Triple Crown Heroes: War Admiral
Editor's Note: In the fourth of 11 installments on previous Triple Crown winners, here is an excerpt from The Blood-Horse of June 12, 1937, on War Admiral winning the Belmont Stakes to complete the Triple Crown.
In 1879, at Jerome Park, James R. Keene's Spendthrift won the Belmont Stakes. He was the third son of Australian to win this test, Joe Daniels having been successful in 1872, Springbok in 1873. A grandson, Algerine, had won it in 1876.
Almost 20 years later in 1896, Spendthrift's son, Hastings, won the Belmont, which had been moved to Morris Park. In 1900 the race fell to Ildrim, by Kingston, son of Spendthrift; in 1902 to Masterman, by Hastings. In 1908, a few years after the removal of the race to Belmont Park, Hastings' great son, Fair Play, went out in quest of a third generation victory, but was beaten a head by Colin, the great James R. Keene racer, which never had his colors lowered.
In 1920 Fair Play's son, Man o' War, took the Belmont, in record time of 2:14 1/5, over what was then a 1 3/8-mile route. Fair Play also sent out the 1924 winner in Mad Play, and another son, Chance Shot, won in 1927. Chance Shot sired the 1934 winner, Peace Chance. Another grandson of Fair Play, Faireno, won in 1932. But the best record in the classic, now at 1 1/2 miles, is held by the sons of Man o' War, Crusader in 1926, American Flag in 1927, won the Belmont Stakes, and on June 5, in one of the best performances on the American Turf in many years, Glen Riddle Farm's War Admiral added a third victory to Man o' War's record.
In the five generations of the family which have contested the Belmont Stakes, War Admiral turned in perhaps the most impressive performance. Running in front from the first few strides, War Admiral carried 126 pounds for 1 1/2 miles faster than any American horse had ever done. Handy Mandy, at Latonia in 1927, had set the record of 2:28 3/5, equaled by War Admiral, but with only 109 pounds in the saddle. Man o' War, whose track record at Belmont Park had stood until War Admiral clipped one-fifth of a second from it, had but 118 pounds up when he set his record.
At the outset, the fortunes of racing broke against the Riddle colt. Starting from the outside, War Admiral left the gate with his customary speed. Perhaps a trifle off balance as he was hustled forward, he grabbed himself, cut deeply into his right fore quarter. He stumbled, and for a breathless second Jockey Charley Kurtsinger thought his mount was going down. Before he had time to think further, War Admiral had recovered and was in front. J. H. Whitney's Flying Scot took up what must now be considered the fruitless task of chasing the Man o' War colt, with Maxwell Howard's Sceneshifter lapped on him ...
For six furlongs Flying Scot raced some three lengths behind the leader. Then Jockey Johnny Gilbert placed him under pressure, saw War Admiral increase his margin to four lengths ... The little brown colt came to the finish line three lengths in front, with speed in reserve. Like his great sire, he won unextended ... Time, :24, :48, 1:12 1/5, 1:37 1/5, 1:49 4/5, 2:02 1/5, 2:15 2/5, 2:28 3/5 (new track record, equals American record), track fast. Stakes division, $38,020, $5,000, $2,500, $1,000.
War Admiral came back with blood tricking from his injury, and Trainer George Conway found that he had spattered himself with blood as he raced. He cooled out very lame, but on the following day was able to put a little weight on the injured leg. Trainer Conway said, "I don't see how he can be brought back to the races before fall, and even that is doubtful ... Time will prove the best healer, though we have to look out for infection, made doubly dangerous by the fact he race the entire distance with the open wound ... He's eligible for three stakes at Saratoga, including the Travers and Saratoga Cup, but it'll take a miracle for him to be in condition. It's a better guess to say he'll race in September at Belmont, if at all ... He's probably not as great as his daddy, but a better horse than Crusader." The 3-year-old champion horse, investigation disclosed, had cut away a section of the wall of his hoof, apparently going off balance when the ground broke from beneath him at the start.
War Admiral had now spread-eagled five fields this season, at six furlongs, a mile and 70 yards, mile and a quarter, mile and three-sixteenths, mile and a half. He has been in front at every post. In his two seasons he has started 11 times, won eight races, finished second twice, third once, and has earned $159,420. His 1937 earnings, $144,620, make him leading money winner of the year, are likely to keep him in that position even if he does not race again. He is thirtieth among American money-winners of all time, immediately behind Rosemont.
(Afternote: War Admiral didn't make it back to the races until late October. and one of his autumn victories came in the inaugural Pimlico Special. War Admiral made the 1940 Saratoga meeting, winning all four of his starts, all stakes. That fall, he tried to make it two straight in the Pimlico Special, but was beaten by Man o' War's grandson, Seabiscuit. War Admiral was retired the following season with 21 wins from 26 starts and earnings of $273,240. He became a successful sire, getting 40 stakes winners, but his name remains alive today in pedigrees because of his success as a broodmare sire. War Admiral ranks No 13 on The Blood-Horse Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.)
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