a horse “so fidgety that he bit his hooves after lying down at night.” The highlight of the book is an exciting description of Man o’ War’s final run, a match race against another crowd favorite, Sir Barton, in Canada’s Kenilworth Park.
An almost too-meticulous record of Thoroughbred racing’s greatest champion.