I have been a horse racing fan since the days of Secretariat and have found inspiration from the stories attached to these great athletes. Soon the story of Secretariat will be on the big screen for all to enjoy and see what all the fuss was about. This leads me to another story that has been made into a movie and introduced me to a little horse that could. His name was Seabiscuit and his story is rich with all the necessary elements to make it a great story. It just wasn't the story about him, it's also about the people whose lives he touched and brought those that were in despair some hope. That there was a light at the end of the long dark tunnel and the “great depression” would soon be a thing of the past. In times of great struggle we need a story that lifts us up and takes us on a journey that will never be forgotten. Just like in my time there was Secretariat, the horse that made you believe anything was possible and in the 30’s it was Seabiscuit.
"Every horse is good for something" Tom Smith character from the movie, Seabiscuit
Great Racehorse, Seabiscuit
Seabiscuit was down on his luck or maybe just never had the chance when he was bought by, Charles S Howard. The people that would become involved with this horse had, had a run of bad luck and family tragedy. It seemed fitting or maybe it was destiny that brought together the man who would own him, the man who would train him and the man who would get the leg up, to ride him. It was said that Seabiscuit needed them but it was really these three men that needed Seabiscuit.
Seabiscuit was foaled on May 23, 1933 and was sired by Hard Tack, a son of the great horse Man O’War. The colt grew up on Claiborne Farm in Kentucky and was owned by Gladys Mills Phipps. Seabiscuit was small for a thoroughbred, knobby-kneed and like to eat and sleep a lot. His trainer at the time the legendary Sunny Fitzsimmons saw potential in him but just did not have the time for Seabiscuit. This relegated him to running smaller races where his record was not very impressive. By the time he was two years old he was an afterthought and his owners sold the horse to automobile entrepreneur Charles S Howard for $7,500.
Tom Smith would be his new trainer and Smith used unorthodox training methods to break some bad habits and to get Seabiscuit motivated to race. Smith went to jockey Red Pollard whose experience mainly came from the west coast but was down on his luck. Seabiscuits first race in August of 1936 was not impressive but that changed quickly with some wins two of which had nice purse money. After his stint on the east coast he was shipped to California with one race being the Bay Bridge Handicap a run over one mile. Seabiscuit carried top weight of 116 lb and had a bad start but came from behind to win by five lengths. In 1937, Seabiscuit won eleven out of fifteen races and was the year’s leading money winner. On the west coast he was a celebrity and his many fans could keep track of him by listening to the radio or picking up a newspaper. The racing scene on the east coast was not impressed by the little horse since War Admiral had won the Triple Crown that year and was voted the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.
1938 was a good year for Seabiscuit but not so good for jockey Red Pollard who was involved in a terrible fall and was unable to ride. Smith went through a number of jockeys before settling on George Woolf, who also happened to be a friend of Red’s. George would ride Seabiscuit in the Santa Anita Derby the race that Seabiscuit had lost the year before. The race starts off badly with Seabiscuit on the outside and was impeded by another horse. Woolf finally gets them out of the jam but they are now six lengths behind. The finish was spectacular with a photo finish but unfortunately Seabiscuit was nudged out of a win. During this time the media was speculating on a match race between the west coast horse, Seabiscuit and the east coast horse War Admiral. It was also about this time that Red Pollard who had healed from his fall agreed to work a young colt. The horse was spooked and threw Pollard, shattering his leg. To all, this seemed liked a career ending injury. Woolf would become Seabiscuit jockey and the match race with War Admiral was almost a done deal.
Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral
It was being dubbed the, Match of the Century and on November 1, 1938 Seabiscuit meets the great War Admiral. The race is 1 and 3/16 miles and would be held at Pimlico. The grandstands to the infield were jammed with fans that had come to watch, with an estimated 40,000 people on hand to watch. Some 40 million were said to be glued to their radios to listen to the race. War Admiral was the odds on favorite with 1-4 but the west coast fans stayed loyal to their horse, Seabiscuit. This race would be a walk up start and a fast start was a necessity. Smith worked with Seabiscuit using a starting bell and a whip to give the horse the burst of speed he would need to have a great start. Since Red Pollard was recuperating from his injury it would be George Woolf who would be the jockey for this race.
When the bell rang and the horses charged off Seabiscuit ran away from War Admiral. Despite being drawn to the outside Woolf led by over a length after the first half minute. As they reached the backstretch War Admiral began to cut into the lead and would soon have a slight edge over the little horse with knobby knees. Pollard had told Woolf to let Seabiscuit see his rival and then turn him loose. With two hundred yards to go Seabiscuit pulled away and would come home a winner by four lengths. The crowd at Pimlico, and fans listening on the radio were ecstatic. With this win and others that year Seabiscuit would be name “Horse of the Year” in 1938. Now all he had to do was win the Santa Anita Derby which had eluded him up to this point in his racing career. Unfortunately Seabiscuit faltered during a race and it was predicted that he would never race again. So Pollard and his mount were considered done with racing but then, this is a story of hope.
George Woolf would die in 1946 after a fall during a race.
Recovery and the Santa Anita Derby
Pollard and Seabiscuit recovered together at owner Charles Howard’s ranch. Over time both seemed to be healing and both learned to walk again. They recovered together and Red slowly gained back his confidence. Wearing a brace to stiffen his bad leg he began to ride Seabiscuit. A little at a time they began to increase their workouts. Seabiscuit would amaze all especially the veterinarians by his remarkable comeback. Howard would get Seabiscuit into race training and see where it would lead them. Pollard was still having difficulties with his leg but talked Howard into letting him ride Seabiscuit in the La Jolla Handicap at Santa Anita on February 9, 1940. Seabiscuit would come in third but it was an amazing comeback for a horse that was considered done. Soon Seabiscuit would be back to winning races and the horse that everyone loved was back to racing.
Having overcome his injury there was only one race left for him to win and that was the Santa Anita Derby. The start of the race Pollard found himself blocked and trying to get Seabiscuit out of a jam. Picking his way through the field Pollard gets Seabiscuit to the lead. Briefly in the lead they now found themselves in third place heading down the back stretch. With some good maneuvering and a burst, they took the lead and would win by a length and a half. The scene after the race was fitting a fairy tale story with fans and well-wishers engulfing the winner.
Charles Howard: You could be crippled for the rest of your life.
Red Pollard: I was crippled for the rest of my life. I got better. He made me better. Hell, you made me better.
From the movie, Seabiscuit
Retirement and Rainbow Bridge
On April 10, 1940 Seabiscuit would officially retire from racing and would live his last seven years at Ridgewood Ranch in California.
In the evening of May 17, 1947 Charles Howard said that Seabiscuit appeared normal but later around midnight his groom was awoken by a noise and found the "Biscuit" laying in his stall. Seabiscuit would head to "Rainbow Bridge" having died at the age of 14 from a heart attack.
His burial site has been kept a secret and only members of the Howard family know where he is buried at Ridgewood Ranch.
Seabiscuit 1933 - 1947
Red Pollard 1909-1981
Tom Smith 1878-1957
Charles S Howard 1877-1950
George Woolf 1910 - 1946
Seabiscuit vs War Admiral
Great Racehorses and Racing
- Great Racehorse: Secretariat.
- Great Racehorse: Ruffian, Queen of the Fillies.
- The First of the Triple Crown - The Kentucky Derby
cavallo from Newmarket,UK on November 11, 2012:
Read it and weep. I did.