Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 82 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 82 days to go!

82 Days!!! War Admiral, “The Mighty Atom”, was the great Man O’ War’s most famous son. He was bred and owned by Sam Riddle, who was born in Glen Riddle, Pennsylvania. War Admiral was out of the Sweep mare, Brushup. Brushup, under the advice of his then Faraway Farm manager, Elizabeth Daingerfield, was kept from the sales. Eventually, new farm manager Harrie Scott, suggested to Riddle that he breed Man O’ War to Brushup, resulting in the brown foal.

War Admiral, who resembled his grandsire Sweep, received his training from George Conway, who was the stable foreman during Louis Feustel’s time as Man O’ War’s trainer. Mr. Riddle tried to give War Admiral to a nephew, who turned him down; fearing that if the horse turned into something special it might turn into a family issue. He was small compared to his sire, although he did inherit his father’s temper. Not a fan of the starting gate, he often held up the start of a race. War Admiral didn’t have the greatest of 2YO seasons, however he showed potential by winning the Eastern Shore Handicap, along with two other wins in his 6 starts. He wasn’t out of the money in any of his races, having finished second in two stakes and placing third in the other.

His 3YO season started out with two wins prior to coming in to the 1937 Kentucky Derby, a race that was put in jeopardy due to the largest flood the city had seen. While the flood took place in early spring, the extent of the damage was what had yet to be seen. Nevertheless, while Matt Winn was in Chicago, Louisville Mayor Miller sent him a telegram that said that it would “take many times more than that to in any way keep the Kentucky Derby scheduled for May 8 from being the best Derby in history”. The track ended up with only slight damage, which was repaired and made ready, making possible the 63rd running.

Twenty horses made their way to the starting gate, being sent on their way. War Admiral’s jockey, Charley Kurtsinger, let him take the lead early, keeping him under restraint for the entirety as they were easily the best. They won the race by 1 ¾ lengths over the 2 YO Champion Pompoon, in a time of 2:03 1/5 over a fast track, which was the second fastest running at the time. The Preakness would again see War Admiral take an early lead, except he found difficulty in navigating Pimlicos’s tight turns, causing him to run wide.  Pompoon was taken to the inside by his jockey, which left War Admiral to continue to make up ground. Kurtsinger, who never went to the whip, sat quietly, just asking his colt to give his all. In a thrilling stretch run, the Derby victors prevailed by a head. At the Belmont, War Admiral had one of his gate antic episodes, holding up the start for eight minutes, dragging the assistant starter through the gates several times. Once they broke, he stumbled badly, grabbing a quarter, meaning that the front of his back hoof caught the top part of the back of his front hoof, in essence stepping on himself. The incident tore a big piece out of his right forefoot, causing the gash to splatter blood all over his stomach and legs, yet it didn’t stop him. He cruised home the winner by three lengths, taking the mile and a half contest in a time of 2:28 3/5, breaking the 17 year old record set by his sire Man O’ War, as well as equaling the American record for the mile and a half.

The connections rested War Admiral for the summer to let his injury heal, returning in October to win three more races, the Washington Handicap, Chesapeake Stakes, and Pimlico Special. His undefeated season, as well as becoming the fourth Triple Crown winner, earned him 3YO Champion Male and Horse of the Year honors. The champ’s 4YO season was known mainly for the “Match Race of the Century” with Seabiscuit, a grandson of Man O’ War.

About 40,000 fans showed up to view the contest, while 40 million listened to the broadcast. The two horses would meet in the Pimlico Special with Seabiscuit winning by 4 lengths. Apart from the famous match race, War Admiral won eight impressive stakes races, including Widener Handicap, Whitney Stakes, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. He capped off the successful year with a victory in the Rhode Island Handicap. At 5, War Admiral would race and win once, before an ankle injury led to his retirement.

Standing at Riddle’s Faraway Farm, he proved to be a successful sire along with being a leading broodmare sire. When he passed he was buried next to Man O’ War, and his dam Brushup, at Faraway Farm. Eventually their remains were moved to the Kentucky Horse Park.

**Silks courtesy of the Ken Grayson collection

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum