THE National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in the United States will open today, Wednesday 29 March, a special exhibit in the honour of Man O’War, considered one of the greatest racehorses of all time.

Born 100 years ago, on March 29, 1917, Man O’War, by Fair Play from Mahuba, won 20 of 21 races and a then almost inconceivable $249,465 in stake earnings.  Bred by the Nursery Stud in Lexington, Kentucky, he was the unofficial 1920 American Horse of the Year and was honoured alongside Babe Ruth as the outstanding athlete of the year by the New York Times.

A chestnut with a big star and stripe on his forehead, Man O’War’s nickname was “Big Red”, though his coat had tinges of yellow and gold. An energetic, spirited horse, he was often pictured standing very still and gazing off into the distance.

Man o’ War was retired to stud in 1921, where he became a leading sire whose multiple champions included Triple Crown winner War Admiral. Through his sons and daughters, Man o’ War is found in almost all modern American pedigrees. He lived till age 30, dying on November 1, 1947.

His funeral was broadcast live on NBC Radio. Kentucky horseman Ira Drymon said, “He touched the imagination of men and they saw different things in him. But one thing they will all remember was that he brought exaltation into their hearts.”

Man O’War was inducted into the US National Racing Museum in 1957.

The Kentucky Herald Leader reported this week on 90-year-old Gene Carter, believed to be the only human being alive, to have sat on Man O’War.

Carter, who is still actively employed as a horseman by the Kentucky Horse Park. learned some of his horsecraft at the feet of a legend: Will Harbut, the groom of Man o’ War.

Gene Carter, by special permission sat on Man O'War for one second!
Gene Carter, by special permission sat on Man O’War for one second! (Kentucky Herald Leader).

Writer Linda Blackford, in an interview with Carter, recorded that one day,  Harbut asked Carter if he wanted to sit on Man o’ War.

“Do I want to get on the greatest horse of all time?” Carter said incredulously. “Heck yeah, I want to get on him. Mr. Harbut said, ‘Come around here Genesie’ — he called me Genesie — ‘hand me your foot.’

He boosted me up, he said ‘Sit down.’ I sat down. ‘Pat him on the neck.’ I patted him on the neck. ‘Okey, now get down.’ I got down. I was on him a hot second! But I’m going to tell you, the people who knew Man o’ War, I’m the only one still alive!”

Carter got to sit on the horse, and he got to marry the girl. He and Harbutt’s daughter Lillian were married for 56 years and had eight children.

Read the wonderful Gene Carter story here.

Headline photo: Man O’War at Saratoga in 1920. (Source: Unknown)

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