War Admiral: Man o'War's Greatest Son
By Jenny Kellner
War Admiral was Man o’ War’s best son even though he looked nothing like his massive, coppery red father. With a sleek, mink-brown coat and a short, choppy stride that was deceivingly efficient, the little colt stood just 15-2 hands tall – a full hand shorter than his sire -- and became known to his fans as The Mighty Atom, or simply The Admiral.
He was high-strung individual, according to his exercise rider Tom Harbut, who said he “would jump three times every time you took him out." Owned by Glen Riddle Farm, trained by George Conway and ridden by Charles Kurtsinger, he came off a solid two-year-old season to win all eight of his starts at 3, becoming the first Triple Crown winner to go unbeaten in his sophomore year..
He began his three-year-old campaign at Havre de Grace, winning an allowance and the Chesapeake Stakes and earning the favorite’s role for the May 8 Kentucky Derby. After War Admiral delayed the start for eight minutes, he cantered home a 1 3/4-length winner over two-year-old champion Pompoon, and boarded a train for Baltimore that same evening.
Neville Dunn, sports editor for the Lexington Herald, wrote: "A little brown horse that takes after his mammy in size but runs like his daddy charged to victory in the 63rd Kentucky Derby... and he won so easily, so effortlessly, that 65,000 fans nudged one another in the ribs and said, 'I told you so! I told you that War Admiral could run like Man o' War'.'"
The following Saturday in the Preakness, Pompoon proved a much tougher rival, but Samuel Riddle’s colt prevailed after a thrilling stretch duel to win the second leg of the Triple Crown by a head.
The Belmont was the easiest race of the series, as he won by three lengths over Sceneshifter, but it came at a price. Acting up at the start, repeatedly crashing through the gate and delaying the race for almost nine minutes, he stumbled at the break, slicing off a piece of his right front heel. He left behind a trail of blood and beaten rivals as he clipped a fifth of a second off his father’s track record for a mile and one-half, winning in 2:28 1/5, and cooled out dead lame. Conway said the following day, "I don't see how he can be brought back to the races before fall, and even that is doubtful.”
He did return in October, winning an allowance, the Washington Handicap and the Pimlico Special, to earn Horse of the Year honors with an 8-0 record, and the following year won nine of his 11 starts, losing only the Mass Cap, in which he was fourth, and the famous match race with Seabiscuit in the 1938 Pimlico Special.
Retired after winning his lone start at age 5, War Admiral became a successful sire; included among his many stakes winners were Busanda and Busher. When he died in 1959, he was buried next to his father underneath the famous Man o’ War statue at Faraway Farm near Lexington, KY.
Click here to view the 1937 Belmont Stakes results chart