When The Underhorse Met The Elite
No matter his size, he was an aristocrat, spirited, nervy, and apparently claustrophobic with a hatred of startin' gates. Gotta' say I don't blame him for that last bit 'cause those things are worse than a Kennel Cab with a loud bell attached and doors that fly open when ya' least expect it.
War Admiral fussed at the gate so much he delayed the start of the 1937 Kentucky Derby for eight minutes. His psych-out strategy worked. The other nineteen horses left their race at the gate and the Admiral won easily, leading from beginnin' to end.
He had more trouble with the Preakness, bearin' out around Pimlico's tighter turns and lettin' Pompoon catch him. After a relentless stretch drive, War Admiral took home the black-eyed susans.
At Belmont, the Admiral gave everyone another eight minute battle in the starting gate. Then, at the break, he tripped, sliced off part of his right heel, and still led wire to wire to become the fourth Triple Crown Winner—the third within seven years.
In 1938, four-year-old War Admiral just kept winnin'. But so did a scrabbly, knock-kneed grandson of Man 'o War. If War Admiral was the symbol of the elite east coast society snobs, on the west coast, an undersized, unattractive five-year-old had become the symbol of the people—the blue collar workin' horse, toughin' out a livin' however he could. The public began demandin' a meetin' between the two.
The so-called Match of the Century took place November 1, 1938 at Pimlico Race Course. 40,000 fans jammed the track. 40 million were listenin' on the radio. War Admiral was the prohibitive favorite, the near unanimous choice of writers and eastern race-goers.
War Admiral lost.
He lost, as Grantland Rice wrote, to a "…crazy five-year-old who all his life had known only the uphill, knockdown devil-take-the-loser route…"
Once again a Triple Crown winner lost to a better champion and slipped into the background of racin' history. Today War Admiral is known only to racin' fans and trivia buffs, but Seabiscuit is still the horse of the people.
posted by Harrison at 11:32 PM