Man o’ War in Pennsylvania

Jul 5th 2012 08:00 am |

I recently moved from Kennett Square to Media, Pennsylvania. Media is a small town about fifteen miles from Center City Philadelphia. Among its famous residents is Samuel Riddle, owner of the racing stable Glen Riddle Farm under whose colors Man o’ War and War Admiral ran. Not far from my new home is Rose Tree Park the former site of the Rose Tree Hunt Club, one of the oldest hunt clubs in America where Riddle served as president. It was there on October 20, 1920 that Riddle sent his legendary horse to make the only public appearance in his home state of Pennsylvania before being shipped to Kentucky to begin his stud career.

Soon after announcing  the end of Man o’ War’s career, Riddle was besieged with offers to sell or display his great colt and was even offered a movie deal. He turned down all offers and public appearances with one exception: a curtain call at the Rose Tree Hunt race meeting in Media.

On October 20 1920, Man o’ War appeared at Rose Tree along with boxing champion Jack Dempsey and local rowing champion Jack Kelly. Kelly had recently won two gold medals in the Antwerp Olympics and Dempsey was the reigning heavyweight champ. In an era when sports figures were first elevated to grand heights, Kelly and Dempsey were near the pinnacle of their fame in 1920. Even among sports royalty of the human kind, it was the horse who stole the show.

The Philadelphia Inquirer covered the event in their society pages. At the time, horse racing in Philadelphia wasn’t considered a “sporting” affair with no legal means to wager.  Here’s how it was reported in the Inquirer October 21, 1920:

“Spontaneously as [the] tributes were rendered to the human champions, they were but the overflow from the store of adulation which had been retained for the wonder horse…

“…The multitude was unique in the annals of these events. Never before in the history of this racing organization has such a cosmopolitan crowd filtered through the gates and spread over the wide-rolling acres of the course. Men, women, and children were in the splendid gathering, and all strata of life were represented by the devotees of Man o’ War.”

A little known incident from the Man o’ War story is that it could have come to a bizarre and tragic end at Rose Tree. On the day of his appearance, Man o’ War was “brought from the farm of his owner, Samuel Riddle, early in the afternoon.” He was accompanied by his trainer Louis Feustel and his grooms as well as his stablemate, Major Treat, a retired racer who went everywhere with Riddle’s champion. The Inquirer described the near disaster:

“As the motor truck was swung open for the horse to slip down the plane the amiable and docile old Major [Treat] got down as befits a gentleman of his years and dignity. But Man o’ War, mettlesome and high spirited, could not stand to tread in stately fashion down the planks and he tried to take it in a leap. He slipped from the boards and just grazed his leg, an escape from an accident that caused all of his attendants to breathe a sigh of relief, and to permit them to understand how some men could feel when they almost lost $400,000, which is the price which Man o’ War now is worth in the estimation of the gentleman who follow the turf.”

After averting disaster, Man o’ War appeared after the third race of the day:

“Prancing and dancing like the beautiful animal he is, the wonder horse came along the sward [turf]. Cheers broke from every section of stand and field, and the ovation seemed to awaken in the horse a desire to show that he was kingly in his deportment as one might expect. With dignified step, his magnificent muscles rippling, like rivulets under his glossy coat, he permitted Gordon [his rider] to guide him up and down the turf, while the air re-echoed to the cheers and applause of the thousands, who seemed anxious to honor this horse as he had never been lauded before.”

After parading for the assembled 15,000 fans, Riddle asked for a picture with the three sports champions. While Dempsey and Kelly complied, Man o’ War “took exception to the photography.” His trainer Louis Feustel, “fearing the strain on his pet [he] ordered the camera job completed at once and waved Man o’ War back to his quarters.”

They did manage a few images even with Man o’ War’s recalcitrance, including the one below.  Notice the distance Jack Kelly (left) is keeping and the defensive stance of the heavyweight champ:

Man O'War at Rose Tree hunt clubs meet in Media, PA. L-R: Jack Kelly, world's single and double rowing champ, Man O'War, Jack Dempsey.

A film of the event is available to preview online. I tried to license this film for the site but the cost was prohibitive. View it here

The rolling hills at Rose Tree Park in Media PA, the former grounds of the Rose Tree Hunt Club, where thousands of people came to see Man o’ War in October 1920.

A portion of the former estate grounds of Samuel Riddle, located about three miles from Rose Tree, is now a residential neighborhood. The street names are the only indication of its former glory.

 

SOURCES, NEWS, AND NOTES

“15,000 at Opening of Rose Tree Hunt,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 21 October 1920

Thanks for reading!

Filed in Man O' War,Pennsylvania,Riddle, Samuel,Rose Tree Hunt Club



12 Responses to “Man o’ War in Pennsylvania”

  1. Quilla says:

    Jack Kelly is the father of Grace. Yeah, that Grace Kelly. 🙂

  2. Kevin says:

    Indeed he was. Jack Kelly was also one of the founders of Atlantic City Race Course!

  3. Larry says:

    Kevin, don’t most people move in the other direction now, did you get tired of Mushrooms? Mr. Riddle also gave the money for Riddle Memorial Hospital, probably better remembered for that . Alot of people have never made the connection with the street signs as they drive up Route 1.

  4. Bill Kaup says:

    Not surprising that Man o’ War was tempestuous and could be a real handful. I did a paper in college about the horse and learned that his sire, Fair Play, had a fiery nature and his grandsire, Hastings, was described in one source as “downright dangerous”. The good ones all have that fire burning within them. Nice story. Thank you.

  5. Kevin says:

    Larry:

    Ha! Yes, I can still get fresh mushrooms in Media minus the lovely smell of the mushroom houses.

    Yes, thanks for mentioning Riddle Hospital which is prominent along route 1 also on the grounds of his former estate.

    Thanks for the comment!

  6. Larry says:

    Kevin, I figured out quite a while ago you had to be from the Wilmington area, so am I originally. I took up your challenge on finding older race tracks, and couldn’t believe how little thorougbred racing there was in Delaware or the Eastern Shore of Maryland considering the Duponts. About 200 hours of research and several informal interviews later I’ve learned quite a bit. One thing I was told by one oldest horsemen in the State was that a great deal of high stakes racing was by invitation only with substantial security at their estates. Always trying to prove the accuracy of my sources, I knew Hagely Museums Digital Files included the Dallin Aerail Surveys of Most the major Dupont Estates so I started looking for Tracks in the photographs. As with everything so far this Gentleman has told me it appears he was accurate.He told me William Duponts private race track at Bellevue exceeded anything he ever saw prior to WW2 including Saratoga. The Photographs do seem to make that possible. I assumed you are using Hagely’s Archives in your research and so last week searching the photos was included Sam Riddle’s Estate and he has a exercise track not far from his house (1/4 to 1/2 mile), I read up on him and your post was deja vu. If you haven’t used Hagely’s digital archive they are a treasure trove of horse racing information. You can pull up Sam Riddle’s estate with a simple search under his name. The Riddle family also had Mills on the Brandywine in my neighborhood so the name connect is easy for me. Larry McClelland

  7. Joseph Martin says:

    Loved the read. Loved the history and what a great photo! I’ve been to Media; used to enjoy a meal & drink at the Rose Tree Inn. I love Man O War and still remember reading The Man O War book in ninth grade .Man O War. I had a great friend who worked for Sam Riddle in Md. Worked with War Relic on the farm and also rode him on the track. War Relic almost killed him.
    Why isn’t Tommy Luther in Racings Hall of Fame? He started the Jockeys Guild and he was the one that paid or it. Not Arcaro, Not Longdon. He was a great rider and an even better man!
    Thanks for the wonderful story. Looking forward to a trip to Media!

  8. ballyfager says:

    Many years ago I was taught by Franciscan nuns whose motherhouse was Glen Riddle. I always assumed that Riddle had left the estate to the Franciscans. Does anyone know about this?

  9. Big Red's Shadow says:

    I love seeing video of Man O’ War. He was the greatest Thoroughbred who ever set foot on American turf. Just seeing him prancing and being difficult is amazing because he wasn’t mean he was just full of energy, fire. Every photo taken of him as a stallion shows a horse who was happy, full of life and enthusiastic. Overly enthusiastic.
    There has been nothing like him on the American turf since. What horse could come into a race with one opponent, beat that opponent by 100 lengths and smash the record by six seconds. Big Red did that in the Lawrence Realization Stakes. Read Dorothy Ours book, Man O’ War, A Legend Like Lightning. It will tell you a story of a truly great horse.

  10. Don Reed says:

    Joe Martin: You may already know about the book, “Jockeying For Change” [A biography of Jockey Tommy Luther], by Ron Farra (privately published, 1998).

    I found a copy of it in Saratoga at the Lyrical Ballad, and found it interesting (bluntly, eye-opening). If you haven’t seen it, it is worth your time.

    Kevin: Such patience you have. We are the beneficiaries, of course.

    Bill K.: I still remember trying to explain, on an airplane going out to San Diego in 2002, to a highly opinionated lady (that unfortunate personal attribute ruining her original appeal, faster than swiftly) from Argentina that our best racehorses are often not cuddly. She didn’t buy it. That’s OK. Neither was she.

    Be well.

  11. Henry Miller says:

    Thank you so much for writing this blog post. I’m interested with history and everything related to Pennsylvania. It will always have a special place in my heart because I grew up here and left only after I got married.

  12. Mike Aungst says:

    Admittedly, I am not a huge horse racing fan… certainly not like the posters on this Page but I do appreciate a great photo and story. If you ever find yourselves in West Chester, PA, look for Jake’s Bar at 549 S. Matlack St. They have a very similar photo but only Sam Riddle, Jack Dempsey, and Man’oWar are in it.