The NCAA tournament is underway and the games have been exciting. I have always travelled to Las Vegas and played poker at least one weekend of the NCAA tournament, preferably one of the first two weekends but final four weekend is a good one. Just for fun I always fill out a bracket before the tournament starts. I have been pretty surprised this year and thought my bracket was pretty dismal until I looked at others brackets and mine really is not too bad. While discussing the number of upsets in the tournament this year a clever friend brought up the legend of Upset the horse. He claimed the term upset comes from the horse Upset beating Man O’ War.

Once again the urban legend is not based in fact. The term upset has been applied to sports at least dating back to 1865. A little research on the internet and the legend can be debunked. The story is an interesting one and I will retell it as briefly as I can.

Man O’ War, was defeated in the 1919 Sanford Memorial. He was beaten by a neck by Upset in a neck-and-neck finish in the six-furlong dash. The manner in which Man O’ War ran showed he was clearly the best horse. Though failing to get his nose in front, he stood out as the best horse in the race, because he had the worst of the racing.

Acting starter, C.H. Pettingill, one of the placing judges, spent several minutes trying to get the horses lined up and then sent them away with only those near the rail ready for the start. The start was responsible for the defeat of Man O’ War.

What made the race of Man o’ War so impressive was the fact that he came from so far behind and that also he conceded fifteen pounds to Upset. Man O’ War, who beat Upset in their six previous meetings, never lost another race. He was retired to stud in 1920 and foaled the 1937 Triple Crown winner, War Admiral.

As I sit in the sports book and root for another upset this weekend and inevitably have to hear the story of Upset beating Man O’ War I can give that wry smile and a little chuckle. I know the story and I know the truth. Upset never really had a chance but on that one particular day when everything came together in his favor he was able to do the impossible and slay the giant.

So this weekend we will be rooting for Cornell, Washington, St. Mary’s or even Northern Iowa to pull the upset.


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