Man o’ War’s Lasting Legacy

A new exhibit in Lexington celebrates the most famous racehorse that ever was

Photo: Courtesy of the International Museum of the Horse

Man O' War bests John P. Grier in the Dwyer, 1920.

If there’s a better name for a racehorse than Man o’ War, we haven’t heard it yet. With that kind of moniker, the Lexington-born Thoroughbred was all but destined to the greatness he would go on to achieve in just two short years of racing. From his first start on June 6, 1919, Man o’ War captured the hearts of the American people in the early postwar years, rivaling even Babe Ruth in popularity. He won twenty of twenty-one races—including one by an unheard-of hundred lengths—and brought international attention to Kentucky breeders, securing the Bluegrass State’s elite place in the racing world.

Photo: Courtesy of the International Museum of the Horse

Jockey Clarence Kummer with Man O’ War for the Lawrence Realization Stakes at Belmont Park in 1920.

Today, he is the Thoroughbred by which all others are judged. And this year, Lexington and the Kentucky Horse Park will celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the legendary stallion’s birth. Highlights include a downtown mural; Man o’ War–themed farm tours; and a new exhibit, Man o’ War: The Mostest Horse That Ever Was, so titled for the nickname his longtime groom, Will Harbut, bestowed on him.  The exhibition opens Wednesday, March 29, and will showcase never-before-seen artifacts from the horse’s life as a racer. Man o’ War died on Kentucky’s Faraway Farm in 1947 of a heart attack—less than a month after Harbut passed away. They say the unbeatable horse died of a broken heart.

Photo: Courtesy of James Shambhu

A statue of Man O’ War at Kentucky Horse Park.