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George Woolf on Seabiscuit
|Grandsire||Man o' War|
|Damsire||Whisk Broom II|
|Breeder||Gladys Mills Phipps|
|Trainer||1) Sunny Jim Fitzimmons
2) Tom Smith
|Massachusetts Handicap (1937)
Brooklyn Handicap (1937)
Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap (1937, 1938)
Havre de Grace Handicap (1938)
Match race vs Ligaroti (1938)
Pimlico Special vs War Admiral (1938)
Hollywood Gold Cup (1938)
San Antonio Handicap (1940)
Santa Anita Handicap (1940)
|U.S. Champion Handicap Male (1937 & 1938)
U.S. Horse of the Year (1938)
|United States Racing Hall of Fame (1958)
#25 – Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century
Life-size statue at Santa Anita Park
|Last updated on September 16, 2006|
Seabiscuit (May 23, 1933 – May 17, 1947) was a champion Thoroughbred racehorse in the United States. A small horse, Seabiscuit had an inauspicious start to his racing career, but became an unlikely champion and a symbol of hope to many Americans during the Great Depression. Seabiscuit was the subject of a 1939 film by Charles Howard called Seabiscuit: the Lost Documentary; a 1949 Shirley Temple film, The Story of Seabiscuit; a 2001 book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand; and a 2003 film, Seabiscuit, which was based on the Hillenbrand book and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Seabiscuit was foaled on May 23, 1933, from the mare Swing On and sired by Hard Tack, a son of Man o' War. Seabiscuit was named for his father, as hardtack or "sea biscuit" is the name for a type of cracker eaten by sailors.
Initially, Seabiscuit was owned by the powerful Wheatley Stable and trained by Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, who had taken Gallant Fox to the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. Fitzsimmons saw some potential in Seabiscuit, but felt the horse was too lazy. He devoted most of his time to training Omaha, who won the 1935 Triple Crown.
Seabiscuit was relegated to a heavy schedule of smaller races. He failed to win his first seventeen races, usually finishing back in the field. After that, Fitzsimmons did not spend much time on him, and the horse was sometimes the butt of stable jokes. Seabiscuit began to gain attention after winning two races at Narragansett Park and setting a new track record in the second - a Claiming Stakes race. As a two-year-old, Seabiscuit raced thirty-five times (a heavy racing schedule), coming in first five times and finishing second seven times. These included three claiming races, in which he could have been purchased for $2500, but he had no takers.
While Seabiscuit had not lived up to his racing potential, he was not the poor performer that Fitzsimmons had taken him for. His last two wins as a two-year-old came in minor stakes races. The next season, however, started with a similar pattern. The colt ran 12 times in less than 4 months, winning four times. One of those races was a cheap allowance race on the "sweltering afternoon of June 29", 1936, at Suffolk Downs. That is where trainer Tom Smith first laid eyes on Seabiscuit. His owners sold the horse to automobile entrepreneur Charles S. Howard for $8000 at Saratoga in August.
1936/37: The beginning of success
Howard assigned Seabiscuit to a new trainer, Tom Smith who, with his unorthodox training methods, gradually brought Seabiscuit out of his lethargy. Smith paired the horse with Canadian jockey Red Pollard (1909–1981), who had experience racing in the West and in Mexico. On August 22, 1936, they raced Seabiscuit for the first time. Improvements came quickly, and in their remaining eight races in the East, Seabiscuit and Pollard won several times, including Detroit's Governor's Handicap (worth $5,600) and the Scarsdale Handicap ($7,300) at Empire City Race Track in Yonkers, New York.
In early November 1936, Howard and Smith shipped the horse to California by rail. His last two races of the year were at Bay Meadows racetrack in San Mateo, California. The first was the $2,700 Bay Bridge Handicap, run over one mile (1.6 km). Despite starting badly and carrying the top weight of 116 lb (53 kg), Seabiscuit won by five lengths. At the World's Fair Handicap (Bay Meadows' most prestigious stakes race), Seabiscuit led throughout.
In 1937 the Santa Anita Handicap, California's most prestigious race, was worth over $125,000 ($2.2 million in 2010) to the winner; it was known colloquially as "The Hundred Grander." In his first warm-up race at Santa Anita Park, Seabiscuit won easily. In his second race of 1937, the San Antonio Handicap, he suffered a setback after he was bumped at the start and then pushed wide, Seabiscuit came in fifth, losing to Rosemont.
The two met again in the Santa Anita Handicap a week later, where Rosemont won by a nose. The defeat was devastating to Smith and Howard, and was widely attributed in the press to a jockey error.a[›] Pollard, who had not seen Rosemont over his shoulder until too late, was blind in one eye due to an accident during a training ride, a fact he had hidden throughout his career. Seabiscuit was rapidly becoming a favorite among California racing fans, and his fame spread as he won his next three races. With his successes, Howard decided to ship the horse East for its more prestigious racing circuit.
Seabiscuit's run of victories continued. Between June 26 and August 7, he ran five times, each time in a stakes race, and each time he won under steadily increasing handicap weights (imposts) of up to 130 lb (59 kg). On September 11, Smith accepted an impost of 132 lb (60 kg) for the Narragansett Special at Narragansett Park. On race day, the ground was slow and heavy, and unsuited to "the Biscuit," carrying the heaviest burden of his career. Smith wished to scratch, but Howard overruled him. Never in the running, Seabiscuit finished third. His winning streak was snapped, but the season was not over; Seabiscuit won his next three races (one a dead heat) before finishing the year with a second place at Pimlico.
In 1937, Seabiscuit won eleven of his fifteen races and was the year's leading money winner in the United States. War Admiral, having won the Triple Crown that season, was voted the most prestigious honor, the American Horse of the Year Award.
Early five-year-old season
In 1938, as a five-year-old, Seabiscuit's success continued. On February 19, Pollard suffered a terrible fall while racing on Fair Knightess, another of Howard's horses. With Pollard's leg shattered by the weight of the fallen horse, Howard had to find a new jockey. After trying three, he settled on George Woolf, an already successful rider and old friend of Pollard.
Woolf's first race aboard Seabiscuit was the Santa Anita Handicap, the "hundred grander" that the horse had narrowly lost the previous year. Seabiscuit was drawn on the outside and at the start was impeded by another horse, Count Atlas, angling out. The two were locked together for the first straight, and by the time Woolf disentangled his horse, they were six lengths off the pace. Seabiscuit worked his way to the lead but lost in a photo finish to the fast-closing Santa Anita Derby winner, Stagehand (owned by Maxwell Howard, not related to Charles), who had been assigned 30 pounds (13.6 kg) less than Seabiscuit.
Throughout 1937 and 1938, the media speculated about a match race between Seabiscuit and the seemingly invincible War Admiral (also sired by Man o' War, Seabiscuit's grandsire). The two horses were scheduled to meet in three stakes races, but one or the other was scratched, usually due to Seabiscuit's dislike of heavy ground. After extensive negotiation, the owners organized a match race for May 1938 at Belmont, but Seabiscuit was scratched.
By June, Pollard had recovered, and on June 23, he agreed to work a young colt named Modern Youth. Spooked by something on the track, the horse broke rapidly through the stables and threw Pollard, shattering his leg and seemingly ending his career.
Howard arranged a match race for Seabiscuit against Ligaroti, a highly regarded horse owned by the Hollywood entertainer Bing Crosby and Howard's son, Lindsay, through Binglin Stable in an event organized to promote Crosby's resort and Del Mar Racetrack in Del Mar, California. With Woolf aboard, Seabiscuit won that race, despite persistent fouling from Ligaroti's jockey. After three more outings and with only one win, he was scheduled to go head-to-head with War Admiral in the Pimlico Special in November in Baltimore, Maryland.
Sent to race on the East Coast of the United States, on October 16, 1938, Seabiscuit ran second by two lengths in the Laurel Stakes to the filly Jacola, who set a new Laurel Park Racecourse record of 1:37.00 for one mile.
On November 1, 1938, Seabiscuit met War Admiral and jockey Charles Kurtsinger in what was dubbed the "Match of the Century." The event was run over 1 and 3/16 miles (1.91 km) at Pimlico Race Course. From the grandstands to the infield, the track was jammed with fans. Trains were run from all over the country to bring fans to the race, and the estimated 40,000 at the track were joined by 40 million listening on the radio. War Admiral was the favorite (1–4 with most bookmakers) and a nearly unanimous selection of the writers and tipsters, excluding a California contingent.
Head-to-head races favor fast starters, and War Admiral's speed from the gate was well known. Seabiscuit, on the other hand, was a pace stalker, skilled at holding with the pack before pulling ahead with late acceleration. From the scheduled walk-up start, few gave him a chance to lead War Admiral into the first turn. Smith knew these things and trained Seabiscuit to run against this hype, using a starting bell and a whip to give the horse a Pavlovian burst of speed from the start.
When the bell rang, Seabiscuit broke in front, led by over a length after 20 seconds, and soon crossed over to the rail position. Halfway down the backstretch, War Admiral started to cut into the lead, gradually pulling level with Seabiscuit, then slightly ahead. Following advice he had received from Pollard, Woolf had eased up on Seabiscuit, allowing his horse to see his rival, then asked for more effort. Two hundred yards from the wire, Seabiscuit pulled away again and continued to extend his lead over the closing stretch, finally winning by four lengths despite War Admiral's running his best time for the distance.
As a result of his races that year, Seabiscuit was named American Horse of the Year for 1938, beating War Admiral by 698 points to 489 in a poll conducted by the Turf and Sport Digest magazine. Seabiscuit was the number one newsmaker of 1938. The only major prize that eluded him was the Santa Anita Handicap.
Injury and return
Seabiscuit was injured during a race. Woolf, who was riding him, said that he felt the horse stumble. The injury was not life-threatening, although many predicted Seabiscuit would never race again. The diagnosis was a ruptured suspensory ligament in the front left leg. With Seabiscuit out of action, Smith and Howard concentrated on their horse Kayak II, an Argentine stallion.
Seabiscuit and a still-convalescing Pollard recovered together at Howard's ranch, with the help of Pollard's new wife Agnes, who had nursed him through his initial recovery. Slowly, both horse and rider learned to walk again (Pollard joked that they "had four good legs between" them). Poverty and his injury had brought Pollard to the edge of alcoholism. A local doctor broke and reset Pollard's leg to aid his recovery, and slowly Pollard regained the confidence to sit on a horse. Wearing a brace to stiffen his atrophied leg, he began to ride Seabiscuit again, first at a walk and later at a trot and canter. Howard was delighted at their improvement, as he longed for Seabiscuit to race again, but was extremely worried about Pollard, as his leg was still fragile.
Over the fall and winter of 1939, Seabiscuit's fitness seemed to improve by the day. By the end of the year, Smith was ready to return the horse to race training, with a collection of stable jockeys in the saddle. By the time of his comeback race, Pollard had cajoled Howard into allowing him the ride. After the horse was scratched due to soft going, the pair finally lined up at the start of the La Jolla Handicap at Santa Anita, on February 9, 1940. Seabiscuit was third, beaten by two lengths. By their third comeback race, Seabiscuit was back to his winning ways, running away from the field in the San Antonio Handicap to beat his erstwhile training partner, Kayak II, by two and a half lengths. Under 124 pounds (56 kg), Seabiscuit equalled the track record for a mile and 1/16.
One race was left in the season. A week after the San Antonio, Seabiscuit and Kayak II both took the gate for the Santa Anita Handicap and its $121,000 prize. 78,000 paying spectators crammed the racetrack, most backing Seabiscuit. Pollard found his horse blocked almost from the start. Picking his way through the field, Seabiscuit briefly led. As they thundered down the back straight, Seabiscuit became trapped in third place, behind leader Whichcee and Wedding Call on the outside.
Trusting in his horse's acceleration, Pollard steered between the leaders and burst into the lead, taking the firm ground just off the rail. As Seabiscuit showed his old surge, Wedding Call and Whichcee faltered, and Pollard drove his horse on, taking the Hundred Grander by a length and a half from the fast-closing Kayak II. Pandemonium engulfed the course. Neither horse and rider, nor trainer and owner, could get through the sea of well-wishers to the winner's enclosure for some time.
Seabiscuit is the Horatio Alger hero of the turf, the horse that came up from nothing on his own courage and will to win. On April 10, Seabiscuit's retirement from racing was officially announced. When he was retired to the Ridgewood Ranch near Willits, California, he was horse racing's all-time leading money winner. Put out to stud, Seabiscuit sired 108 foals, including two moderately successful racehorses: Sea Sovereign and Sea Swallow. Over 50,000 visitors went to Ridgewood Ranch to see Seabiscuit in his seven years there before his death. His burial site is Willits Ranch in Mendocino County, California.
Legacy and honors
- A statue of Seabiscuit sits outside the main entrance of The Shops at Tanforan, former site of the Tanforan Racetrack
- A statue of Seabiscuit was installed at Santa Anita Racetrack.
- On June 23, 2007, a statue of Seabiscuit was unveiled at Ridgewood Ranch.
- On July 17, 2010, a life-size statue of George Woolf and Seabiscuit was unveiled at the Remington Carriage Museum in Woolf's hometown of Cardston, Alberta. This coincided with the 100th anniversary of Woolf's birth, though not the actual date.
Honors and portrayals in art, film and literature
In 1940, right after the spectacular Santa Anita win and at the moment of the horse's retirement, track writer B. K. Beckwith wrote Seabiscuit: The Saga of a Great Champion, with a foreword by Grantland Rice.
At Santa Anita Park, a life-sized bronze statue of Seabiscuit, hand-tooled by Frank Buchler, has been on display since 1941 - it now stands in the walking ring at the track's "Seabiscuit Court."
Another statue, although not life-sized, can be found in San Bruno at The Shops at Tanforan, a shopping mall built upon a former racetrack. Seabiscuit was stabled there briefly in 1939 while preparing for his comeback.
Businessman and racehorse owner W. Arnold Hanger donated a statuette of Seabiscuit to the Keeneland library in the 1940s.
In 1949, a fictionalized account was made into the motion picture The Story of Seabiscuit, starring Shirley Temple in her second to last film. Sea Sovereign played the title role. An otherwise undistinguished film, it did include actual 1938 match race footage of War Admiral, and actual footage of the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap.
In 1958, Seabiscuit was voted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
In the Blood-Horse magazine ranking of the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century (1999), Seabiscuit was ranked twenty-fifth. War Admiral was thirteenth, and Seabiscuit's grandsire and War Admiral's sire, Man o' War, placed first.
In 2001, Laura Hillenbrand wrote Seabiscuit: An American Legend (ISBN 0-449-00561-5). The book became a bestseller, and in 2003, Universal Studios released Seabiscuit, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
In 2009, after an 8-year-long grassroots effort by Maggie Van Ostrand and Chuck Lustick, Seabiscuit was honored by the United States Postal Service with a stamp bearing his likeness. Thousands of signatures were obtained from all over the nation, and the final approval was given by Citizens Stamp Committee member Joan Mondale, wife of former Vice President Walter Mondale.
|Man o' War
|Whisk Broom II
Notable races won
Seabiscuit ran 89 times at 16 different distances over the course of his career.
^ a: The Saturday Evening Post, dated April 27, 1940, reported "By the following March the horse failed only by inches—because his jockey erred in looking back—to win in his first try at the Santa Anita Handicap, richest of all races."
- "Champion" (April 27, 1940). Saturday Evening Post. 212 (44):28
- Stradley, Linda (2004). "Linda's Culinary Dictionary – H (see "hardtack"). Retrieved June 18, 2015.
- Hillenbrand, Laura (2001), "Seabiscuit: An American Legend."
- Nack, William (November 29, 1999), "A Match Made in Heaven," Sports Illustrated. 91 (21):128
- "Wall Rides Jacola to Two-Length Triumph Over Seabiscuit in Laurel Stakes; Jacola, 7-1, Breaks Laurel Mile Mark; Filly Conquers Seabiscuit in 1:37, With The Chief Third as 20,000 Look On; Triumph is Worth $7,825; Challedon Closes Fast to Win Maryland Futurity From War Moon in Photo Finish; Aneroid Runs Fourth, Seabo Rides Winner". The New York Times. October 16, 1938.
- "Seabiscuit voted best of 1938 crop". Prescott Evening Courier. 1938-12-12. Retrieved 2012-02-26.
- Andriani, Lynn (January 01, 2001), "PW Talks with Laura Hillenbrand". Publishers Weekly. 248 (1):75
- Hillenbrand, Laura (July/August 1998), "`Four good legs between us.'" American Heritage. 49 (4):38
- Seabiscuit at Find a Grave
- "Seabiscuit at Tanforan; Howard Horse to Start Training for Racing Comeback". The New York Times. October 24, 1939.
- "Seabiscuit". American Experience . WGBH. PBS. 2003. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
- "Vintner Mare - Family 9". Bloodlines.net. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
- Hillenbrand, Laura (May/June 2000), "Racehorse". American Heritage. 51 (3):78
- Durso, Joseph (June 17, 1994), "Horse Racing: Notebook; A Revival at Belmont For Stars Who Stayed". The New York Times :17
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Seabiscuit.|
- Beckwith, B.K. (1940), Seabiscuit: The Saga of a Great Champion, with drawings by Howard Brodie, Wilfred Crowell, Inc., San Francisco.
- Hillenbrand, Laura (2001), Seabiscuit: An American Legend.
- Rasmussen, Zach (2013), Seabiscuit: An Unlikely Champion.
- Newsreel film of Seabiscuit v War Admiral
- Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation. Livingston, Tracy (2005), retrieved June 26, 2005.
- "Seabiscuit", Snopes.com (2005), retrieved June 18, 2015.
- Seabiscuit, 1938 Horse of the Year
- Seabiscuit, Hollywood film, 2003
- The Story of Seabiscuit, Hollywood film, 1949
- The Biscuit's pedigree
- Quick online racing game, inc. The Biscuit
- Article about the Seabiscuit-War Admiral match race
- Youtube of the 1938 match race
- Seabiscuit, an American Experience documentary film by Stephen Ives, shown on PBS
- www.janiburon.com, website of author of Seabiscuit books