A Racing Biscuit: Seabiscuit

 

Smith and Seabiscuit (Credit: Wikipedia)

Smith and Seabiscuit (Credit: Wikipedia)

On 23 May 1933 a legend was born. At the time he didn’t look like much. As he grew his funny-looking knees, odd gait and his love of eating and sleeping betrayed little of the hidden champion. He had run a record number of races, winning only a handful. His owner couldn’t even sell him. It took a unique eye such as trainer Tom Smith’s to spot the horse’s potential. A race horse owner, Charles Howard purchased a little “nag” named Seabiscuit in 1936 and turned him over to his trainer, Smith, to cultivate. So began a four year long career that would elevate Seabiscuit to new heights.

Smith had his work cut out for him. Seabiscuit had led a miserable existence up until coming into Howard’s possession. Under Smith’s care he received the attention he needed. Although he was an amiable horse, he could be a stinker and extremely contrary. One day a down-on-his-luck jockey, “Red” Pollard arrived on the Detroit Fair Grounds looking for work. He caught Smith’s eye. Seabiscuit had been unusually cantankerous and abused some of the help that day. But when Pollard came up and fed Seabiscuit a sugar cube, the horse took it gladly and nudged Pollard. Smith knew he had found Seabiscuit’s jockey and Pollard was hired.

Training on the track proved a little troublesome. Seabiscuit rebelled against authority. Smith was able to correct the problem and it didn’t take long for Seabiscuit to discover his love of racing. Especially when he had competition. The horse loved winning, plain and simple. If he could race another horse he would make sure to antagonize the other animal sometimes “breaking them” mentally and in the end winning. His antics sometimes upset other horses so badly they grew despondent.

The little knobby-kneed horse was proving to be a good investment. On various racetracks across the United States Seabiscuit was coming across the finish line victorious. By late 1936 Howard had moved Seabiscuit to California. One of the races coming up was the Santa Anita Handicap. It was around this time during workouts that Seabiscuit ran like he had never run before. The speed was shocking. Unofficially, Seabiscuit had broke a track record by two seconds. Days later he did it again at the race much to the shock of spectators.

Seabiscuit and Pollard (Credit: Wikipedia)

When the time came to run the Santa Anita Handicap Seabiscuit lost. Pollard received a good deal of blame and the media made sure to browbeat him for the loss. Smith, a man of very few words and with a great distaste for nosy reporters, came to Pollard’s defense. The Howards also made it clear they did not blame Pollard for the disappointing loss. But was it Pollard’s fault? Perhaps. Pollard had led a hard life and in a freak accident he was blinded in one eye. Knowing that it would mean the end of his career he had never told anyone about the blindness. At the Santa Anita Handicap, Seabiscuit’s competition had come up from behind and Pollard had, apparently, not seen the horse until it was too late to act. And so Seabiscuit lost the race.

Smith hated for the press to observe Seabiscuit’s workouts. He took pains to make sure they weren’t around to watch. It became a battle of wits. At times Seabiscuit’s half-brother, Grog, was called in to run the races in “the Biscuit’s” place and the press was none the wiser. The two looked so much alike that it was easy to mistake one for the other.

1938 was a difficult year. Pollard was nearly killed in an accident and then nearly had his leg torn off. The jockey that replaced him, George Woolf, was threatened with kidnapping and then suspended from racing. On another occasion a person had been hired to “sponge” Seabiscuit but was caught. What is sponging? It is the illegal and rather fatal act of shoving pieces of sponge up a horses nostrils. Often times it would not be located for days and in the meantime the horse was likely to lose the race.

On November 1938 a match between Seabiscuit and his “uncle”, War Admiral, took place on the Pimlico Race Course (video at the end of this post). Both horses were legends in their own right. In the time leading up to the race the hype took the nation by storm. Everyone, it seemed, was talking about the upcoming race. On November 1 the two great horses met on the racetrack. The pair took off. At one point they galloped side by side eyeing one another. Like he had done so many times before, Seabiscuit gleefully “broke” War Admiral and carried himself across the finish line. Fans poured out onto the racetrack.

During another run at the Santa Anita Handicap, Smith considered scratching Seabiscuit from the race. He had a foreboding. But already the horse had been scratched too many times and fans were growing disgruntled. During the race Seabiscuit stumbled. Woolf heard a strange sound but Seabiscuit appeared to be alright. The horse continued on, reaching the finish line (albeit not in first). By that time it was obvious to Woolf something had happened. Seabiscuit’s suspensory ligament had ruptured. His career was over, everyone predicted.

Last race (Credit: Wikipedia)

In 1940 Seabiscuit and Pollard made their comeback. The latter would never fully recover from his leg injuries but it wouldn’t stop him from racing. The two had spent the last months recovering together. The condition of Pollard’s leg was still precarious, while on the other hand Seabiscuit’s recovery had led to the correction of his strange gait. The pair’s first race placed them in third. Later attempts proved more successful. They returned to the Santa Anita Handicap and emerged the winners. It was a happy way to top off Seabiscuit’s career. He was retired shortly after.

Seabiscuit had brought the Howards, Smith, Pollard and Woolf together. With his retirement they went their own ways. The latter three led hard lives and had their share of woes. Seabiscuit himself was not long for the world. He died of a heart attack on 17 May 1947.

Source: Hillenbrand, Laura. Seabiscuit.

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64 thoughts on “A Racing Biscuit: Seabiscuit

    • And the jockeys don’t live in exactly ideal conditions either. They put themselves through so much to keep their weight down, or at least they did. In the accident that nearly killed Pollard the horse rolled over on him during a race. It could have been the end of them both. Smith was able to work the horse through recovery, thankfully. And of course Pollard went on to suffer another accident. It’s sad really.

      But that was not my intention with this post. The other day The History Tourist stopped by and left a comment that made me realize just how many posts on here are of stories that end horribly! Today’s post seems to be lacking in some way, but at least it isn’t doom and gloom. :)

      As for myself, I’m not keen on any sport. I love animals, but horse shows and horse races are not my kind of thing. I would just assume watch an animal in it’s natural habitat or lazing around in a paddock MINUS the screaming fans found on racetracks. ;)

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    • Don’t all stories end in doom and gloom somewhere sometime? Look at the Falklands War (for example), civilians killed, raw Argentinian soldiers killed, Brits killed. A victory always comes at a cost.

      But back to horses. The jockeys have a choice, the horses don’t. My mother, who was not particularly an animal rights person was, for her, quite vociferous about the Uk Grand National because of the number of horses who were killed.

      I guess that’s why I did see it as a sad post. Like bullfighting, like circuses, cock-fighting, dog-fighting, badger hunting, fox hunting, the list is endless, I would rather see no horse racing.

      It was an interesting post because it seemed different, I guess that’s what you meant by lacking. Nothing wrong with doing different posts, and it was an interesting read. But …

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    • It’s horrible all of the deaths caused by the races. And then the people that try to throw the races. I am not completely acquainted with horse racing, but from what I understand many horses have lost their lives due to sponging. People that would do something like that don’t have a heart.

      Everyday there are reports of animal abuse. Locally there has been a spurt in pet-nappings. With the dogfights and the need for bait, places experimenting on animals who might buy the pets and other unscrupulous individuals reselling the animals we will be keeping a much closer eye on our pets. And so so many animals lose their lives at Animal Control. :(

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    • Seabiscuit – yet another a maritime tie for a post that wasn’t meant to be! :)

      By the sound of it he really enjoyed doing it. Can you imagine if Seabiscuit had been a person? What a bully!

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    • You and your maritime stories… :D

      Whenever I hear Seabiscuit my mind instantly brings up an image of a sturdy biscuit sailing determinedly through a stormy sea. Not too sure how long it would last but the mind is a strange thing!

      He certainly wouldn’t have been as popular with the masses if he had been a pushy jockey as he was being the horse. :)

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    • I shudder to think what would happen if I didn’t find something maritime-ish about everything. :)

      Hilarious! And the little biscuit sailed the mighty briny (haha, I sense a picture book story here. It’s awful, I can see the illustrations. How terrible it would be to give kids something like that too read!). Well if the biscuit/hardtack was of the quality that was being given to soldiers during the Civil War – you know the type you throw out of a trench and it has so many maggots in it, it walks back in the trench – it would probably be able to circumnavigate the Earth a few times. ;)

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    • Except for the sharks… ;)
      “And the brave biscuit neared the harbour, after all its adventures it was so close to home! It could see its biscuity friends waving eagerly from the dock when something slid past…. Was it a fin? Eeek! CHOMP!”

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    • Those bloody creatures keep finding a way to inch into these stories. :) A rip-roarin’ adventure minus the blood-and-guts, replaced rather with powder-and-crumbs. Honestly some picture book author should pick up on this. Or comic book. Coming from someone who read the Little Lulu and Tin-Tin books. :D

      “From the shore friends gasp in horror. The loud CHOMP could be heard all the way on land. Was the seabiscuit hurt? Was he dead? But no! The shark’s teeth had fallen out of its head in a mess of white fragments. And the seabiscuit is received on shore with hearty cheers and so ends this heroic story of adventure.” Epilogue: He joined Capt. Cook in the mariner’s hall of fame.

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    • :D :D And the shark retired to its lair, nursing its broken mouth.
      It vowed revenge on all hardtack, but without the necessary weaponry to damage them it had to content itself with the softer humans that swam unsuspecting above… dah nah.. dah nah…
      Until the tornado that is…. :D

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    • Enter “Jaws”, the toothless shark. Well I guess if the sharknado was only filled with toothless sharks it wouldn’t be so bad, but one would want to make sure they were under some sturdy structure so that they didn’t get squashed! Gosh that movie sounds sick. ;)

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  1. Most interesting post.
    I found out you are a bloghostess.
    Thought you were a man.
    It makes no difference. I love your blog anyway.

    Pierre

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    • Thank you! Yes there was a movie, but as said below in other comments I haven’t watched it. There have been a few other horse race stories I’ve watched. One of which was filmed at Ellis Park which is just up the road from here. :)

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    • Your Welcome. I didn’t see it either in fact don’t go to a whole lot of movies. One I remember from childhood was ‘Black Beauty’ although wasn’t a racing one. That is cool that a film was near where you live.

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    • Oh yes Black Beauty. So many different takes on it. The TV series “The New Adventures of Black Beauty” was very popular with us. Season 2 was very good with the ongoing mysteries of the smugglers.

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  2. This is awesome, and while I have enjoyed all your posts this is, perhaps, my favourite. ;-) And I’m sure you would understand why that would be. … You should probably know that I have watched the movie at least a dozen times. The story moves me every time. … Thanks for sharing … Dorothy :-)

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  3. I didn’t want you to go off your usual path — sea stories usually involve disasters of some sort. If it were smooth sailing all the way, they wouldn’t have made it into the history books. In any case, I love animal stories so if you had to divert, this was a good one. I must be one of the few people in the world who never saw the movie, so I didn’t know the story. I love that he could psych out the competitors.

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    • Well I have been saying I would try do something “lighter” for the last few months, but so far hadn’t. Your comment kind of pushed me to do it for which I am thankful for. :)

      I hadn’t seen the movie either, so this was breaking new ground for me. Seabiscuit was real sweetie, wasn’t he? I almost feel sorry for his competition. There were those who couldn’t be backed down, however.

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    • Thank you, Cindy!

      It’s a great video, isn’t it? The part where they are running neck and neck for sometime and then Seabiscuit pulls ahead must be where he “broke” War Admiral.

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  4. Since God put man in charge above the animals, man has exploited the animal. But, you can never take away the crown that Seabiscuit won on his own. Good post!

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    • Thank you!

      I’ll look it up in a concordance later, but I seem to recall a Bible verse that says that man will be held accountable for how he treat animals. So animal-abusers aren’t getting off scotch-free.

      Seabiscuit was a marvel, wasn’t he? All those records he broke. I can only wonder what it is like to ride a horse at that speed.

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  5. I love the Seabiscuit story! My book group read the book written by Laura Hillenbrand and was fascinated. Not just by the fact that this horse ran so well and beat War Admiral, but also by how Seabiscuit excited a nation during difficult post depression / pre-war days. Without TV, everyone gathered around the radio or read the papers. Seabiscuit gave the country something positive to cheer for!

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    • I think that was a big reason why Seabiscuit was so popular. He was something to get excited about in the midst of all the poverty and hard times. Plus he was FAST. I love reading about his personality too. In fact, I’m having a difficult time deciding who was my favorite character in this story, Smith or Seabiscit. Smith’s quips were hilarious; do you remember the one where he told a pesky reporter that Seabiscuit’s legs were bandaged up because all four of his legs were broken?

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    • Oh I’d forgotten that one! Yes, they were both characters. What a story! I was also amazed (and dismayed) by the life of the jockey that you alluded to in an earlier comment. The things they did to stay lean …

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    • It really is terrible. Between that and the treatment they received while working up the ranks it’s a wonder they didn’t throw their hands up in the air and give it up early on. But if one was poor as Pollard was and with the Great Depression I guess there wasn’t much choice in the matter at that time.

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  6. Thanks for such a heart warming story J.G…
    Immediately I thought of our Australian Phar Lap and the similarities are astounding. e.g. the love between Phar Lap and his strapper/ groom, Tommy Woodcock and this magnificent horse raised the spirits of a nation also beset with the tragedy and poverty of “the Great Depression”… etc.
    When I went to YouTube to see if there was a vid of Phar Lap to share, look what I found!!! … enjoy :-)

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    • Great video, Catherine, thank you! (And I love that background music, must find the name!) I remember watching a movie about Phar Lap “ages ago” but remember nothing about it. What luck – it’s on YouTube.

      The similarities are very interesting. I wonder if Seabsicuit would have ever raced against Phar Lap had the latter not died so early. There was some mystery surrounding Phar Lap’s death, wasn’t there?

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    • Thanks, Catherine! I’ll read it. Kind of curious about finding a book on this horse too. Sounds so interesting. Plus the need to find any ol’ excuse to read up on Australia. :D

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  7. What a great post! I’m not a horse racer person, but I love horses. I cringed when I read about sponging. I can’t imagine doing such a thing! That turns my stomach! You do tell a great story, my friend! :)

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    • Horrible, isn’t it? Those poor horses trust people and then someone turns around and does something like that.

      I’m going to share a dark secret. As a small child I used to go around telling everyone that “When I grow up I’m going to be a horse rider (and own a collie)”. :P In fact I may still have some of the putrid sketches of what were suppose to be horses.

      Glad you liked the post, Marsha. :)

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    • I was still thinking about it on my walk tonight. The sponges! Yikes. That just makes me ill. I’m glad you have some putrid sketches! My sketches were all hairdos. So funny1 :)

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