I read that there was a restart, and while he was tuning around to address the starting line they prematurely dropped the starting ribbon. So, he was facing backward when the race began and still almost won! That was the beginning of Saratoga Race Track's reputation as "The Graveyard of Champions". And let's not forget, Secretariat also lost at Saratoga, to a horse named "Onion".
Things to consider when comparing these two great horses:
1. We don't know what track conditions were like back then. They may have been a bit slower than when Secretariat raced (although they certainly are slower today than in Secretariat's time, what with all the sand they add for drainage and cushioning). Regardless, many estimates say track conditions in general were a couple seconds slower than when Secretariat ran.
2. Man 'o War was so far ahead of his rivals that he was never really pushed to his limit. His owner was extremely protective of the great horse, which was why he never entered him in the Derby (a bit too soon for his horse). There were supposedly races where he was held back so hard he practically cantered to the finish line, and he still won. Who knows what he would have done if he was seriously challenged.
3. Man 'o War won a match race at 1 5/8 miles in 2:40 4/5 seconds, beating his rival by over 100 lengths! That's 800 feet in the lead as he crossed the finish line. The time was still a few seconds behind Secretariat's time at that distance, but as I said, we don't know what the conditions were that day.
4. Man 'o War carrying a lot of weight all the time, up to 20 pounds more than his nearest rival in some cases. Secretariat never carried more than 126 pounds. Man 'o War carried up to 139 pounds!
I had a good friend who was a jockey, and he told me that for every pound of extra weight, you can assume there would be about one length of difference at the finish line. That's like Earl giving all of his opponents the 7 out. Of course, we all know that Earl also carries a lot of weight, so...
Here's a somewhat rigorous comparison of the two that I came across while Googling both champions today. I have't read it all, but it looks really interesting.
Anyway, here's to great horses the world over. I used to work with TBs as a kid (West Creek Stables in upstate NY), and I love them to death. No other animal in the world has as much heart as a thoroughbred racehorse.