Remembering Man o' War's Belmont Stakes

Jun 05, 2017 Alastair Bull/

Before the Triple Crown Was Established, Man o' War Scared Off His Competition in the Belmont Stakes.

The Belmont Stakes is best-remembered for the coronation of its Triple Crown winners, the 12 elite horses that had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes beforehand.

But the Belmont has also been won by greats of the sport that did not, for various reasons, complete the Triple Crown. And this year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest of them all.

Man o’ War was voted the best horse of the 20th century by Blood-Horse magazine, greater even than Secretariat. He won 20 of his 21 races, his only defeat coming at Saratoga to a horse named Upset after he was facing the wrong way at the start and then had traffic problems. He regularly set records, even when there was little opposition.

But he didn’t have a chance at what is now called the Triple Crown (the term wasn’t in use at that time, despite Sir Barton having become the first horse to win all three races the previous year). That’s because owner Samuel Riddle chose not to run in the Derby on May 1, saying it was too early in the year for a horse to run 1-1/4 miles.

Having raced 10 times for nine wins as a juvenile, easily topping the Experimental Free Handicap, Man o’ War made his 3-year-old debut in the Preakness May 18, and he delivered an easy victory over his Saratoga nemesis Upset.

'…the Belmont was one of the best…'

Man o’ War then backed up in the Withers Stakes at Belmont Park May 29, setting a U.S. record for a mile, before his Belmont Stakes start, then raced at a mile and three furlongs, on June 12. His aura was such that just one horse, Donnaconna, raced against him. But it was hardly a race, and his biggest rival proved to be the clock. Man o’War ran the distance in 2:14.2, a world record, and finished 20 lengths ahead of Donnaconna.

Man o’ War raced another eight times that year, winning them all, and setting record times in a number of them. He was retired at the end of his 3-year-old career, with Riddle not wanting to burden his colt with huge weights as a 4-year-old.

At stud Man o’ War was limited to about 25 mares a season but still proved a hugely influential sire. One of his sons, War Admiral, won a Triple Crown.

But the abiding memories he left most people were on the racetrack – and the Belmont was one of the best.

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