There has been an ongoing celebration this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Man o' War, foaled in Kentucky on March 29, 1917. Light a candle.
Man o' War was widely hailed as the greatest racehorse to appear on the American turf -- at least until Secretariat came along. The debate will never be resolved, yet there is no denying that Man o' War had a name recognition far beyond the racing world that made his exploits synonymous with contemporaries such as Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones, and Jack Dempsey.
Man o' War's image was used to sell Mobil gas, Trojan tractors, Rolling Rock beer, coffee, chewing gum, and Coca-Cola. His races were must-hear radio. In retirement, he got 50,000 visitors a year, which put Lexington, Ky., on the map. And when he died at the ripe old age of 30, his funeral was broadcast to an international audience from his home at Faraway Farm.
"There was something more than a horse about this horse," racing journalist Joe Estes said in his eulogy.
On Saturday at Belmont Park, the Man o' War Stakes will be run for the 59th time. Purists quibble over naming a grass race for a horse who ran all 21 of his races on dirt, winning 20, including the 1920 editions of the Preakness, Belmont, and Travers. But at least the Man o' War is a Grade 1 New York event that has been won by 16 champions, including Secretariat.
Man o' War's influence on the breed itself continues to ripple through the game. Always Dreaming, the freshly minted Kentucky Derby winner, can thank Man o' War many times over for the speed and stamina that lifted him above his opposition at Churchill Downs. How many times? Let us count the ways.
The sire of Always Dreaming is Bodemeister, a son of Empire Maker out of Untouched Talent, by Storm Cat. The Derby winner's dam is Above Perfection, a daughter of In Excess out of Something Perfect, by Somethingfabulous.
Man o' War sired American Flag (a foal of 1922, his first crop), the grandsire of Raise You, the dam of Raise a Native, the sire of Mr. Prospector, the sire of Fappiano, the sire of Unbridled, the sire of Empire Maker.
Man o' War sired Seaplane (also 1922), the grandam of Eight Thirty, the sire of Bolero, the sire of Bolero Rose, the dam of Crimson Saint, the dam of Terlingua, the dam of Storm Cat.
Man o' War is the sire of Baton Rouge (1927), the third dam of Nothirdchance, the dam of Hail to Reason, the sire of Roberto, the sire of Spanish Parade, the dam of Parade Queen, the dam of Untouched Talent.
Man o' War is the sire of Firetop (1928), the grandam of Free America, the sire of Correlation, the sire of Grand Splendor, the dam of Killaloe, the dam of Fappiano. Firetop is also the dam of Flaming Top, the grandam of Flaming Page, the dam of Nijinsky II, the sire of Nijit, the dam of Spanish Parade.
Man o' War is the sire of War Glory (1930), the sire of War Whisk, the dam of Warfare, the sire of Indian Call, the dam of Siberian Express, the sire of In Excess.
Among Man o' War's crop of 1933 was Flaming Swords, the dam of Blue Swords, the sire of Nothirdchance as well as Star o' War, the grandam of Casemate, the sire of Mary Keenan, the third dam of Something Perfect.
Man o' War's most famous son was Triple Crown winner War Admiral (1934), who took his daddy's blood and ran with it. In no particular order, War Admiral sired:
* Mr. Busher, the grandsire of Best in Show, the dam of Sex Appeal, the dam of El Gran Senor, the sire of Toussaud, the dam of Empire Maker.
* Iron Maiden, the dam of Iron Reward, the dam of Swaps, the grandsire of Edee's Image, the dam of Image of Reality, the dam of Toussaud.
* Striking, the grandam of Poker, the sire of My Charmer, the dam of Seattle Slew, the sire of A.P. Indy, the sire of Parade Queen.
* Busher, the grandsire of Fair Charmer, the dam of My Charmer.
* Busanda, the dam of Buckpasser, the sire of Magic, the grandam of Gana Facil, the dam of Unbridled. Buckpasser, in turn, is the sire of Lassie Dear, the dam of Weekend Surprise, the dam of A.P. Indy. Buckpasser also sired Sex Appeal, the dam of El Gran Senor.
War Admiral was the sire of Bee Mac, the dam of Better Self, the sire of Aspidistra, the dam of Dr. Fager, the sire of Killaloe, the dam of Fappiano. Then it's back to Man o' War and his daughter Hostility (1936), the grandam of Cequillo, the grandam of Killaloe.
Man o' War was 21 upon the arrival of his son, War Relic, a foal of 1938 who cast his distant imprint upon the 2017 Derby winner as the sire of Relic, the sire of Ranavalo, the grandsire of Caro, the sire of Siberian Express. In addition, War Relic was the sire of Intent, the sire of Intentionally, the sire of In Reality, who sired Image of Reality. War Relic also sired Iltis, the dam of My Dear Girl, the dam of In Reality.
If this sounds faintly incestuous, welcome to Thoroughbred breeding. In fact, breeders were very judicious in mixing Man o' War's rich blood with a variety of crosses throughout his two decades at stud, as its ongoing vitality shows. Man o' War might bring to mind grainy newsreels and yellowed pedigree pages, but his spirit lives on, especially last Saturday at Churchill Downs.