In 1920, an American legend and a Triple Crown winner met in Canada to decide who was the best thoroughbred of the year. On August 29, 2015 — 95 years later — another Triple Crown winner goes to the post in Saratoga to annex a victory in the historic Travers Stakes to his already impressive track record. And the connections between these two events weave still another narrative where past punctuates present.
Technically, there wasn’t an American Triple Crown the year Sir Barton won it. However, by 1923 the term starts to show up in occasional press releases. But it took until 1930, when Gallant Fox won it, for the term to be popularized by the Daily Racing Form’s Charles Hatton. By 1950, the Triple Crown had its own trophy and a tradition was well-entrenched in the sport; too, Sir Barton became the first “official” winner, the title being given to him posthumously in 1948.
When Man O’ War met up with Sir Barton for their match race, those present would have probably described the two as “Might be the greatest ever ?” and “The Greatest Ever ! ” respectively. The Kenilworth Park Match Race was the last race the mighty Man O’ War ran and, although he outran Sir Barton handily, it must be stressed that the latter — who suffered from foot problems throughout his racing career — was a great thoroughbred in his own right. In acknowledgement of his accomplishments, Sir Barton was inducted into the National Museum and Racing Hall of Fame in 1957, and was among the first thirteen thoroughbreds to be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1976.
The good people of Kenilworth Park spared nothing in preparing for “The Race of the Century” which it indeed was. In 1920, Man O’ War was likely viewed as a brilliant upstart. Beating the incomparable Sir Barton would determine his true merit. In addition, special stables, complete with around the clock guards, were built to house the two champion thoroughbreds.
A new grandstand some 800 feet long was built, a special train was booked to transport race goers from Toronto to Windsor and the dirt track was made ready with a special attention to detail. Tickets were sold at an astronomical $5.00 each.
By the afternoon of Thursday October 7th, 1920 both horses arrived in Windsor, Ontario by train, Man O’ War shipping from New York and Sir Barton from Laurel, Maryland. The atmosphere in Windsor was on the weekend before the race at a fever pitch.
One can only imagine the excitement that gripped Windsor from the arrival of Man O’ War and Sir Barton to October 12. However, the race itself proved something of a disappointment since Sir Barton, now a 4 year-old, was foot sore and not the blazing 3 year-old of 1919 who had won a Triple Crown as well as the Withers in a space of 32 days. The Ross Stables’ champion led initially, but about sixty yards into the mile and a quarter distance, Man O’ War took the lead and won by 7 lengths in a new track record.
As he crossed the finish line, Man O’ War must have heard the din of the crowd, many of whom knew that they had witnessed one of the greatest historical markers of the sport. And it was, arguably, this last race against another great horse that saw Man O’ War take the throne of thoroughbred racing in North America.
To the continued chanting and applause of the crowd, Big Red was led into the winners’ circle, where he drank from a gold cup that had been specially designed by Tiffany and Co. for Abe Orpen, the owner and manager of Kenilworth, at a cost of $5,000.
And it is this very same cup, affectionately known as the “Man O’ War Cup” that will be presented to the winner of the 2015 Travers at Saratoga, NY on August 29, 2015.
Following his death, the widow of Samuel Riddle presented Man O’ War’s solid gold cup to Saratoga, where it became officially known as the Travers Trophy. The cup is presented every year by a descendant of the Riddle family, together with a host of other dignitaries. A gold-plated replica is given to the winning owner.
Man O’ War won the Travers in 1920. On August 29 his descendant, American Pharoah, will step onto the track at Saratoga with the same intention.
We wish this great colt only the best but must add the fact that America’s newest Triple Crown winner also carries Upset in his pedigree……and Upset was the only horse to ever beat Man O’ War, in the Sanford at Saratoga.
But, then again, Man O’ War put paid to his nemesis in the Travers:
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1)Another look at The Race of the Century” with new footage:
2) From Steve Haskin, North America’s pre-eminent turf writer:
3) Announcement that American Pharoah will run in the Travers, with the “decisive” workout (red cap on rider):
4) American Pharoah schools at Saratoga (TVG)