|Rags to Riches.
Seabiscuit, a descendant of the great thoroughbred Man o'War through his son Hard Tack, was born on May 23, 1934. He was never a complete outcast, as portrayed in the movie, but actually won nine races and U.S. $26,965 in prize money before Charles Howard, a wealthy bicycle repair man turned car dealer, bought the three-year-old horse for a mere U.S. $8,000.
Still, with his stumpy legs that wouldn't completely straighten, Seabiscuit wasn't considered a great prospect. Some said he wasn't worth the hay in a first-class barn.
But he had a believer in Tom Smith, also known as "Silent Tom," a trainer whose reluctance to speak led some people to believe he didn't have a tongue.
Smith found a jockey in Johnny "Red" Pollard, one of seven children born to a bankrupt brick manufacturer, who spent years at the country's lowliest racetracks, talking his way onto as many mounts as he could.
At 5'7", Pollard was too tall to be a jockey. He was also blind in one eye, something he tried to keep a secret. Without bifocal vision, he lacked depth perception and couldn't tell how far ahead of him horses were.
Against all odds, Seabiscuit became an instant success, winning race after race. Howard, who marketed his Western-bred underdog as a challenger to the East Coast racing establishment, sent barrels of champagne to the press box before races. Seabiscuit became the most popular horse in America during the Great Depression.
But trouble lurked around the corner. While riding another horse, Pollard fell and shattered his collarbone, broke his shoulder, and fractured his ribs. Doctors told him he wouldn't ride again for at least a year.
East vs. West
When a match-up was finally set up between Seabiscuit and War Admiral, an elegant East Coast champion and winner of the Triple Crown—the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes—a new jockey, George Woolf, took the reins of Seabiscuit.
The resulting race became a contest between two worlds: the East Coast establishment of bankers and their beautiful horses versus a nation of disillusioned have-nots who championed a hero that had been beat up just like them.
"Seabiscuit was given a second chance and made the most of it," said Paulick. "People in the Great Depression could relate: All they wanted was a second chance in life. Seabiscuit lived out their dream."
In the one-on-one match-up at Maryland's Pimlico Racecourse, Seabiscuit beat War Admiral by four lengths. Sports writers went crazy, calling it the greatest race in history.
But the best quote came from Pollard: "He did just what I thought he'd do," Pollard said at the time from his hospital bed. "He made a rear admiral out of War Admiral."
Pollard returned in 1940 to ride Seabiscuit for the one race that had eluded the horse: California's Santa Anita. Seventy-five thousand people—the biggest crowd ever to attend an American horse race—watched as Seabiscuit came from behind to win in the fastest mile and a quarter (two kilometers) the track had seen until then.
Soon after, Seabiscuit retired. He earned U.S. $437,730 between 1935 and 1940. He died of a heart attack on May 17, 1947.
In 1996, magazine journalist Laura Hillenbrand stumbled across the story of Seabiscuit. She knew of the horse and his inspiring career, but she didn't know the people around him—the owner, trainer, and jockeys.
In interviews, Hillenbrand has said she expected to sell 5,000 copies of the book, out of her car if she had to. Instead, the hardcover edition of Seabiscuit: An American Legend remained on The New York Times best-seller list for 30 weeks. The paperback edition debuted on the list on April 14, 2002, and hasn't left since.
Whether media interest in Seabiscuit will translate into a horse racing revival remains to be seen. Even the most ardent fan doesn't expect horse racing to match the popularity it enjoyed in the 1930s, when the lifting of bans on wagering, imposed in the 1920s, turned it into one of America's favorite sports, along with boxing and baseball.
"Today, the sports calendar is overloaded with TV sports and extreme games," said Paulick. "Horse racing slipped because it had no league office and no mechanism to react to the TV and cable era."
In recent years, some racetracks have been forced to reduce purses because of lagging attendance and decreased wagering. Internet betting and casino gambling have cut into on-track attendance.
Johnson, the trainer, believes young people are simply not interested. "If you go to a racetrack and you ask a guy in his 50s what made him interested in horses, he'll tell you it's because his father used to take him to the races," he said. "They don't do that anymore."
But there are bright spots. This spring, Funny Cide became the first gelding (castrated horse) to win the first two Triple Crown races, generating national attention that transcended the horse racing business.
Funny Cide's story conjures up images of Seabiscuit. He cost U.S. $75,000, cheap by today's thoroughbred standards. His owners are either retired or work in construction, catering, or retail. His trainer, Barclay Tagg, had toiled for decades in near-obscurity.
Despite a steady rain, Funny Cide drew 101,864 spectators to the Belmont Stakes—the second largest crowd ever—when he lost to Empire Maker. The race may have started a rivalry between the two horses. Because Funny Cide is a gelding and will not be retired to earn millions at stud, there's only one alternative for his owners: to keep racing him.
A great rivalry would certainly help spark interest in the sport. But Johnson believes there is an easier way to get people hooked: Get them interested in horses first, and racing second.
"Come out to the stables at 7 a.m. on a summer morning and watch the horses get saddled and taken out for a run," he said. "It's magical."
Information on the Book.
SEABISCUIT: An American Legend
by Laura Hillenbrand
"Hillenbrand's recently published book has gained extraordinarily favorable reviews and may well prove to be the most significant book on racing since William Nack's Secretariat," said Kenneth Tomlinson, president of the NSL.
Andrew Beyer, racing columnist for the Washington Post, wrote: "As I read an advanced copy, I would call Nack to recite passages, and we both marveled at the grace of Hillenbrand's prose. This is hardly a unique opinion, because the author has already hit a trifecta of sorts. Her article on Seabiscuit in American Heritage magazine won the Eclipse Award for magazine writing."
Seabiscuit was a mediocre claiming horse until Charles Howard purchased him for a song. Howard once repaired bicycles but then made a fortune by introducing the motorcar to the western states. Howard turned the horse over to trainer Tom Smith, who put one-eyed jockey, Red Pollard, in the stirrups.
Seabiscuit led by trainer Tom Smith,
with his owner, Charles Howard.
Seabiscuit became a national hero under the care of Smith and Pollard which climaxed into an East-meets-West match race at Pimlico Race Course on November 1, 1938. Seabiscuit from California was pitted against the 1937 Triple Crown Winner, War Admiral. Grantland Rice, racing columnist of the era, wrote that the crowd was "keyed to the highest tension I have ever seen in sport."
"Seabiscuit and War Admiral
turn out of the backstretch and drive for the wire,
November 1, 1938."
Hillenbrand's story is not only about the rags-to-riches racehorse, but also about the men who opened up the doors to fame for him. Her poignant writing style gives the story authenticity, with a craft so many writers strive for, but never achieve.
Tomlinson cited the opening lines in Hillenbrand's preface as one of the most enticing paragraphs:
"In 1938, near the end of the decade of monumental turmoil, the year's number-one newsmaker was not Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Hitler, or Mussolini. It wasn't Pope Pius XI, nor was it Lou Gehrig, Howard Hughes, or Clark Gable. The subject of the most newspaper column inches in 1938 wasn't even a person. It was an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse named Seabiscuit. In the latter half of the Depression, Seabiscuit was nothing short of a cultural icon in America, enjoying adulation so intense and broad-based that it transcended sport."
Beyer particularly enjoyed her description of trainer Tom Smith:
"People merely brushed up against him. Only the horses seemed to know him well. They had been the quiet study of his life. He had grown up in a world in which horsemanship was as essential as breathing. Born with a prodigy's intuitive understanding of the animals, he had devoted himself to them so wholeheartedly that he was incomplete without them. By nature or by exposure he had become like them, in their understatement, their honesty, their blunt assertion of will. In the company of men, Smith's demeanor was clipped and bristly. With horses, he was gracefully at ease."
Random House has produced 75,000 copies of Seabiscuit and Universal Studios is presently working on a motion picture with Hillenbrand's help on the screenplay.
The Worlds Most Famous Horse Race ever Run.
It was on 1st November 1938 when SeaBiscuit and War Admiral did a one-to-one race. This race beated the biggest crowd record.
For a mile they ran as one horse but then SeaBiscuit took the lead, he was in lead by 2 lengths until he lost the lead with less than a furlong length. He then regained it again and took the lead and War Admiral never caught up. He was lost behind this great 5 year-old, Seabiscuit