Big Red

The wind blows pleasantly as you walk down the large sidewalk in the Kentucky Horse Park. The trees are plentiful and hug the surrounding area as if it were a hallowed and special place on Earth. If you look to your left, you see stakes that represent the length of the strides of three remarkable Thoroughbred race horses: John Henry, Secretariat, and Man O' War. It is an unperceivable sight, to say the least. You take large steps and see how many it takes to equal one single stride of Man O' War.... it averages around eleven or twelve giant steps. You look up, and from there you can see a clearing just right where the sidewalk ends and the trees stand around in a peaceful, admiring form. Curious, you head to see what could possibly be such a particularly special place in this peaceful spot in the park. While going to the clearing, the trees stir very little, the breeze is soft and gentle, and the birds chirp with tranquility. It is as if Nature herself knows and understands the importance of what lies just ahead. And that's when you see it. The leaves on the branches overhead part ever so slightly, and the statue is easily viewable. It stands oh-so proudly up on its pedastal, surrounded by flowers and the graves of his most celebrated offspring, which tapers off into a water fountain completely surrounding the memorial. The horse is a larger than life salute to a great champion, as it stands above the grave of Man O' War. All around the side of the memorial are plaques that tell of his greatness and his wins and single loss. There is a poem on one particular plaque that stirs your emotion. You read it...

A Poem in His Memory

The following poem is by Joseph Alvie Estes, well- known editor of The Blood Horse, was first published in that magazine October 23, 1937. It is entitled, "Big Red."

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.

The guineas stopped their rubbing,
The rider dropped his tack
When the word went round that Man o' War
Was coming on the track.

The crowd was hoarse with cheering
At ancient Pimlico
The day he won the Preakness-
But that was long ago.

The dust is deep at Windsor,
The good old days are gone.
And many a horse is forgotten,
But they still remember one.

For he was a fiery phantom
To that multitudinous throng-
Would you wait for another one like him?
Be patient: years are long.

For here was a horse among horses,
Cast in a Titan's mold,
And the slant October sunlight
Gilded the living gold.

He was marked with the god's own giving
And winged in every part;
The look of eagles was in his eye
And Hastings' wrath in his heart.

Young Equipoise had power
To rouse the crowded stand,
And there was magic in the name
Of Greentree's Twenty Grand.

And Sarazen has sprinted,
And Gallant Fox has stayed,
And Discovery has glittered
In the wake of Cavalcade.

We watch the heroes parading,
We wait, and our eyes are dim,
But we never discover another
Like him.

A foal is born at midnight
And in the frosty morn
The horseman eyes him fondly
And a secret hope is born.

But breathe it not, nor whisper,
For fear of a neighbor's scorn:
He's a chestnut colt, and he's got a star-
He may be another Man o' War.

Nay, say it aloud--be shameless.
Dream and hope and yearn,
For there's never a man among you
But waits for his return.


Man o' War was a born winner. He was a horseman's horse, a classic from the day he was born. Big, bold, and handsome, the Kentucky-bred stallion caught the eye and captured the imagination.

He was the undisputed king of the turf during the gambling-happy, roaring twenties. He was a large and imposing horse, and even when he was alive he was a tourist attraction, drawing visitors from across the country to pay homage at his farm. Racing historians say that the only reason Man o' War never won the Triple Crown is because his owner refused to race him in Kentucky.

Not only did Man o' War live nobly, he died nobly as well. His groom and pal, Will Harbut, died suddenly in October, 1947. Man o' War was so crestfallen that he pined away, and less than a month later he died of a broken heart.

Man o' War is buried beneath a larger-than-life bronze statue of himself at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, surrounded by the graves of several of his 379 children, including the Triple Crown-winning War Admiral.

As a unique honor, Man o' War's entire body was embalmed and placed in a giant casket lined with his racing colors. Over 2,000 mourners attended the elaborate funeral.

Most of the mystic surrounding "Big Red" was due to the fact that although he had won all but one of his races, he was never really turned loose and allowed to run a race at his own speed. To this day, people wonder how fast he could have been. Sadly, they'll never know.

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