Man 'O War, Seabiscuit, Citation and Secretariat are four of the most well-known thoroughbred racehorses in America.
Known for speed, agility and stubborn temperaments, Thoroughbred racehorses are the result of mating Arabian and English horses. Popular in the United Kingdom, thoroughbred racehorses have also lifted spirits of the American population. From the prohibition of gambling in the 1920s to the Great Depression and beyond, four famous thoroughbreds have touched the hearts of the American public, including Man ‘O War, Seabiscuit, Citation and Secretariat.
Man ‘O War
An American legend, Man ‘O War was born in 1917 and lost only one race in his two-year racing career. In Man ‘O War’s time, horses circled the starting line. When the race began, he had his back to the track but still managed to take second place. However, during his first year of racing, he won three stakes races in only 17 days. He became known as a sure bet in gambling circles across the nation.
In 1947, Man ‘O War passed. He was embalmed and laid in a casket decorated with his black and gold racing colors. He was the first horse to be buried this way and was laid to rest in Kentucky Horse Park with a statue marking his grave. Before his death, the chestnut-colored horse produced 64 stakes winners and 200 champions, including War Admiral. He was voted the Greatest Horse of the Century by The Associated Press’ six-person panel, with a total of four votes. In 1957, Man ‘O War was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
Born in 1936, Seabiscuit was a grandson of Man ‘O War. Originally, Seabiscuit was thought to be a disappointment and no one believed he held promise due to his shorter legs that would not completely straiten and boxy structure. But Seabiscuit surprised everyone with 11 wins from 15 starts during his first season. He was ridden by jockey Johnny “Red” Pollard, who stood 5’7”, which is tall for a jockey, and was blind in one eye due to a training accident.
In 1938, Seabiscuit participated in the “Match of the Century” against Triple Crown winner, War Admiral, son of Man ‘O War. Although Red Pollard was not able to ride Seabiscuit due to a shattered collarbone, the underdog pulled through, beating War Admiral by four lengths. Seabiscuit was the biggest newspaper story in America, topping both President Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. Americans suffering during the Great Depression fell in love with the rags-to-riches racehorse.
Seabiscuit’s story was told in Laura Hillenbrands’ 2002 book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, which remained on the New York Times’ best-seller list for 30 weeks. In 2003, the motion picture Seabiscuit premiered and was nominated for seven Academy Awards.
Born in 1945, Citation was the first American horse to win one million dollars. After winning the first race of his career, Citation went on to become the 1948 Triple Crown Winner. At the age of three, the bay colt had 27 wins from 29 starts. He received the honor of Horse of the Year, but did not race in 1951 due to injuries. Citation was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1959 and a life-sized statue was erected in Hileah Park, Fla. Cessna Aircraft Company named their business jet after Citation and created a horseshow background behind the painted name. In August of 1970, Citation died.
Secretariat was born in 1970 and was originally thought to be “too pretty” to be a good thoroughbred racehorse. However, in his first season, the Big Red Horse had eight consecutive victories. He was the first of only two two-year-olds to be crowned Horse of the Year. During his second season of racing, Secretariat won the Triple Crown and set a new world record at the Belmont Stakes, winning by 31 lengths. During his lifetime, Secretariat produced 653 foals, 57 of which were stakes winners. He also graced the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated. During his racing career, Secretariat brought in $1,316,808.
After his death in 1989, Secretariat was buried whole, although typical burial consists of the head, heart and hooves of the horse. Secretariat’s heart weight 22 pounds, almost twice the normal size of a racehorse.
In 1999, Secretariat was honored by the United States Postal Service with a stamp bearing his image. He was one of three non-humans listed on ESPN’s “100 Greatest Athletes of the 20th Century.” He is also the theme of the major motion picture Secretariat, which was released in 2010.
ESPN, National Geographic, Horseracing.com, Secretariat.com, Partners in Thoroughbreds, Animal Planet