The Writing Traveler: The Mostest Horse There Ever Was

Man o’ War with his groom Will Harbut. Man O’ Warran in twenty-one races and won twenty of them. A horse named Upset beat him at Saratoga when he was turned sideways at the start. He beat that horse badly afterward. Photo: Horse Network.

The man had come to town wanting a horse, not just any horse, mind you, but the “mostest horse there ever was.”

Thoroughbreds are proud, pampered, and polished but seldom priceless.



Make millions in stud fees.

In the bluegrass fields around Louisville or Lexington, Kentucky, you can look at them, ride them, drive them, bet on them, or bid on them. They are bred for speed and endurance, and they are born under the sign of the dollar.

For some, it’s a lot of dollars.

The man had come to town wanting a horse, not just any horse, mind you, but the “mostest horse there ever was.”

He wanted Man O’ War.

He offered Samuel D. Riddle a respectable $200,000.

No sale

Caleb Pirtle

He raised his bid to $500,000, then one million dollars.

No sale.

And no sale.

W. T. Waggoner leaned back against the barn wall and asked, “How much then?”

“He’s not for sale,” Riddle said.

“But everything has a price,” Waggoner said confidently and signed his name with a flourish on a blank check.

Riddle looked up, smiled, and said softly: “You go to Paris, France, and bring back the sepulcher of Napoleon from Les Invalides. Then you go to England and buy the jewels from the crown. Then go to India and buy the Taj Mahal. Then I’ll put a price on Man O’ War.”

It was late one day in 1934, and Will Harbut, a groom at Faraway Farm, had just closed the gate as he always did at four-thirty in the afternoon.

Man O’ War was tucked away in his stall.

A day was ending.

All was right with the world.

Man O’ War had run his last race.

He was now leading the life of a high-priced stud, and his fees were worth a fortune.

Harbuck looked up and saw a French-Canadian running breathlessly up the path toward him.

The man stammered in broken English, “Sir, sir, I want to see Man O’ War.”

“Come back tomorrow,” the groom answered. “Visiting hours are over for today.”

“But I have come a long way,” the man said. “And I won’t be here tomorrow. I am returning to Canada tomorrow.”

“Sorry,” said Harbut, “but I have orders from the boss. I couldn’t let you in even if you were king.”

“Well,” said the man, “I’m not a king, but you may have heard of me. My name is Dionne. I am the father of quintuplets.”

“You fathered five children at the same time?”

“I did.”

Will Harbut paused, then opened the gate. “I don’t really care if you see Man O’ War or not,” he said with a wry grin, “but I sure want Man O’ War to see you.”

Please click HERE to find many of my stories about real places and real people in Confessions from the Road. It is available on Amazon.

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