“Folks talk about ‘second Man o’ Wars’. There ain’t any ‘second Man o’ Wars’. This is the greatest hoss of them all. Nobody will ever know how good he was—there wasn’t anything to run with him. There ain’t ever been anything like him, and maybe there won’t ever be again.”
—Will Harbut, stallion groom
No human spent more time with the great Man o’War than groom Will Harbut. It is estimated that nearly 3 million people visited “Big Red” at Faraway Farm in Kentucky, where he stood stud and eventually enjoyed retirement until his death in in 1947. Harbut regaled every visitor with impassioned odes, like the now infamous designation as “the mostest horse there ever was.”
To many, Harbut’s bold pronouncement holds true today. 2017 marks the 100th birthday of Man o’War, and the Kentucky Horse Park is honoring the legend with a year-long series of events celebrating his centennial.
The celebration will start on March 29, the date Man o’ War was foaled. It will be anchored by an exhibit titled “Man o’ War: The Mostest Horse that Ever Was” at the International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park, and also feature a variety of events held at the Horse Park and around Central Kentucky.
“Man o’ War is a true American icon, born in Kentucky before going on to capture the country’s imagination by winning 20 of 21 races,” said Laura Prewitt, executive director at the Kentucky Horse Park. “Our goal is to celebrate his life and equally encourage visitors to experience all that the Kentucky Horse Park has to offer.”
The scheduled Man o’ War events will be announced March 29, and will include a legacy mural of the horse known as “Big Red” painted in downtown Lexington as well as special Man o’ War-themed tours of the region’s horse farms. At the International Museum of the Horse, the exhibit will showcase never- before-seen artifacts from Man o’ War’s racing career and his post-retirement fame.
Man o’ War was a force to be reckoned with on the racetrack, and his popularity among fans of horse racing during the early 20th Century was just as impressive. Bred at Lexington, Ky. at Nursery Farm by industry titan August Belmont II, the aptly named Man o’ War was sold when Belmont dispersed all of his yearling breeding stock and joined the Army to fight in World War I. Purchased for $5,000 by Samuel Riddle, the chestnut son of Fair Play would make his first start for trainer Louis Feustel on June 6, 1919 at Belmont Park and subsequently put together two of the best back-to-back racing years in history.
“We don’t know to this day how fast he was, as we were afraid to let him down; knowing his intense speed, we feared he might injure himself.” —Owner Sam Riddle explaining why Man o’ War was never ‘let loose’ in a race
Standing primarily at Faraway Farm in Kentucky, Man o’ War’s popularity only grew as millions of fans poured into the Bluegrass to see him in the flesh. He sired the 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral among many other successful racehorses. Man o’ War died at age 30 in 1947, and his remains were moved from Faraway Farm to the Kentucky Horse Park during the 1970s. His gravesite and the iconic bronze statute nearby are among the most popular attractions at the park.