The story of a horse that may have been the 5th triple crown winner instead of the 4th had his owner not had prejudices about racing out west.
Sometimes the sons of the fathers surpass the accomplishments of the father. Such was the case with one of the greatest races horses of all time, the son of Man O’ War, War Admiral, who went on to become racing’s 4th triple crown winner.
War Admiral almost wasn’t the 4th triple crown winner. He was almost the 5th. Owner Samuel Riddle, of Glen Riddle Farms, had many prejudices about horse racing beyond the East coast in 1920. Riddle owned War Admiral’s father, Man O’ War. However, he chose to skip the Kentucky Derby with Man O’ War in 1920 because Churchill Downs was too far west for his tastes. Had he run he most likely would have won and been racing’s second triple crown winner. Fate is sometimes a funny thing.
War Admiral didn’t get off to a blazing start in his career but he did win 3 of his first 6 races. He also had 2 second place finishes and 2 third place finishes. He wasn’t even the leading 2 year old that year. But after he won his first start at age 3, people began to take notice of this horse. That first win as a 3 year old was at the Chesapeake Stakes at Maryland’s Havre de Grace race track. It was after this victory that Riddle decided to give War Admiral a shot at the Kentucky Derby. He finally got over his prejudices about racing that far west when he realized that War Admiral could very well be a contender for the triple crown.
War Admiral ran a race just 4 days before the Kentucky Derby. This was an allowance race at Churchill Downs, which he easily won. This set the stage for his incredible showing at the Kentucky Derby. The field of horses at the Derby was 20. War Admiral went off as an 8 to 5 favorite. Many who watched the race say he toyed with the other horses. He never really had to put in any effort and won by a modest 1 3/4 lengths.
But his race at the Preakness a week later was a much tougher test. He was given a real run for his money by the second place finisher in the Derby, Pompoon, but the result was still the same. War Admiral beat out Pompoon by a head and was only a fifth of a second away from the Preakness record.
Finally, on June 5, War Admiral went for the last leg of the triple crown at the Belmont Stakes. The race did not start well for War Admiral as he stumbled at the start of it and injured his right foreleg. It was almost certain he would lose his bid. But somehow this incredible horse managed to storm past the other horses and easily won by 4 lengths. The second place finisher in the Derby and Preakness, Pompoon, was nowhere to be seen all the way back in 7th place.
War Admiral finished his career with an amazing record of 21 wins in 26 races and earnings of over a quarter of a million dollars, which was a lot of money in those days.