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Seabiscuit: The Story Of An Unforgettable Champion

by Modi Ramos
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All you have to do is say his name for horse lovers to feel a sense of nostalgia that pleasantly sweeps over them. In 1933, the world was first introduced to Seabiscuit. Born in Lexington, Kentucky, he was sired by Hard Tack, and a grandson of the legendary Man o’ War. His mother was a mare named Swing On; the name Seabiscuit was given to him in honor of his father. Want to learn even more about this legendary racehorse? Then just keep reading!

Not Always a Champion

This champion Thoroughbred racehorse remains a favorite today among many equine enthusiasts. The famed horse lived from May 23, 1933 to May 17, 1947, and during his time on earth he made a name for himself that still lives strong today. Throughout his racing career, he earned an estimated $437,730 in prize money. But his name and the inspirational legacy he left behind matters so much more than any amount of money ever could. And although Seabiscuit never took home the Triple Crown, his successful race history is still quite impressive.

On January 19, 1935, two-year-old Seabiscuit made his racing debut at Hialeah Park, Florida, finishing in 4th place overall.

Seabiscuit

Image Courtesy of AmericasBestRacing.net

But Seabiscuit did not have the look and stature of the champion horses of today or of his time. In fact, he was noticeably knobby-kneed, finicky, and relatively small in comparison to the other horses he competed against. Additionally, Seabiscuit was more laid-back than the average Thoroughbred racehorse. His demeanor alone was enough to suggest that he wouldn’t plunge running out of the starting gate. Seabiscuit’s racing career began so poorly, that during the first 17 starts of his career he even served as the comic relief at his own barn.

But, as we all know, he had spirit. And above all, he was the perfect horse for his time.

In 1936, Seabiscuit was purchased by Charles Howard in August, after Tom Smith first saw him in June of that same year at a race and sensed something special in him. It just goes to show you that in life, sometimes all it takes is just one person believing in you to do something great. 

The Great Depression was a time in America where hope was fleeting. People craved a glimmer of promise, something positive to hold on to that could bring joy and happiness during such a dreadful time in history. People believed in him, and he gave the people of America something to look forward to. He was a shining beacon of hope that America’s people desperately needed.

Seabiscuit

Seabiscuit after defeating War Admiral at Pimlico in 1937.

Between late June and early August of 1937, Seabiscuit ran a series of grueling stakes races and wound up winning them all, going 5-for-5.

As Seabiscuit’s star rose win after win, he solidified himself as America’s favorite racehorse. 

When matched against War Admiral, at Pimlico Race Course on November 1, 1938, America watched and cheered for the hose which was shorter, slower, and many knew would take a lot of heart to beat the faster and stronger horse he was up against.

Watch here to see the historic match race known as the”Race of the Century” between Seabiscuit and Triple Crown winner War Admiral in 1938:

Interesting fact for you about Seabiscuit and War Admiral: the two champions were actually related. A stallion named Fair Play sired Man o’ War, and Man o’ War sired War Admiral and Hard Tack. Hard Tack was Seabiscuit’s father, making Seabiscuit War Admiral’s nephew.

Seabiscuit: A Horse That Changed the Face of Horse Racing

At only 15 hands high, the legendary Seabiscuit only won a fourth of his first forty races. But just as the world loves an underdog, they have a soft spot in their hearts for true rags-to-riches stories, too. The unlikely champion started winning consecutively, and quickly his spotlight grew into a national phenomenon. People of all ages simply loved him. Each race he competed in was the talk of the nation. Eagerly and anxiously the nation’s people rooted for this true underdog who gave them something to believe in. And believe they did. And not only did America’s people believe in him, but so did the the trainer and jockey who saw something in him that others failed to see at the start of his career.

Seabiscuit

Once Seabiscuit was treated with the respect and kindness he deserved by trainer Tom Smith and oversized jockey Johnny “Red” Pollard, he blossomed into America’s true champion. Smith was regarded for his unorthodox training methods when it came to training horses. But these unconventional methods resonated with this horse who just needed someone to better understand him. 

Red Pollard, Seabiscuit’s jockey was 5’7″ tall, which is four inches taller than the average jockey. Red was so deeply committed to his love of racing horses and Seabiscuit, that he often starved himself down to 115 lbs just so that he could race an already smaller horse. The two connected, both from broken down pasts and multiple injuries, Red partially blinded in one eye from a bad fall.

Seabiscuit and Pollard at the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap, the horse’s final race before retiring.

During his racing career, Seabiscuit had 89 starts, 33 wins, 15 seconds, and 13 third places. Seabiscuit AKA “The Biscuit” was given the title of Horse of the Year in 1938, the true highlight of his extraordinary career.

At the Santa Anita Handicap in 1940, Seabiscuit with Red in the reins, finally won the horserace that eluded him his entire career. The crowd of nearly 80,000 fans cheered on their favorite, a beautiful send-off for the horse who won the hearts of millions of people everywhere.

Life After Racing and Legacy Continued

Once he officially retired from racing on April 10, 1940, he was sent to the Ridgewood Ranch to stud and spend the rest of his days. He retired as horse racing’s all-time money winner, and went on to sire a total of 108 foals, two of which went on to become racehorses, Sea Sovereign and Sea Swallow. Before passing away six days shy of his fourteenth birthday of a suspected heart attack, over 50,000 came to see the legend in person during the seven years he spent at the ranch.

Want to watch a classic compilation of Seabiscuit in action? Check out our article here with this incredible footage you don’t want to miss!

Featured Images Courtesy of elbrookman – YouTube

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