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Derby Museum Exhibit Honors Most Famous Horse To Never 'Run For The Roses'

Brown Brothers - New York Public Library digital collection

Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Babe Ruth -- when you think of all-star athletes, these are just a few of the names that might come to mind. But Chris Goodlett thinks of a competitor of a different sort.

"Man o' War was an exceptional athlete," Goodlett says. "He ran as a 2-year-old in 1919, only lost one race to a horse named Upset in the Sanford Memorial Stakes. He had been so dominant up to that point that even when he lost that race, he was not blamed."

Goodlett is the senior curator of collections at the Kentucky Derby Museum. He helped organize the museum’s newest exhibition, “Man o' War: The Legacy,” which celebrates one of Kentucky's most famous horses 100 years after his birth.

By the end of his three-year career, Man o’ War had won 20 of his 21 starts. As Goodlett mentioned, he only lost once…ironically, to the aptly-named Upset.

"The jockey, John Loftus, was blamed for a poor ride," Goodlett says. "And the starter at the race track who was a substitute -- a fill-in -- was blamed for not having a proper start where Man o’ War could excel. That was the last race he would ever lose."

Goodlett says Man o’ War is probably the best known racehorse to have never run the Kentucky Derby.

"His owner Sam Riddle thought that running that early in the spring at one and a quarter miles was just too tough on them," Goodlett says.

But the horse did go on to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and there have been more than 40 Derby winners whose bloodlines trace back to Man o' War.

Many of the items in the exhibit are loaned to the Museum by collector Ken Grayson.

Featured items include the saddle used aboard Man o' War during his match race with the first ever Triple Crown Winner, Sir Barton, an admission ticket to that same race and the official program from the famous 1938 match race between War Admiral, son of Man o' War, and the legendary Seabiscuit.

Man o’ War: The Legacy” is now open to the public.