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On This Date in Sports August 13, 1919: The Upset by Upset

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

1919upset

Man o’ War suffers the only loss of his career, as he is beaten by a horse named Upset in the Sanford Memorial at Saratoga Park in New York. After just six races, the two-year-old colt named Man o’ War had drawn great attention among racing circles as he won each race with ease. The stunning loss would help popularize the use of the word upset in sports.

The term upset had been used in sports previously dating as far back as 1877. However, with the popularity of horse racing growing after World War I, the term upset became widely associated with the stunning result in Saratoga. The course itself would become infamous for hosting races where legendary horses suffered surprising losses, as Saratoga Park earned the nickname, “The Graveyard of Champions.”

Man o’ War was bred into horse racing royalty by August Belmont Jr., whose family developed the land where Belmont Park was built in New York. Belmont also helped finance the New York City subway system and was considered one of the most respected businessmen in the world. His horse Man o’ War had caught everyone’s attention as a two-year-old as he won his first six races. Man o’ War was trained by Louis Feustel and owner by Samuel Riddle.

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When Man o’ War had drawn a large crowd in Saratoga for his race in the Sanford Memorial. He found himself in trouble right at the start, as the starters had trouble lining up the horses in the starting gates. The sluggish start seemed to have a negative effect on the favorite as he came out of the block slowly. Man o’ War had fallen behind and nearly caught up to Upset but lost the race by a head.

The loss to Upset would be the only one of Man o’ War’s career, as the Chestnut Colt won 20 of 21 career losses. Man o’ War would not win the Triple Crown in 1920, as his trainer kept him out of the Kentucky Derby, but he would win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes with ease, becoming one of the most celebrated horses of all-time.

The term upset would go hand and hand with the surprise result and is widely considered as the origin of the use of upset, when the underdog wins over the favorite. As a word that had only been used sparingly became common with the upset.