On a cool October morning in 1920, exactly one week before the match race at Kenilworth, Man O’ War stepped onto the main track at Belmont for his final serious work before meeting Sir Barton. He would gallop 1 1/4 miles, the same distance as the match race. Clockers, trainers and others gathered by the rail, with watches ready, to watch Red work. They still had no idea the Man O’ War had been injured in his last start. Running easily for the first 1/2 mile, Man O’ War ran each of the four furlongs in a perfect 12 seconds. He ran six furlongs in 1:12, then seven in 1:24. Just three more perfect 12’s and Big Red would match Whisk Broom’s amazing record of 2:00 flat. But, Man O’ War was geared down in the final stages and his final time was 2:02 3/5, some say 2:02 flat. Though he didn’t break the record, very few horses had run 1 1/4 miles that quick.
The next morning down in Maryland, Sir Barton carried 126 pounds in a 1 1/4 mile work. The Triple Crown winner had a very slow final time of 2:16 flat, not what the connections wanted to see. A few hours later Sir Barton boarded a train for Canada and around 6 P.M. Man O’ War did the same.
Both horses arrived at Kenilworth Park, a track “set out in the woods about three miles from Windsor….” The track was far from beautiful and the stalls built for the champions weren’t to great either. Eight foot fences topped with barbed wire surrounded the stalls and guards were everywhere.
Sir Barton stepped out onto the racetrack an hour and a half after the first race for an easy gallop. At the same time, Man O’ war was settling in. The trip didn’t seem to take much out of him one reporter observed, “Man O’ War was as playful as a kitten while he was being taken to his stall.” Though Man O’ War did have a playful side, his trainer Lou Feustel knew the young stallion could become dangerous when nervous. “He’d peel the shirt off you if you weren’t looking and he began to savage horses...” Man O’ War was starting to grow into his name.
On Friday morning, four days before the match race, Feustel sharpened his champion with a quarter mile blowout. Man O’ war proved his speed was intact, running the quarter in :22 3/4 and according to his trainer, he could’ve gone faster. The same morning Sir Barton worked a snail like half mile in :49, but his trainer, Guy Bedwell, seemed to be satisfied.
On Saturday morning, Sir Barton worked with two stablemates going 1 1/4 mile. Throughout the work he was “fighting for his head” and easily outran his stablemates. His final time was 2:09 flat, 2/5ths faster than the track record. That afternoon the public arrived to watch Red work, they were not allowed to watch Sir Barton earlier. 15 minutes before the first race, Man O’ war galloped before a crowd of 25,000 and, under a strong hold, beat Sir Barton’s time by one and three quarter seconds.
On Monday morning, one day before the match race, both colts enjoyed easy works. That night, while Man O’ war’s connections relaxed, Sir Barton’s owner, Commander Ross, and trainer, Guy Bedwell, made a difficult decision. They couldn’t trust jockey Earl Sande’s nerve, he had been to nervous in the days leading up to the race. After a long talk it was decided that Frank Keogh would ride Sir Barton. “You’ve been very unlucky lately,” Ross told the shocked Sande. Earl Sande was heartbroken and cried like a child.
The gates opened at kenilworth Park at 9 a.m. on October 12th, 1920. Fans had to push their way through the crowd in order to get in. Kenilworth had prepared for 45,000 spectators, but by noon only 21,000 had arrived. Though it was a small crowd it was a new record for Canadian racing. A few minutes after the third race, Sir Barton stepped onto the track and jogged around the whole track. Man O’ War came out as well, but only to walk in the paddock.
As post time for the match race drew closer, Bedwell became nervous. He knew Sir Barton needed to get the lead from Man O’ War. If Red got to the lead it was all over. Bedwell gave Keogh his final instructions, "Shake him up all the way. Give him the whip hard and often and keep him going at his best all the way. If you can get to the front do so. The colt is game and he’ll do his best all the way." At the same time Lou Feustel gave instructions to Man O’ War’s jockey Clarence Kummer. His words proved his trust in Red’s rider: “Ride as you would in a selling race. Go to the front if you can but don’t get excited.” Then Sam Riddle came out with one final message: “Don’t worry about being beaten, Clarence. If he beats you it will all be the same. We know you’ll do your best so don’t worry about us being peeved at you if the unexpected happens.”
Both horses waited behind the barrier for the start, Sir Barton on the rail and Man O’ War to his right. Man O’ War leaped forward prematurely twice but Kummer calmed him down. Then, the barrier flew up.
Sir Barton left Man O’ War one length behind at the start, Commander Ross couldn’t believe what he was seeing. For several seconds Sir Barton had the lead, but Man O’ War soon hit his stride and took over. Red sprinted ahead, pulling away with every powerful stride. Keogh whipped Sir Barton to try and wake him up. Despite the whipping Sir Barton gained no ground, he was giving it his all but could not get near the big chestnut ahead of him. Man O’ war was setting blistering fractions, the first quarter in :23 flat, the half in :46 and two, and he was under a strong hold from his jockey. Sir Barton, running all out could only manage the half in :47. At the five furlong mark, Man O’ War threw a shoe. He still had seven furlongs left and Sir Barton began to challenge, pushing Man O’ War through more fast fractions. Out of nowhere, Man O’ War took off, increasing his lead to five lengths and as they came down the stretch the lead kept increasing. In the final hundred yards, Man O’ War was eased to a canter, he would win by 7 lengths. The final time was 2:03, he broke the track record by six and two fifths seconds. Commander Ross was amazed by Man O’ War’s win over his champion and had only three words to say, "What a marvel".
Man O’ War would retire after the match race. When he returned to the barn his tendon injury returned and his left front leg swelled to twice its size, though this is not the reason for his retirement. Racetrack officials told Mr. Riddle that his colt would have to carry a record 150 pounds if he raced as a 4 year old.
After talking to Feustel, it was decided Big Red would be retired. It was to risky to have him carry so much weight on an injured leg, but he also had nothing left to prove. During his career, Man o’ war lost only once in 21 starts, he set three world records, two American records, two track record and equalled another.
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