Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Seabiscuit
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Seabiscuit

Seabiscuit (1933-1947) was a champion American thoroughbred race horse.

Born on May 23, 1933 from the mare Swing On and sired by Hard Tack (son of Man O' War), the bay colt grew up on Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky. He was undersized, knobby-kneed, and not much to look at, and was given to sleeping and eating for long periods. Initially he was trained by the legendary, "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 lazy, and most of with most of his time taken training Omaha (another Triple Crown winner) Seabiscuit was relegated to a punishing schedule of small races. In his first 10 races he failed to win and most times finished well back of the field. After that, training him for racing was almost an afterthought and the horse was sometimes the butt of people's jokes. Then, as a three-year-old, Seabiscuit raced thirty five times, winning five times, running second seven times. Still, at the end of the racing season, he was used as a work horse. The next racing season, the colt was again less than spectacular and his owners "unloaded" the horse for $8,000, to automobile entrepreneur Charles Howard.

1936-37 : The Beginning of Success

His new trainer, Tom Smith, understood the horse and slowly his unorthodox training methods raised the horse from its lethargy. Smith paired the horse with Canadian jockey Red Pollard (1909-1981), who was had gained much experience racing in the West and in Mexico, but was now down on his luck. On August 22, 1936 Seabiscuit raced for the first time for his new jockey and trainer, in Detroit, without impressing. But improvements came quickly and in their remaining eight races in the East, Seabiscuit and Pollard won times, including Detroit's Governer's Handicap (worth $5,600) and the Scarsdale Handicap (worth $7,300).In early November 1936, Howard and Smith shipped the horse to California in a rail car. His last two races of the year were at Bay Meadows racetrack in San Francisco, and gave some clue as to what was to come. The first was the $2,700 Bay Bridge Handicap, run over one mile. Seabiscuit started badly from the stalls, but, despite carrying the top weight of 116lb, ran through the field before easing up to win by five lengths, in a time only two fifths of a second outside the world record. This electric form was carried over to the World's Fair Handicap (Bay Meadows most prestigious stakes race) with Seabiscuit leading throughout, to win by a distance.

For 1937, Howard and Smith turned their attention to the February's Santa Anita Handicap. The race, California's most prestigious, was worth over $125,000 to the winner and was known colloquially as "The Hundred Grander". In their first warm up race at Santa Anita, they again won easily. In his second race of 1937 (the San Antonia Handicap) Seabiscuit suffered a setback. Bumped at the start, and then pushed wide the horse trailed in fifth, with the win going to the highly fancied Rosemont.

The two would be rematched in the Hundred Grander just a week later. After half a mile, front runner Special Agent was clearly tired and Seabiscuit seemed perfectly placed to capitalise, before inexplicably slowing on the final straight. The fast closing Rosemont took his chance, edging out Seabiscuit by a nose. The defeat was devasting to Smith and Howard, and widely attributed in the press to an riding error. Pollard, who had seemingly not seen Rosemont over his shoulder until too late, had lost the sight in one eye in a racing accident, a fact he hid throughout his career. Regardless, the horse was rapidly becoming a favorite among Californian racing fans, and his fame spread as he won his next three races, before Howard chose to again relocate the horse, this time for the more prestigious Eastern racing circuit.

Once there, Seabiscuit's run of victories continued unabated. Between June 26 and August 7, he ran five times, each time a stakes race, and each time he won, despite steadily increasing imposts of up to 130lbs. The seven consecutive stakes victories tied the record. On September 11, Smith accepted an impost of 132lbs for the Narragansett Special. On race day, the ground was slow and heavy, and entirely unsuited to the Biscuit, even without the heaviest burden of his career. Smith wished to scratch, but Howard overruled him. Seabiscuit was never in the running, and trudged home in third, four lengths behind Calumet Dick, who was carrying only 115lbs. The 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 valiant second place at Pimlico.

In 1937, Seabisuit won eleven of his fifteen races and was the leading money winner in the United States that year. On the West Coast, he had risen to the status of celebrity. His races were followed fanatically on the radio and newsreel and filled hundreds of column inches in the newspapers. Howard, with his business acumen, was ready to cash in, marketing a full range of merchandise to the fans. Considerably less impressed was the Eastern racing establishment. The great three year old, War Admiral, had won the Triple Crown that season and was voted the most prestigious honor, Horse of the Year.

The Best Horse in America

As a five year old, Seabiscuit's success continued and there was much speculation in the media that there would be a match race between him and the seemingly invincible War Admiral. A match race was held but it would not be against War Admiral but instead against a highly regarded horse owned by the Hollywood entertainer Bing Crosby. Seabiscuit won that race and after a few more outings he would finally go head to head with War Admiral in the Pimlico Special in Baltimore, Maryland. On November 1, 1938, in what was dubbed as the "Match of the Century", Seabiscuit ran away from the Triple Crown Champion. As a result of his races that year and the victory over War Admiral, Seabiscuit was named "Horse of the Year" for 1938. When he was retired to the Ridgewood Ranch in California, Seabiscuit, the horse nobody wanted, was the horse racing's all-time leading money winner.

In 1949, a fictionalized story of Seabiscuit was made into a motion picture starring Shirley Temple. At Santa Anita Park a life-sized bronze statue of Seabiscuit is on display. In 1958, he was voted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. In the Blood-Horse magazine ranking of the top 100 thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century, Seabiscuit was ranked #25.

In 2001 Laura Hillenbrand wrote Seabiscuit: An American Legend (ISBN 0449005615), an award-winning account of Seabiscuit's career. The book became a bestseller, and on July 25, 2003, Universal Studios released a new motion picture titled Seabiscuit.