Although not without his detractors, most notably ER Bradley, Man o’ War was generally lauded by racing men and journalists, even before he went unbeaten and virtually unchallenged through his 3-year-old season.
As a 2-year-old in 1919, O’Neil Sevier described the then-unbeaten chestnut son of Fair Play in The Thoroughbred Record:
This son of Fair Play and Mahubah is a veritable giant. When the big chestnut first appeared in the paddock at Belmont Park Mr Riddle was jokingly accused by his friends of ringing in a 4-year-old. Man o’ War now looks more like a 4-year-old than he did at Belmont Park. (written in August from the Saratoga meeting)
Standing 16 hands and more on his plates, Man o’ War is a whale all over. Perhaps he is a bit leggier than was Fair Play in 1907, but he is bigger of body, broader across the loins, and better balanced. I should say that he would tip the beam at close to 1,100 pounds, and that is a big weight for a 2-year-old. Few well-developed 3-year-olds weigh more than 1,050 in racing condition. His bone development is conspicuously good, his cannons are of the flat, lasting sort, and his feet are big and healthy….
A bit more than a month later, Man o’ War was no longer unbeaten but was still crushing his opponents. Another and more detailed physical description came out of the same magazine:
He has a lean and handsome, bloodlike head, which, like the rest of his physical make-up, is essentially masculine without even the smallest suggestion of grossness. His throttle is clean-cut and gracefully arched and his neck tapers to where it is laid between powerful, rangy and oblique shoulders and loses itself in a deep, broad and full chest, which, with well sprung back ribs, affords an extraordinary allowance of lung space. His withers are somewhat high for a 2-year-old….
His barrel or middle piece is unusually long and that of a real and matured race horse, with a deep but lean flank. There is nothing “greyhoundish” in his make-up and his flanks are well skirted at that. His loin is broad, thick and high, showing altogether uncommon strength and joining his splendid barrel with unusual grace and smoothness to quarters such as have been rarely seen except in the physical conformation of really great race horses.
While his hip joints are not prominent he has great range and thickness in his quarters with high, broad buttocks, thick and well let-down stifles, straight hind legs, immensely powerful gaskins and low-hung hocks and knees of the real race horse type.
Even with such outstanding physical qualities, ER Bradley reportedly called the colt a “big lobster” but clearly had his own predisposition for the Broomstick-type of horses who were dark, medium-sized, typey animals with speed and dependability. Bradley did not use Man o’ War, Fair Play, or their sons until Man o’ War sired War Admiral. Out of a Sweep mare, War Admiral was Bradley’s type, and he bred some of his most important animals from that sire.