Think of him as “Secretariat: The Prequel.” In 1920, the Triple Crown of horse racing had not yet been recognized as the standard of excellence it’s since become. And Man o’ War’s owner felt the Kentucky Derby came too early in the year for a three-year-old to race a mile and a quarter. But Man o’ War did win the Preakness (in a Pimlico track record time) and the Belmont (by 20 lengths).
During his racing career, Man o’ War won 20 of 21 races. The one he lost? He got off to a horrific start (starting gates didn’t come until later) and got trapped in the middle of the pack. Even so, he came on strong down the stretch, finishing just a nose behind. The winning horse’s name? Upset.
When Sports Illustrated compiled its list of the top 100 athletes of the 20th century, Man o’ War came in at number 84. Yeah, I know. It’s a horse. But get this. A panel of horse-racing experts at Blood-Horse magazine compiled its list of the top 100 thoroughbred racehorses of the 20th century. They named Man o’ War number one. Secretariat (Great American Things, April 24, 2010) came in second.