War Admiral breaks his maiden, 1936

Apr 21st 2009 12:12 am |

Sometimes interesting things just fall into your lap. I received an email from Ron Micetic – a reader who has a large and significant collection of rare race programs. One of his most prized programs is from War Admiral’s maiden race which took place at Havre de Grace in north east Maryland. He kindly sent me the digital images seen here (click for detailed view).

This, of course, peaked my curiosity so I pulled out my copy of Ed Bowen’s outstanding work on The Admiral for the Thoroughbred Legends series.

By 1936, when War Admiral hit the track, hopes that his sire, the immortal Man o’ War, would produce the next great colt had faded. Sixteen years after retiring from racing, most would have said Man o’ War had not lived up to expectations at stud. While siring 28% stakes winners in his first five crops, his production dropped off significantly in subsequent years.

War Admiral learned to be a racehorse at owner Samuel Riddle’s training center in Berlin, Maryland. When he was ready to race, War Admiral was sent to Havre de Grace. The Havre de Grace track – just a few hundred yards from the Chesapeake Bay – opened in 1912 and hosted a slew of important races. Racing in the small Maryland town attracted horses of great stature including War Admiral’s daddy in 1920.

On April 25th 1936, War Admiral broke his maiden in the opening race on Philadelphia Handicap Day at the track affectionately known to locals as “The Graw.”

This is how Walter Haight described War Admiral’s win in the opener:

“A first-time starter, War Admiral, battled Sonny Joe, another first-time starter, to a nose decision in the opening dash for juveniles. The winner, a son of Man o’ War, ran Romney Royal into defeat and then had enough left to outlast Sonny Joe, a Vanderbilt youngster. Ground Oak was third in the field of ten. War Admiral, ridden by Jockey Moose Peters, paid $17.”

It is telling that The Admiral paid $17 to win. Respect for Man o’ War’s legacy on the track didn’t carry over to his ability as a sire – especially among the gamblers.

War Admiral returned to Havre de Grace during his two year old season to win the Eastern Shore by five lengths. He started his historic three year old year at “The Graw” winning an allowance race and the Chesapeake Handicap before his Triple Crown sweep.

He won 21 races from 26 career starts including the inaugural Pimlico Special, the Whitney, Saratoga Cup, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. In spite of this stellar career, War Admiral is best known today for his role as the “villain” in the movie Seabiscuit. Hollywood certainly has a way of undermining the exceptional. Oh well, we racing fans know the real story. War Admiral was the greatest son of the greatest horse of the last century.


One last interesting tidbit about the program: You will notice that “C. Hanford” rode Romney Royal in the race that started War Admiral’s great career. This is quite possibly Carl Hanford – future trainer of Kelso. According to Steve Haskin’s book on Kelso, Hanford was a jockey in Maryland during this period.


“Black Gift, at 19 to 1, Wins Graw Handicap”, Washington Post, April 26, 1936

A big thank you to Ron Micetic who provided scans of the Havre de Grace program used here. If you happen to have a copy of a program from Whirlaway’s maiden win at Lincoln Fields or Citation’s first win at Havre de Grace, Ron would be a motivated buyer. Send me an email and i’ll put you in touch.

If the weather is OK, I will be at the Atlantic City Race Course on Friday. I have some old ads from the once beautiful track that I will post this weekend. In the meantime, check out this article on the ACRC from last year.


Filed in Hanford, Carl,Havre de Grace Race Track,Riddle, Samuel,thoroughbred racing history,War Admiral,War Admiral's Maiden Race

3 Responses to “War Admiral breaks his maiden, 1936”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the nice story. One thing that jumps out at me is how early they started the 2 YO’s back then. A very different time, indeed.

  2. Anonymous says:

    For what it’s worth..
    Colin as a 2yo in 1907 made his 1st start at Belmont on May 29th and finished the year 12 for 12. Ended up lifetime 15 for 15.

    Seabiscuit as a 2yr old in 1935 made his 1st start Jan 19th at Hialeah and finished the year 5 for 35. 4 of the 35 were claimers with no takers. Ended up lifetime 33 for 89.

    Last but not least…
    Stymie as a 2yr old in 1943 made his 1st start May 7th at Jamaica(2.5k claimer) and finished the year 4 for 28. Hirsch Jacobs is given a lot of props for claiming Stymie in his 3rd start for 1.5k. After making this “brilliant” claim he entered him in 10 more claimers as a 2yo standing the chance of losing him. As a 3yo Stymie started the year Jan 1st at Tropical and ended it Nov 25th at Pimlico winning 3 of 29. After 2 years and 57 races Jacobs had finally got some bottom on the horse and picked up maybe 25k in purse money. Over the next 5 years he went on to win 28 of 74 and picking up almost 900k in purse money finishing with a lifetime 35 for 131 and $918k.

    Three horses, one was brilliant as a 2yo and the other two took some time.

  3. Teddy Lopez says:

    War Admiral was ofcaurse man of wars’ son and, a triple crown winner and, ofcaurse he was the grandfather of the great kelso who defeated 5 different triple crown race winners a total of 12 times in his incredible carear! Kelso is also the only horse of the only 4 horses to ever win the handicap triple crown to carry over 130 pounds in all 3 races. He was also giving 20 pounds away to the runner up in one of them! Kelso also is one of only 3 horses to win the woodward, the whitney and, the jockey gold cup the same year. He is ofcaurse the only horse to win the jockey gold cup 5 times and, he did it in a row. Might be the only horse to win the jocke gold cup and, then just 11 days later set a record at the dc againts the best darn horses in the world!!!!!!! Yes war admirals’ grandson was some horsey, wasn’t he now? He was great than his grandfather. All respects to kelsos’ grandfather though, he was a great horse. We kelso fans gotta thank him for the great kelso, after all[laugh]! Kelsos’ passionately greatest fan, Teddy.