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Man o' War: A Legend Like Lightning Hardcover – May 2, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Unfortunately for authors like Ours, who has worked at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, all horse racing books must now be judged in light of Laura Hillenbrand's outstanding Seabiscuit. And while Man o' War (born in 1917), voted by racing experts as the No. 1 American race horse of the 20th century, kept winning his races and breaking speed records, Ours's account of his career isn't even in the money. This is a far less sophisticated recounting than Hillenbrand's, lacking the broad social context, and since Man o' War was a winner from the get-go, Ours lacks a dramatic narrative arc. But she does have a command of horse-racing technique and history, and offers some interesting tidbits and anecdotes. Sometimes the book feels puffed: for a while it focuses more on another champion, Sir Barton, than on Man o' War; only much later does it become clear why-the two great horses finally meet in a match race, and at this point, the pace of the story picks up nicely for a dramatic finish.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Laura Hillenbrand, in her best-selling Seabiscuit (2001), set the bar awfully high for scholarly research in just about any genre, let alone what might be called racehorse biographies. Very much to her credit, Ours meets Hillenbrand's standard in her exhaustively researched account of the career and human connections of Man o' War, usually conceded to be the greatest racehorse who ever competed in America. Man o' War dominated racing in 1919 and 1920, winning 20 of 21 starts and setting speed records nearly every time he raced as a three-year-old. Such uninterrupted excellence, however, poses a problem for any biographer. Man o' War's saga lacks the drama of Seabiscuit's rise from obscurity and comeback from injury. Nor are the stories of Man o' War's human connections as compelling as those of Seabiscuit's, though the history of jockey Johnny Loftus is more than intriguing. Also of great interest is the remarkably detailed account of Man o' War's most famous race, a showdown with the older Sir Barton, America's first Triple Crown winner, at an unlikely bush track in Canada. Finally, Ours uncovers the true reasons for Man o' War's early retirement, which ended a career that seemed destined to dwarf the accomplishments of those who came before him and set an impossibly high standard for those who followed. Even without Seabiscuit's dramatic trappings, this is must reading for racing fans, and it will reward anyone with an interest in the history of American sport. Dennis Dodge
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (May 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312340990
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312340995
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #247,459 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

From me to you, about Battleship:

Leap was the working title for this book. That one word fits the story as a noun, a verb, and unifying theme. While Battleship does contain the story of the racehorse Battleship -- he is the remarkable force which brings everything together -- this story explores several versions of the passion, planning, and persistence that it takes to make a leap of faith.

If you are a horse person who wants to know what Battleship was like, you will find as much here as I could find. I love his journey from temperamental baby to poised professional to crafty middle-aged guy protecting his assets.

Yet that is only one strand of how this story speaks about the joys and hurdles of life. Whether or not you love horses, I hope that reading this book may give you at least some of what researching and writing it gave me. It isn't a story stuck to one moment in history, or only relevant to the horse world. These true happenings are a source for timeless reflections: the blend of skill and instinct that let a man fly a small plane across the Atlantic Ocean or a teenage boy guide a small horse around the world's toughest steeplechase course ... how much of success depends on partnership ... how easy it can be to choose surface over substance, or gossip above proof. Add a good laugh here and there, plus more than a few thrills, and -- yes -- inspiration to take a deep breath when a poor jump knocks the stuffing out of us, and keep finding more.

We all face what the Grand National race proves, time and again: no matter how rich or talented we may be, we can't control everything life brings. We can only aim our own attitude. Call it making a leap or being a Battleship ... I wish you a good read and a good ride.


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Audrey J. Lewis on July 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
While this book will be compared to Lauren Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit, probably to its detriment, it is exciting in its own way. Seabiscuit told a rags-to-riches story. Man O'War's story was a riches-to-riches tale and so lacks some of the suspense.

I am a geezer who, at age 7, actually saw Man O'War "in person" the year before he died so the book had special meaning for me. Even though I have read other books on Big Red, this one was wonderfully detailed with racing lore and life among the rich in that era.

I'm from Michigan and my parents took me, a horse-crazy girl, to Kentucky to visit the horse farms of the area which one could do back then. One could even drive through most of the pastures, stopping to open and close the gates on the way. You could walk through the barns and many grooms would lead out a prized and loved horse for you if you showed knowledge about and interest in horses. I still remember seeing Man O'War. He was in a four-stall stallion barn with three other horses- his sons War Admiral and War Relic and a stable pony. The other horses were shown to us first and then the groom stepped to THE stall and opened the door for those of us waiting in the barn aisle. The adults in front saw that I couldn't see and let me stand in front. There was Big Red with his head high in the air, giving us a disdainful glance. He knew why we were there and it really was all about HIM.

This book brought all those memories back and gave me new insights. Not as fine a book as Seabiscuit, but a good story of racing and sport in the 10s and 20s.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Terry Gordon on May 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is easily the best book on Man O' War and it has the kind of beautiful writing and period detail to entice even those who aren't really horse racing fans.

Red, as Man O' War was often called, comes to life in this book and the research Ours must have undertaken is impressive. There's a lot of great drama regarding the people who surrounded Red, including his jockey who was accused of throwing a race. Great stuff.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By William J. Haden on May 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you like horse racing books, it's excellent. I like horse racing, and horse racing books, so I'm admittedly biased, but I think this is a great read for people with only a passing interest in horses... it's an excellent look at a period in history. The author does a nice job of immersing the reader in the time and place - definitely worth reading.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Voracious Reader on May 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading this book and have been inspired to write my first Amazon review. I agree with one review above that things start slowly, with a seeming overload of extraneous information, but everything Ours describes up front turns out to be relevant as the story goes along. In fact, her exhaustive attention to detail really helps set the scene so when things take off, the reader can come along for the ride. Chapter 8 made me laugh out loud, and I was hooked for the rest of the book. Couldn't put it down past page 99! I just finished it and still feel a warm, happy, glow (plus I learned a TON about horse racing). Two thumbs up.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Best Of All on July 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There has been some great books on Thoroughbred racing past and present over the past several years. Dorothy Ours pens a classic on the history surrounding a champion for the ages, Man o' War.

The reader regally captures the personalities, the controversies and the racers in what many consider "The Golden Age of Sports." The vast research by Ours and her flowing writing style makes the era come alive.

It may come as a surprise that industry issues like juiced tracks, juiced runners and equally juicy rumors surrounding jockeys, gamblers and security issues at the tracks that capture headlines today were front-page issues nearly 90 years ago.

The book is a must for a fan of Thoroughbred racing. And it is about time for those who learned about the sport through the classic book and movie about Seabiscuit to get reacquainted with the Sport of Kings.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey R. Davis on July 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I am not a horse person much less a horse race person. I have seen one horse race, when I was 5, in 1941, and I have not felt the need to see another. I am a thinker on pointless abstractions. (

I bought the book because I dated her mother in 1952 while in high school and through the miracle of the Internet I recently exchanged a few e-mails with her. One of these messages told me that her daughter had written a book about Man o'War. What could I do but buy the book? I certainly would have in 1952, had a similar occasion have arisen, and I could do no less now. And if she ever asked how I liked it, I didn't want to say that I hadn't read it. With a sinking heart, expecting the worst, I opened it up.

Reading about Man o'War's races was like reading about Joe Lewis's fights or Red Grange's football games. Even though I knew that Man o'War was going to beat Sir Barton, I worried that maybe this time he wouldn't.

I knew that Man o'War lost one race but I didn't know where or when and this gave me anxiety until the dreaded moment finally arrived.

The races are mixed in with stories of fixers (Arnold Rothstein fequented the tracks), dopers, owners, trainers and jockies. Lou Feustel, Man o'War's trainer and Sam Riddle, his owner, looked and behaved as if they had been cast in Hollywood.

The Saratoga racing season was described as a meeting of the rich and famous from around the world mixed in with the jockies and stable hands, exercisers, Pinkerton detectives; it seems to take a lot of people to keep a racing stable going. I guess that's why rich people have racing stables. But the big crowd at Saratoga, and races generally,were the regular guys who came from far and wide to see and bet on the horses.

Anyway, despite myself, I liked the book and was glad I read it. The ending is a little sad as endings are when peak experiences occur too soon in life.
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