Dorothy Ours Author
Wednesday August 2, 2006
Dorothy Ours has a lifelong fascination with horses, history, and Thoroughbred racing. As a child, following the great Secretariat's career stoked her curiosity about the immortal Man o’ War. As a teenager, thanks to the West Virginia University Library's microfilm collection, she found original New York Times coverage of Man o' War's races and realized that many enlightening details of his career had been lost in time.
After graduating from WVU's College of Creative Arts with a B.F.A. in Theater, Dorothy acted and directed in community theater before relocating to Boston, Massachusetts, where she spent several years as an administrative assistant to the Performance Division Chairman at Berklee College of Music, studied music and art in her spare time, and enjoyed creative writing -- but did not pursue any writing projects for publication. Eventually, however, the desire to write a book—the intriguing true story of Man o' War—took hold.
Moving to Saratoga Springs, New York, and working for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame from 1998 until spring 2005, Dorothy enjoyed a wide range of experiences behind the scenes in the racing world. As a researcher, she was cited for contributions to such books as Man o’ War by Edward L. Bowen, Native Dancer and Exterminator by Eva Jolene Boyd, and Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand.
St. Martin's Press made a long-held dream come true, publishing Man O' War: A Legend Like Lightning to great reviews in May of this year.
Cedar Rapids, IA:
Dorothy, I wanted to let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed your book, "Man o' War: A Legend Like Lightning." I can't imagine how much time it took you to compile all of the information contained in your book! It is definitely something I will read over and over! I am a huge fan of both Big Reds - Man o' War and Secretariat. Any chance you'll ever write a book on the latter? Thank you!
Thank you so much! Gathering the information was my hobby for several years - and condensing it into a moderately sized story instead of an 800-page encyclopedia took a l-o-n-n-n-n-g time, too. Finally deciding to focus on Man o' War's racing career, the Johnny Loftus mysteries, and archrival Sir Barton's counterpoint to Red's heroic main melody helped bring everything into focus.
I'm a huge fan of both Big Reds, too. Secretariat was my childhood hero and still is, I think, the all-around most remarkable racehorse I've seen compete. He really put me on the path to finding out more about Man o' War, because I had to know how the first Big Red measured up! (Smile.) Even before Secretariat came along, though, I did appreciate that Man o' War was a very special horse - in fact, as a young kid, named a porcelain horse-head bookend after him.
Being asked whether I'd write a book about Secretariat is flattering, but honestly - Bill Nack already has published the Secretariat bible for my generation. He was there in person with the horse and the key people, and wrote it so eloquently while the events were still fresh. Plus, Raymond Woolfe, Jr. gave us wonderful photos with excellent text, and Timothy Capps recently did an honorable look back at Secretariat for the "Thoroughbred Legends" series. While there's always room for new viewpoints about a super champion, I think that someone who's just a kid right now probably will write the next outstanding Secretariat book. I'll be content to live out my life with those memories.
San Juan, Puerto Rico:
Thank you so much for your relentless efforts in bringing to life new fascinating details on that 20th century American icon named Man o' War. Thanks also for the privilege of taking our queries. My question is: if from your photographic examination or interviews on Big Red's phenotype and progeny, ever surfaced that he may have had a special ability to sire horses of unusual colors shades and markings?
Responding to your questions is a privilege and pleasure. Thank you for noticing those "new fascinating details." That's why this book exists: researching old sources, just for fun, I was surprised how much "new" information they revealed about this marvelous, legendary athlete. Racing's colorful struggles during his era also got my attention.
Speaking of colorful, to the best of my knowledge, Man o' War wasn't known for siring offspring with really unusual colors or markings (though some of his descendants may inherit odd colors or markings from other ancestors). He transmitted his own eye-catching red chestnut color to a number of his descendants. I'm not sure how many also had small, dark "Bend Or" spots on the rump, as he did.
I did notice that Man o' War stamped many of his offspring with other distinct physical traits, such as shoulders beautifully built for jumping ... or sometimes a Roman nose. The proud, rugged profiles of War Admiral and Battleship really tickle me, because it's very clear who their daddy was!
Hi, and thanks for speaking to us all. I was wondering: in your personal opinion, who was the better racehorse: Man o' War or Secretariat?
Well, we have to define "better." I think that Man o' War deserves extra credit for successfully carrying so much weight so often, Secretariat deserves extra credit for his 5-3-2-0 record against fields of older horses, and both showed the very highest level of brilliant speed plus true stamina. Years ago, I tried very hard to find a definitive answer to this question. These days, my personal opinion is that we can't really know. If we could send Secretariat back to 1920 or bring Man o' War forward to 1973, subjecting each to the training and racing conditions of that different era, would one do better than the other? I think they'd both still be phenomenal, but their records might shape up differently (such as Secretariat carrying more weight and Man o' War running more against older horses).
If the Reds could go into a race together, I'd probably root for Secretariat because I'm loyal to my childhood hero, but also would feel deep pride and affection for Man o' War if he won. Would be thrilled with a dead heat!
I'm always a fan of those who tell us more about the great legends of horse racing. I'm a big fan of Secretariat and I devour anything written about him. Many people who took Big Red from beginning to end are still around today, owner, jockeys, exercise riders, etc, how have you been able to research Man o' War?
As you point out, the folks who handled Man o' War at the racetrack are long gone. I did, however, concentrate on "primary sources": material that existed during Red's racing career, plus later eyewitness accounts. Microfilm of numerous old newspapers was a big help; I scrolled day by day through the sports sections of 1919 and 1920, scanning for any useful scrap. Also sat in the Keeneland Library basement, paging through fragile old Daily Racing Forms and reading relevant information into a tape recorder. My best advice for researchers: don't limit yourself to an index! Many pearls are rolling around loose.
Other very special sources included a Johnny Loftus scrapbook shared by his daughter-in-law, and a cassette of Lou Feustel being interviewed about Man o' War (thank you, National Museum of Racing!). Meeting with Dr. William McGee, Man o' War's last veterinarian, and Tom Harbut, whose father had such a special connection with Red, made me feel especially blessed.
I also made of point of visiting important places in Red's story, from Sam Riddle's former home "On the Hill" at Glen Riddle, Pennsylvania, to his Berlin, Maryland, training farm, to Red's stud barns at what used to be Faraway Farm, to name a few. Living in Saratoga Springs for several years, so close to where Man o' War often raced, also was an immeasurable help.
That's the very short version of How I Was Able to Research Man o' War. For unabridged version, check out the bibliography and acknowledgments in the book!
Hello from sunny Miami. Thank you for your research on Man o' War. This is sort of a two part question. How many stakes winners is Man o' War is credited having produced and how many of those won stakes outside the mainland USA? The reason for my question is due to the fact that one of his sons was a stakes winner and a track record holder in Puerto Rico and also won races in Venezuela. I do not believe he appears in any of famous sire records among his remarkable produce. Thank you in advance.
Hello, Miami! If we were in February, instead of about-100-degrees August, I'd really envy you....
Far as I know, Man o' War is credited with siring 64 stakes winners - an excellent total (16 percent) from 379 foals. And now ... you should get a prize for stumping me with "how many of those won stakes outside the mainland USA?" Maybe some intrepid Blood-Horse reader can answer that?
Years ago I did a research paper on Man o' War while attending evening classes at Rutgers. I couldn't pin down exactly where the horse was stabled while in training. Riddle had a farm in Berlin, MD and Feustel was stabled in Savage, MD. Were you able to determine whether the horse was stabled at either or both of these places?
Yes. While Feustel was training for Sam Riddle, he and Man o' War both stayed at the Riddle farm between Berlin and Ocean City, Maryland. The old Riddle farm has become a resort-style housing development, but the main barn still stands - renovated as a clubhouse and restaurant. I haven't been in yet; am told that they've kept many of the stable features, including stall partitions between seating areas and stall doors as tabletops. Am very glad I got to see the farm before it was developed; also glad that this remarkable, historic building found a continuing place in our quickly changing world.
I have read your book and enjoyed it, but one thing sticks out to me and I wonder if you could comment. It seems to me that Man o' War's handlers ducked competing against Sir Barton when he was at his peak and never raced Exterminator. Do you think this was genuine concern for the horse's health or fear he might get beat? Also, he only raced an older horse once, Sir Barton. Why?
Glad you enjoyed the book! Good question, whether or not Man o' War's folks "ducked" the older champions. One thing they knew: in any handicap race, Man o' War would have a weight disadvantage because he clearly was far better than the typical three-year-old. In fact, by early summer Walter Vosburgh was assigning Red the highest weights he'd ever given for a 3-year-old in route races against older horses. That made events such as the August 2 Saratoga Handicap (won by Sir Barton, over Exterminator) not very desirable targets.
As a matter of fact, Sam Riddle had anticipated this problem and announced early on that Red would stick to three-year-old races ("Ambitious Plans for Man o' War," New York Times, Jan. 25, 1920). "It is with the knowledge that the imposts would eventually beat his horse that Mr. Riddle has decided to stick to the three-year-old events," this article explained. "Even in these, Man o' War will be required to give away weight, but he will be doing so to horses of his own age and will probably never be asked to carry more than 132 pounds in any race."
I think it's quite possible that, as the summer progressed, Riddle seriously considered running Red in the weight-for-age Saratoga Cup but changed his mind as support for a special match race with Sir Barton gained momentum. Riddle greatly wanted Man o' War to set an earnings record, and knew that: 1) the best three-year-old races offered higher purses than the 3-up handicaps; and 2) meeting Sir Barton in a special match could create huge earnings.
In general, I think Riddle was making smart business decisions to maximize his champion's earnings with minimal effort. No doubt that he didn't want Red to get beaten, but he also started him in at least a couple of races - the Dwyer and the Potomac Handicap - that were far from being walks in the park. And, until fairly late in Red's three-year-old campaign, Riddle had planned to keep racing him at age four.
Exterminator, I think, gained lots of luster after Man o' War retired. In 1920, he was becoming popular but didn't gain attention as a possible Red rival until that autumn ... and even then, Sir Barton was seen as Red's number one threat. Exterminator was a heckuva racehorse, but I didn't find any evidence that his presence affected Man o' War's racing schedule. Actually, it appears more likely that Exterminator avoided Man o' War on a couple of occasions.
Beyond everything, I think that Riddle and Feustel recognized Man o' War as the horse of a lifetime and cared very much about his health. Of course, sometimes they didn't agree which risks were worth taking - most notably, before the Potomac Handicap.
I read Ed Bowen's Man o' War book from the Thoroughbred Legends series and I loved it. Is your book similar to that one or different? Will I learn anything new?
Mr. Bowen did well with the limited space of the Thoroughbred Legends format. I had the luxury of filling more than twice as many pages, so you will find additional information about Man o' War and the racing world around him. There's more about his only defeat, for example, and possible reasons why Johnny Loftus couldn't get a jockey license after 1919. I think that the two books are complimentary, with some different resources in each. Do check out a few rare photos in mine (shameless advertising ... grin).
Someone really needs to write a biography about Pat Day. How about you?
Well ... I guess that's really up to Pat Day! Thanks for your vote of confidence.
I am sure this is a question you will get often, but how do you feel Man o' War and Secretariat would have matched up? Do you think Man o' War was the greatest racehorse of all time?
Surely Man o' War deserves to be one of top all-around contenders. At that highest level, on any given day, I think that the winner of our mythical Greatest Ever race might be Man o' War, Citation, Kelso, Secretariat, to name a few ... whiskers and head-bobs separating them.
In terms of natural speed and stamina, I think that Man o' War and Secretariat would be closely matched. Then come all sorts of variables in how they were trained and campaigned. Imagine Man o' War dealing with a metal starting gate, or Secretariat maneuvering behind a net barrier. Picture Secretariat racing more frequently during a shorter span of months, and Man o' War sustaining a mid-March through end-of-October three-year-old season rather than mid-May through mid-October. Different pressures.
Who would win the Kentucky Derby, if they both ran? We know that Man o' War wasn't cranked up in time for the 1920 Derby. Point for Secretariat. But then Man o' War won the Preakness without any prep race. Point for Man o' War.
Mix some scholarship with a dose of imagination, and this game can go on for a good long time.... (Grin.)
I really enjoyed your book on Man o' War. In your research, have you ever come across anything that stated Man o' War was brought to Madisonville, KY for veterinary treatment? My brother-in-law says that his Dad (who was a groom) told him that the horse was here once. I don't think Sam Riddle would ever have brought him to Western Kentucky for anything!
(Laughing out loud) You're probably right - once Man o' War got settled in Lexington, Sam Riddle wasn't eager to move him! I don't have any evidence proving that Man o' War never was in Madisonville, but the safest guess is that he got all of his vet treatment at his home farm.
Thanks for your very nice comments!
People say that Man o' War didn't beat anyone. They say the only good horse he really beat was Sir Barton who was sore. How do you feel about this?
John P. Grier and Upset were good horses. Some others, such as Constancy and Blazes, had real speed but couldn't match Man o' War's endurance. Sir Barton was a great horse who suffered from the hard track at Kenilworth Park but still made Man o' War shake a leg to overtake him in the early part of their match race.
And aside from that ... Man o' War kept beating the clock. (Wink.) How much can you take away from a horse that sets five American records, four of them under no pressure? Does it matter that an opponent usually wasn't anywhere near him?
Hi, Dorothy. I am looking forward to your book. I did have a great interest in Secretariat and I also believe that the two horses (he and Man o' War) are the best that ever looked through a bridle. It is really hard to compare horses of bygone years, but there have been trainers that have seen both horses and one would have to go by their evaluations (the late trainer Hollie Hughes being one). I have put together some interesting comparisons of the two. Secretariat and Man o' War were both horses were chestnuts. Both were nicknamed Big Red. Both were born in the month of March. Both started their careers at Belmont Park (in training). Both raced 21 times. Both ran their last race in October. Both ran their last race in Canada. Both were upset at Saratoga. Both retired as 3-year-olds. Both went to stud in Kentucky. Both are buried in Oak coffins. Both are buried at the Kentucky Horse Park Museum and are facing each other as you enter. All best wishes with your book, Jim Gaffney
Mr. Gaffney, how nice of you to pop in! Thanks for your good wishes. I've always thought it remarkable that Man o' War and Secretariat nearly had the same birthday - MoW born shortly before midnight on March 29, Sec shortly after midnight on March 30 - and both were bright chestnuts with a star and stripe marking. Makes a person dream about reincarnation!
Anyway, you certainly were blessed to gallop such a great one. I don't know how that feels, but did have a vivid dream not long after starting serious work on "Man o' War." I was out on the track, loping along on a big red racehorse, and thought, "Wonder what this horse would do if I really let him go?" So I did - and with me on his back, he shot up into the sky. So fast and sudden that I sat up, awake! And, you know, that dream is true. Man o' War, like Secretariat, has been a tremendous ride.
Is it true that you have been working on a children's book? Are you allowed to tell us about it here?
Now that "Man o' War" is off my desk and out in the world, some children's book ideas are popping into my head. Too early to know whether they'll come to anything -- but it's a fun change of pace!
Do you own horses, or has learning about them always been a hobby?
I've never owned my own horse, unless you count the rubber one on springs that bounced me across imaginary prairies when I was four years old.... Took riding lessons and went trail riding whenever possible, and grew up reading everything in the library about horses. Right now I'm servant to a friend's Morgan Horse herd -- a lovely bunch, and good teachers. (Smile.)
Mount Morris, MI:
Thank you for talking with us today! I've done a bit of research on Man O' War, and I love the horse. Something that has always bothered me personally is that I feel his stud career could have been far better. Could you comment on the way the Riddles managed him and how bloodlines might be different today if he'd been given better mares in higher quantity? What sire would you compare him to from today if he'd been given that opportunity?
If you haven't already, go to a pedigree expert and check out Rommy Faversham's book, "Great Breeders and Their Methods: Samuel Riddle, Walter Jeffords, and Man o' War." He addresses many of your questions in much more depth than I can here. In brief, I think there was some merit in those complaints but also some plain old jealousy. It's true that Red's phenomenal rate of siring stakes winners dropped off after his first five years, but any stud with a career total of 16% stakes winners had stratospheric success.
Red also did make a great impact on the breed, through his wonderful daughters even more than through his sons. Many of today's top runners, including Barbaro and Bernardini, trace back to him at least once.
Comparing Man o' War with top sires of today, it's funny -- the first ones who come to my mind are best known as turf sires, Sadler's Wells and Dynaformer. I think of Sadler's Wells because he's gotten so many classic winners, and Dynaformer because he has such substance and stamina (and showed, with Barbaro, that with the right cross he can get a very classy classic horse). Another possibility is A.P. Indy, who gets an occasional precocious two-year-old but really makes his name with fine three-year-olds and up. I think that Man o' War, in today's market, would be a lot like that.
According to Faraway Farm staff, I must have visited Man o' War's barn shortly after you did. When they said that a lady writing a book was about their only other visitor I made sure to check my local bookstore often. That visit was an amazing experience for me, like walking on hallowed ground! What were your impressions? In your opinion, even with the new renovations, does the barn seem like it would have been in the 1920's when Man o' War held court there? Thank you!
Great that you got to experience Faraway. Hallowed ground is exactly how it feels. After my first visit, a dozen years ago, I was telling an aunt how extraordinarily good and peaceful the vibe there was, and she said, "Of course. It was a shrine." Got me thinking how many thousands of people had stood there filled with happy energy, admiring Man o' War.
Before renovation, the place definitely had a more old-fashioned feel. But it also needed maintenance, very much, and the current owner has really stepped up and taken care. When Man o' War actually lived there, everything would've been ship-shape, and I think that this preservation found a good balance.
Man o' War is my favorite race horse. Do you think they will ever do a motion picture on his life?
I think Man o' War's story is a big challenge for film-makers to think outside the box, because he was so very dominant on the track. In my imagination, I see a John Sayles independent kind of movie rather than a Hollywood blockbuster -- something that explores nooks and crannies of that particular place and time, centered on this incredibly gifted horse, rather than a typical sports movie. (And I don't mean anything against typical sports movies -- they've become typical because they're thrilling!)
I'm not holding my breath, but of course would be delighted with a movie that does justice to Man o' War.
I have collected much about Man o' War and have read the microfilm from the New York Times from his racing days. I would love to see someone compile a photographic history of Man o' War as a coffee table book. Is that something you would be interested in?
I'd be fascinated! (Grin.) Publishing it could be a financial challenge, though -- paying for photo rights can get very expensive very quickly. Still, I hope your vision comes true someday, from someone, in some form.
Loved the book! What do you consider the best resources for doing historical research on early-mid 20th Century racing?
Thank you kindly!
Best resources include the racing industry publications, plus sports pages of local newspapers. For example, if researching Saratoga racing in 1910, I would page through Daily Racing Form, etc., but also issues of The Saratogian newspaper (as well as various New York City papers). Sometimes a local paper will have interesting extra tidbits that out-of-towners overlook; for example, the Baltimore Sun gave some great local viewpoints about Man o' War's Preakness.
Also, check libraries for personal memoirs (such as the book "Boots and Saddles" by J.K.M. Ross, son of Sir Barton's owner) and/or papers and correspondence (such as the August Belmont collection at Columbia University).
And by all means, talk with old-timers! (Big grin.) They become scarce if you go back too many years, but their observations can be pure gold.
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