Aug 13th 2009 11:10 pm |
If you had opened your Daily Racing Form on August 13, 1919, you would have seen these past performances for race four at Saratoga:
Of course, we all know what happened, Man O’ War, the great two-year-old colt owned by Sam Riddle, was beaten by H.P. Whitney’s Upset. This unlikely result is one of the most legendary “upsets” in American sports history and has inspired an often repeated tale about the origins of that very word.
Most of us have heard the story that Man O’ War’s loss in the Stanford was the reason the term “upset” became part of American sports vernacular. A good story – no doubt – but easily proven false with a little digging in primary sources.
Sports headlines predating the 1919 Sanford Memorial prove the term upset for an unexpected result did not originate with Upset beating Man o’ War. For example, ‘Days of Upsets at Belmont Park….’ New York Herald, Sept 7, 1918 and ‘Upsets at Jefferson Park,’ Daily Racing Form, March 16, 1919.
Image: Upset beating Man O’ War (Associated Press)
Laura Hillenbrand in her wildly popular Seabiscuit also acknowledged the myth. While she didn’t offer any examples, she did write “…reporters covering the [1919 Sanford] noted how coincidental it was that Man o’ War should lose to a horse with such a name.”
According to the book Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends, a researcher found a “sporting use” of the term as early as 1865 and found this in the New York Times from July 17, 1877:
The program for today at Monmouth Park indicates a victory for the favorite in each of the four events, but racing is so uncertain that there may be a startling upset.
With the availability of full-text searching for the New York Times and the Daily Racing Form, it is possible to do a little debunking from the comfort of your own home.
A quick search of historic DRF online at Kentuckiana Digital Library finds these:
April 4, 1908:
The biggest upset of the afternoon came with the running of the last race in which Poquessing was a pronounced favorite. Park Row raced the favorite into defeat in the first half but was forced to do his best at the end to withstand the game challenge of Killiecrankie
June 25, 1908:
No three-year-old has carried off the Royal Hunt Cup at Ascot England since Refractor upset the heavily weighted Eager in 1899.
June 11, 1913:
The $1,000 handicap at one mile and a eighth that served as a feature in today’s racing at Latonia furnished a big upset…
August 13, 1918:
The Seneca Stakes…resulted in a big upset in the victory of Sweep Up II…
These are just a few of the many examples that predate the 1919 Stanford.
Image: The Magnificent Man O’ War (Keeneland Library)
Upset – the horse – will forever live in the lore of racing for being the only blemish on the record of one of racing’s all-time greats. But claiming he made a contribution to the language of American sports, while it makes for a good story, is absolutely false.
SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS
Dorothy Ours book about Man O’ War is a must read for any fan of racing history. Her meticulous research and ability to tell a good story, makes the book a real joy.
David Wilton wrote Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends published by the Oxford University Press in 2002
Quotes from the Daily Racing Form and the past performances from the 1919 Sanford are from the highly touted online version of DRF
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!