Man o’ War: The Most Famous Horse That Never Ran In The Kentucky Derby

Man o' WarOne of the perks of writing a blog is that I get to control content. Oooh, the power! But, with great power comes great responsibility! That’s why I sometimes have an annoyingly long internal dialogue before settling on a topic. Here’s a partial transcript of this week’s dialogue:

“It’s almost time for the Kentucky Derby. But you just wrote about the Kentucky Derby. Yeah, but I love the Kentucky Derby!  Hey, I could write about a famous horse that competed in the Derby. Sure ya could! Or you could write about the most famous horse to NEVER compete in the Derby—Man o’ War! Hey, I could write about Man o’ War!  He was a great horse and he reinvigorated horseracing, back in his day. Plus, I really like to type the “ o’”! I would like to declare Man o’ War this week’s topic. All those in favor, say, ‘o’. O’! The o’s have it!”

Now that you have been privy to the inner workings of my creative process, I would like you to forget everything that you just read and focus on Man o’ War.

Genealogy of a Legend or Belmont’s Stakes

August Belmont Jr.Man o’ War was foaled in Lexington, Kentucky on March 29, 1917. He was owned and bred by August Belmont Jr. Belmont FamilyYes, I’m talking about that Belmont family; the Belmont Stakes was named after August Belmont Sr. Man o’ War was the second foal delivered by the high-strung dam Mahuba. Right from the start, Man o’ War was a formidable creature: He was tall, bright chestnut, and had with a star on his forehead. He took after his sire, Fair Play.

Man o' WarMahuba herself had won a race before retiring to the breeding shed. You know how it is with the nervous types; she just wasn’t cut out for life at the track, even though her family tree was filled with winners. She was by the British Triple Crown winner Rock Sand, whom August Belmont Jr. purchased and imported, in 1906. The purchase price was $125,000. In today’s money, that would be well over $3,000,000! Ooh, Belmont already had quite a big at stake in this bloodline!

Man o' WarFair Play had been a successful (though notoriously bad-tempered) racehorse until an injury cut short his racing career. He gained most of his fame in the breeding shed, having sired eight multiple stakes winning horses during his career. Man o’ War was in Fair Play’s seventh foal crop.

Eleanor Robson Belmont

Man o’ War received his name from Mrs. Eleanor Robson Belmont, who named all of her husband’s horses. She originally chose the name My Man o’ War in honor of her husband, who enlisted for service in the Army, during World War I, at the age of sixty-five! Somewhere along the way, the “My” was dropped. (As long as she kept the “o’” I don’t care!)

Growing into Big Red

Blog7Military service inspired Man o’ War’s name and it was also responsible for a new owner. Due to his military service, Belmont made the decision to sell all of his 1917 yearlings. Samuel Riddle, owner of Glenn Riddle Farm purchased the colt for $5000 and Man o’ War was sent to his farm in Maryland to be trained by Louis Feustel, who had trained both Mahuba and Fair Play. Ah, the circle of thoroughbred life!

Glenn Riddle FarmWhile at Glenn Riddle Farm, Man o’ War, well, shall we say… He grew into his own! At 3 years of age, he was a strapping 16.2 hands (about 5-foot-6) and weighed about 1,125 pounds with a 72-inch girth. His appetite also was huge, as he ate 12 quarts of oats every day, or about three quarts more than the average racehorse. He ran in big bounds as well, with his stride measuring an incredible 25 to 28 feet.

Big RedMan o’ War’s size and striking color earned him the nickname of “Big Red.” He was a fan favorite, and with good reason. People like winners and Man o’ War was most definitely a winner. During his racing career, he ran twenty-one races . . . he won twenty of them, losing only one by a nose! And he would win resoundingly . . . one race by 20 lengths, another by an incredible 100 lengths. He carried more weight than his competitors, 130 pounds, and even 138 pounds. He won under all conditions, rain, mud, drought, heat. He whipped a Triple Crown champion by seven lengths in a match race.  When he retired, he held five American records at different distances and had earned more money than any thoroughbred.  He electrified a nation, brought hoards of people to the race tracks to see him race and he became a national sports hero . . . he was the Jack Dempsey of horse racing!

Many people believe Man o’ War would have easily won the Triple Crown, if he had been raced in the Kentucky Derby, but he didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby because his owner didn’t like racing in Kentucky! Since the Triple Crown as such did not exist at that time of his eligibilty, the decision to not run him in it wasn’t as crazy as it sounds today.

“De Mostest Hoss that Ever Was”

When Man o’ War’s racing career ended, he was sent to Lexington’s Faraway Farm, where he proved himself to be quite the prolific stud. In fact, he sired an impressive 379 foals! Shoot! That’s an impressive number of offspring for a housefly, let alone a thoroughbred!

Will HarbutIt was in 1930 at Faraway Farm that Man o’ War met the man who was to become his longtime groom and companion, Will Harbut.  Will had a deep melodic voice, large, soft hands and an easygoing demeanor. . .the perfect counterpart to the stallion’s sour temperament.  Will quickly became Man O’ War’s everything. . . the first face he saw in the morning and the last he saw at night. Will fed him, bathed him, mucked out his stall, groomed him, hand-walked him, brought him water and turned him out into his paddock. It was Will who brought him to the breeding shed or led him out to meet the steady stream of admirers who came to visit. And it was Will who reminded him to be gentle with the children that brought him a carrot or a lump of sugar and Will who admonished him to behave himself, which he did by snapping the shank and demanding, “Stand still, Red” or “Stop fidgeting, Red” or “Stop messin’ around, Red.”  Harbut liked to describe Man o’ War as, “de mostest hoss that ever was”. The two pals built up quite the act and visitors flocked to see them. But more important, they developed the kind of love and trust that all horsemen hope to experience, just once in life.

When Will Harbut died suddenly, in October 1947, Man O’ War was heartbroken. The horse pined after his companion, faded and died one month later.

Man o' War MemorialMan o’ War was such a beloved national hero that when he died, his body was embalmed and he lay in state for several days in a casket lined with his racing colors. An estimated 2000 people attended his funeral. It was front page news. Racing fans still visit his grave at the Kentucky Horse Park, in Lexington today. His gravesite is difficult to miss; it’s marked by a larger-than-life, bronze statue of Man o’ War. Buried nearby are some of his foals, including Triple Crown winner War Admiral.

Man o' War Statue

Joseph Alvie Estes, editor of The Blood Horse, was inspired to write an epic poem about Man o’ War, which was published in the October 23,1937 issue. The full poem, entitled “Big Red,” graces a plaque at Man o’ War’s gravesite. Here are the first lines of that poem:

The days are long at Belmont.
Speed they never learn.
And it’s many a day since Man o’ War
Has looped the upper turn.

Yes, it has been many a day, but the legend lives on. So, I thank you, Man o’ War. And, by the way… Cool name!

Watch this remarkable video with documentary footage of Man o’ War!

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

Pass the Mint Juleps Please, It’s Kentucky Derby Time!

The Kentucky DerbyWell, pass the mint juleps because, I do declare, Kentucky Derby time is fast approaching! It’s the time when lovers of horses, hats, racing and bourbon unite for what can only be described as THE GREATEST WEEKEND OF THE YEAR (and that includes Presidents’ Day Weekend when I bought a new mattress and got the box springs thrown in for free!)  As May 3rd draws near, I’m getting positively giddy! Instead of trying to curb my enthusiasm, I would rather bask in it and share a few of my favorite things about the Kentucky Derby.

History

Kentucky Derby HistoryI love the history of the Kentucky Derby. It’s been around since 1875. That makes it the longest, uninterrupted sporting event in  U.S. history. The Kentucky Derby didn’t even take time off for World Wars I or II! And, just for grins, if The Kentucky Derby advertised its races in Roman numerals, like the Super Bowl advertises its games, this would be The Kentucky Derby CXXXX!

Meriwether Lewis ClarkThrough good times and bad, the race has always been held at Churchill Downs. Both the track and the race were the brainchildren of Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark. Yes, he was the grandson of William Clark—the guy who put the “Clark” in Lewis and Clark. That was a family that just kept contributing to our country!

Kentukcy DerbyAnd, of course, we have to talk about some of the history- making horses. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s record breaking win! On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kingman has held the record for slowest run since 1891. Kingman was almost one full minute slower than Secretariat. I’m having flashbacks to P.E. class and my own, um, records!

Good Libations!

Mint Julep recipeFor almost a century, the Mint Julep has been the “official drink” of Churchill Downs, but it has been around since the beginning of the Kentucky Derby. It is said to have been a favorite drink of Col. Clark.

Even if you can’t make it to the Downs, you can still enjoy a Mint Julep on race day!

Here’s the official Mint Julep recipe of the Derby:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Sprigs of fresh mint
  • Crushed ice
  • Kentucky bourbon
  • Silver julep cups

Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint. Refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Kentucky bourbon. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Enjoy! An estimated 120,000 Mint Juleps will be consumed on race day at Churchill Downs, so you might as well make a few for yourself.

Kentucky Derby Hats

Mad Hatters

The Brits have extraordinary attire for royal weddings, but they have not cornered the market on gloriously over-the-top hats! I must confess that I would watch the Kentucky Derby if it was a stick horse race, just as long as I still got to see people in their fabulous hats! (Of course, I would also watch a “Downton Abbey” puppet show if they still had their great fashions.) Since 1875, grand hats have been a Kentucky Derby tradition, and it seems that the headwear has only gotten better and better over the years. Horseracing is the only sport in the U.S. that allows for such a fashion statement—unless you count football fans wearing giant cheese wedges on their heads (which I most emphatically do not!)

Kentukcy Derby Headwear

If you’ve ever spent a day at the races, you know that the hats also serve the practical purpose of blocking the sun. Heck, some of the hats are large enough to block the sun from hitting the person next to the wearer, rendering them as effective as golf umbrellas. Ooh, don’t you just love it when fashion and function unite?

Run for the Roses

Run for the RosesThe Kentucky Derby isn’t called the “run for the roses” for nothin’! Did you know that the garland of roses, which is draped over the winning horse, weighs around 40 pounds and includes more than 400 red roses on green satin?

Kentukcy Derby GarlandAnd, say what you will about grocery store florists, but the floral department of a Louisville Kroger assembles the entire garland! Since 1987, Kroger has been duplicating the design of the late Grace Walker, who was charged with the responsibility of designing the winner’s garland in 1932. She designed a total of 35 garlands in her lifetime! Kroger has chosen to follow Ms. Walker’s final design, which includes an embroidered seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky on one side and the twin spires on the other.

Blog12The garland is also adorned with a crown of roses, fern and ribbon. There is one rose to represent each competing horse, plus a single rose rising above the others to represent the winner. That single rose is a symbol of the struggle required to make it to the Winner’s Circle. Well, gawrsh! I loves me some o’that symbolism! Plus, I also love that Dan Fogelberg song—“Run for the Roses”.

My Old Kentucky Home

My Old Kentucky HomeSpeaking of songs . . . would someone please pass me a hankie? Because as soon as I hear the University of Louisville Marching Band play the first few notes of “My Old Kentucky Home,” I unashamedly become an emotional wreck! Since at least 1930, this Stephen Foster song has been played during the post parade of horses. I won’t tell you how many years I’ve cried through it, but it’s somewhere between zero and eighty-two!

Blog14And, oh those horses! Those beautiful horses walking in a line! Shucks, I’m crying already. To me, the post parade is like a time for all of the horses to take a bow. It’s like the closing ceremony at the Olympics (which also makes me cry, by the way!).

Kentukcy DerbyIn 1956, John Steinbeck wrote, “The Kentucky Derby, whatever it is—a race, an emotion, turbulence, an explosion—is one of the most beautiful and violent and satisfying things I have ever experienced.” Gee, that Steinbeck guy should have become a novelist because he really had a way with words! I don’t know about you, but I’ve carved out the first weekend in May as a time for getting “Downs” to business!

Watch this little video about the Derby . . .you’ll enjoy it!

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

Western Lingo III: You Shore Have a Way with Words!

Western LingoTo quote that great American philosopher, Steve Martin, “Some people have a way with words, and other people…oh, uh, do not have way.” Well, I am of the belief that Westerners definitely have a way with words. And, in honor of that, it’s time for everyone’s favorite word origin game, Western Lingo! Okay, so maybe it’s just my favorite word origin game. I’d still love it if you’d play along with me!

“. . .Neck of the Woods”

Neck of the Woods - Western LingoSince 1555, the geographical term, “neck” was used in England to refer to a narrow strip of land, which is usually surrounded by water. By that definition, there’s no way the woods could have a neck! Early American settlers changed that meaning to suit their own needs. So, apparently, “neck of the woods” became a uniquely American expression.

Though it didn’t originate in the West, that’s where it’s probably used most often, today. I have been able to find that the phrase was used as early as 1780 to mean “a narrow stretch of woods”. By 1839, it was used to refer to a settlement in a wooded region. Today, it simply means where you live. It is generally taken to mean “in my neighborhood”. For example: In my neck of the woods, you had best keep your dog in at night unless you want a coyote to get it!

“Ring-tailed Tooter”

Photo of a Common RaccoonThis is one of those expressions that you’ve either never heard before or you can’t believe that other people have never heard it. Obscure? I guess that all depends on your neck of the woods!

The phrase “Ringtailed Tooter” first appeared in a dime novel, Beadle’s Half-Dime Library: Deadwood Dick, The Prince of the Road, or The Black Rider of the Black Hills, in the 1880s. Unfortunately, there were racial undertones in the original usage. Over the years, the meaning has evolved into something that is decidedly not racist.

In my family, this phrase was generally used to describe spunky or mischievous children. There was always a hint of admiration associated with it—like you had to admire a child that was bright enough to come up with so many ways to keep adults on their toes! If Huckleberry Finn had lived next door to my grandfather, he would have been described as a ring-tailed tooter.

Although I could not find any confirmation for this anywhere, just the “ring tailed” part of this expression seems to suggest that a raccoon somehow got into the woodpile. . .a mischievous and pretty darned cute little critter!

FYI: Project Gutenberg has made Deadwood Dick, The Prince of the Road available as a free EBook. If you’re interested, you can find it online, through the Project Gutenberg site, http://www.gutenberg.org/ .

“Shake a Stick At”

Old Man with StickThe exact origin of the expression “to shake a stick at” is fuzzy. But, we do know that the phrase has been around for a long time! The first time it seems to appear in print was in an 1818 edition of The Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Journal. It said, “We Lancasters have as many taverns as you can shake a stick at.” Remove the town name and substitute “taverns” for “Starbucks” and that sentence could easily describe most U.S urban. towns, today!

The meaning doesn’t seem to have changed since 1818! The phrase is still used to mean, “a lot” or, as I prefer to say, “a slew of”! As with other phrases, it might not have originated in the West, but Westerners have kept it alive. If you don’t believe me, drop by my place, in the summer. There are more mosquitoes than you can shake a stick at!

“Nervous Nellie”

Garbage Pail KidsThe term, “nervous Nellie” is used to describe a particularly nervous person. I’ve read a couple of ideas of how this came into being. One suggestion is that horses were often referred to as Nell or Nellie. You’re probably familiar with the phrase, “Whoa, Nellie!” A skittish horse might have been called a nervous Nellie. The phrase can be traced back to 1926. By 1926, automobiles were becoming less of a novelty and more of a fact of life. The horses didn’t necessarily like those backfiring carriages that were taking over the landscape!

Of course, I told you there were a couple of ideas. Another suggestion is that it was first used as an insult to then, Secretary of State, Frank Kellogg. Kellogg was frequently criticized for his non-aggressive policies. It’s possible someone was trying to get him riled into action. Eh, I still like the horse theory!

“As Nervous as a (Long-tailed) Cat in a Room Full of Rocking Chairs”

Cat in Room Full of Rocking ChairsSpeaking of nerves… “As nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs” is one of my favorite, colorful “Westernisms”. Yep, as far as similes go, this one is a doozy! It’s a phrase that really doesn’t require an explanation. If you were a cat, long-tailed or otherwise, and found yourself maneuvering a room full of active rocking chairs, you’d probably be a bit nervous.

The only problem I have with this phrase is that I cannot locate its origin. Everyone is agreed that it’s fairly old. No one seems to remember a time when it came into being. But, doggone it! I really like to give credit where credit is due! Somewhere in time, there was a true wordsmith who went unrecognized! It’s astounding to me to think that some clever so-and-so thought up this phrase and, without the aid of the internet, it took off like wildfire! So, I would like to say, “Thank you, whoever you were! You painted a purty word picture!”

“Game Over” (for Now!)

Game Over!And, this concludes installment number three of “Western Lingo!” Thank you for playing along. Please exit the theatre to the rear. And don’t forget; if there’s a Western expression you would like to know more about, please leave a comment below!

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

An American Cowgirl: Connie Douglas Reeves

Connie Reeves - CowgirlEven if you don’t know who Connie Reeves was, I’ll bet that you recognize her from photographs. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the pictures of the late Constance “Connie” Douglas Reeves with her beloved horses reads like a series of “get-off-your-rump-and-live-life” motivational books. Those pictures scream about the power of positive thinking louder than Normal Vincent Peale ever could have. And Connie Reeves didn’t even have to stand on a podium to do it. . . she managed it all, quite nicely, from a saddle.

Connie once said, “The past is dead unless somebody records it…my life’s not important to very many people. But, what I have done may be something that will motivate someone else. I hope so.” Well, I believe her life was important to a lot more people than she ever realized and I certainly hope this little story of her life will motivate everyone who reads it.

It was a Very Big Year

Teddy Roosevelt1906 was a very big year. Teddy Roosevelt was President of the U.S. and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It was the year of the great San Francisco earthquake. It was the year construction began on the Panama Canal. And, it was the year Connie Reeves, at the age of five, received her first horse. Long after Teddy Roosevelt became better known for the teddy bear than for his politics, San Francisco started peddling Rice-a-Roni (the San Francisco treat!), and the Panama Canal came under the control of the Panamanian government, Connie continued to ride. In fact, she continued to ride horses for the next 96 years!

The Accidental Cowgirl

Connie Reeves riding a horseConnie Reeves was born in Texas and Texas was as much of the world as she ever saw. But she made the most of it! She received a degree in Speech from Texas Women’s University before entering the University of Texas School of Law. She was one of the first women admitted into that law program. However, as with so many students of that time, the Great Depression necessitated that she drop out and find work.

She found a job teaching high school English in San Antonio. And, to satisfy the cowgirl in her, she worked as a riding instructor part-time at a local stable. While the door may have closed on law school, the door to the stable was opened wide and Connie Reeves was more than happy to enter into what was to become her lifelong career!

Camp Song

Connie with a horseIn 1936, Connie began working for the equestrian program at Camp Waldemar, in Hunt, TX. She felt so at home there that she stayed on for sixty-seven summers! Yep. Sixty-seven! It is estimated that she taught more than 36,000 girls to ride horses. Oh, fercryinoutloud! I’m getting misty just thinking about it. . .

It was at Camp Waldemar that Connie met a man named Jack Reeves. And, yep, you guessed it. . .the cowgirl married her cowboy in 1942. Together, the two managed a 10,000-acre cattle and sheep ranch for more than forty years. That ranch happened to be owned by Lyndon B. Johnson. Of course, in the summers, they went to Camp Waldemar! Connie and Jack never had children of their own, in the traditional sense.  . .but, of course, we all know that they had about 36,000 “daughters”!

Jack passed away in 1985, but Connie bravely faced life without him. It’s not so much that she had a second chapter to her life. It’s more like she had a second verse to a very beautiful song. There was no need to try something new. She was already living her dream.

“Always Saddle Your Own Horse”

Connie ReevesConnie’s motto was, “Always saddle your own horse. Always stand on your own two feet.” Those are not the words of a shrinking violet. She was a no-nonsense kind of gal. When a fall from a horse rendered one of legs shorter than the other, she knew just what to do. Limp? Heck no! She simply had the heel of one cowboy boot made a little higher. Connie should be the role model for anyone interested in entering the role model business.

I Married a Cowboy

"I Married a Cowboy" by Connie ReevesIn 1995, Connie’s autobiography, entitled I Married a Cowboy: Half Century with Girls and Horses at Camp Waldemar was published. She was 94, at the time of publication. Hooray! Finally, someone wrote a life story about a life. I’m sick to death of the Hollywood crowd writing memoirs at a ripe old age that is neither ripe nor old! I would like to decree that only people who understand that support hose really can aid circulation should write autobiographies. All others should be limited to blurbs in Us Weekly. (This means you, Justin Bieber!) I don’t care to take life lessons from someone who has not yet come to understand the importance of fiber in your diet! But I digress…

Hall of Fame

Connie Reeves - 1997At the age of 96, Connie Reeves was inducted into National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. If ever there was someone who deserved the honor, it was Mrs. Reeves! It was 1997 and she was still serving as director of horseback riding at Camp Waldemar. At first, modesty prevailed and she didn’t feel she was worthy of the honor. Then, she rightly decided that she had as much right to the induction as anyone. Did she ever!

In 2002, she rode horseback in the parade to honor the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, when it moved to its new Ft. Worth headquarters. She was fairly easy to spot. She was the only 100-yr-old woman on horseback!

Ride, Connie Ride!

Connie ReevesConnie never was content to spend her days reminiscing from a front porch rocking chair. Much to the chagrin of her doctors, she continued to live life on her own terms. After all, there were trails to ride!

In 2003, shortly before her 102nd birthday, Connie was out riding her favorite horse, Dr. Pepper, when she was thrown. She suffered a broken neck and died twelve days later of cardiac arrest.

In a 2002 interview with NPR, Connie said, “As long as I live, I’m going to be trying to ride a horse.” Well, Connie did just that. And, of course, she saddled it herself!

Watch this wonderful video about Connie Reeves from the American Cowgirl series! And a special thanks to photographer Jamie Williams for her sensitive photos of Connie. To learn more about the American Cowgirl project visit their website,  www.AmericanCowgirl.com

Happy Trails y’all,
Anita Lequoia