Seabiscuit - A light at the end of the tunnel

Posted by Lynnsy Diekman - Saddle Up on Dec 17th 2020

1933 was a tough time. The Great Depression was still taking place and things in the world were very dark. People were loosing hope in everything and happiness was a thing of the past. In May 1933, a light was born. Something that would bring joy and hope back to everyone. It may have just been a horse, but that horse saved more lives than you can imagine.

Seabiscuit first made his appearance at Wheatley Stables in Kentucky. Sadly, he did make a great first impression. He did not look the part of a racehorse, which was what he was bred to be. He was small, knobby kneed, and lazy. Seabiscuit was perfectly content spending his days eating and sleeping. He also appeared to be extremely slow. This little bay horse gave it his all, but it was never good enough. He had a lot to live up to and the pressure was tremendous. Seabiscuit was out of Hard Tack and Swing On. He was also a grandson of the famous horse, Man O' War. He had such a sweet soul, but it was quickly broken by the people around him. He was the laughing stock of his barn and the racehorse industry. 

As a 2 year old, they raced him 35 times. That is almost unheard of. He dropped the first 17 starts of his career and even his owners saw him as a joke. He had 5 wins and 7 second places in his short career. They used him up and tore down his confidence. They ran his legs off to encourage other race horses to win and go fast. He was basically a training technique and punching bag for the first years of his life. It was said that he became just like his sire, Hard Tack. He was aggressive and mean, but they made him that way. Seabiscuit was almost untouchable. He was for sale 3 times as a 2 year old for the low price of $2500. 

Charles Howard was a successful car salesman around this time. He had made an outstanding life and career for himself, but he needed a change. Friends of his had suggested investing into a racehorse. He saw something in Biscuit and took a chance. He picked him up for $8,000. It was a long road ahead, but it sure was worth it in the end. Howard hand picked Seabiscuit's new trainer. His name was Tom Smith, an old cowboy who had a way with horses, especially ones that needed some healing. Tom first saw Seabiscuit a month earlier at the track. He was tired, sore, and 200lbs underweight. He hated people and people were scared of him. He was a loose canyon and would strike at any minute with the intent to harm. Tom could see he had a kind eye and knew he just needed to be loved again. 

Once Seabiscuit was settled in, Tom really babied him in hopes it would rekindle the horse he once was. He put braces on his legs and began a lot of therapy on the horse. They took it slow and really worked with Biscuit. He was given a large box stall, plenty of food, and lots of rest. He was also accompanied by 3 interesting companions. Biscuit shared his stall with a stray dog named Pocatell, a spider monkey named JoJo, and a Palomino mare named Pumpkin. Pumpkin become his life long traveling partner and tagged along to all of his races. Seabiscuit did what Tom had hoped. He turned back into a loving and calm horse. Now it was time to race. 

Johnny Pollard, otherwise known as Red, was handpicked by Tom to be Seabiscuit's new jockey. Pollard and Biscuit had similar stories and both were broken in a way. He was an ex-boxer and he was much bigger than most jockey's, tapping out at 5'7. His career was also on the rocks when Smith introduced the two in 1936. They took to each other instantly. Seabiscuit was Pollard's heart horse and Pollard was Seabiscuit's person. Johnny nicknamed the horse, Pops. Between the amazing care and the new found bond, Seabiscuit began to flourish.

Tom started the pair out at smaller races. They needed to get Seabiscuit's confidence back up and teach him how to really fly on the track. In 1936 he won the Scarsdale Handicap in record time! Then he went on to win 2 major victories in California and barely missed two world records. Biscuit was also crowned a champion at the Detroit Governors Handicap, the Bay Ridge Handicap, and the World's Fair Handicap. He became a celebrity, giving people something to be excited about during these hard times. A little bay horse was turning everyone's life around. He was literally a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. 

The team had a small set back when Seabiscuit and Pollard finished second by a nose to Rosemont in the 1937 Santa Anita Handicap. It didn't even phase fans, they loved him even more. The cause behind this incident was John Pollard was actually blind in one eye. He kept this hidden out of fear that he would never race again. When they were out there, he just couldn't see the other horse coming up behind them. Charles Howard kept his loyalty to Pollard and kept him as Biscuit's jockey anyway. Just after this, Seabiscuit swept 11 of his 15 starts and finished the year as the leading money earner in the United States. He barely lost the Horse of the Year Title to War Admiral, a Triple Crown Winner. 

Howard wanted these two magnificent horses to meet and race. He knew his horse could claim the victory, but it just had to be arranged. The owners of War Admiral were almost offended that this little nothing of a horse wanted to race their mighty stallion. It was back and forth for quite some time and Howard tried everything to get them to agree to a race. Finally, November 1, 1938 the "Match of the Century" took place. Unfortunately, Pollard had been injured riding a different horse and was unable to partake in this race. A good friend of his, George Woolf, took his place and rode Pops. 40,000 fans stood at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Track and 40 million fans listened on the radio, even John Pollard was listening in from the hospital. It happened! Seabiscuit defeated War Admiral and won by four horse lengths! 

Seabiscuit was named Horse of the Year in 1938. He had an outstanding career with 89 starts, 33 wins, 15 seconds, and 13 thirds. He finished as the all time leading earner with $437,730 in purse money. Pops was retired to Ridgewood Ranch in California. The love never died and he had more than 50,000 visitors in the 7 years that he spent there, before passing away. Seabiscuit rose spirits in a very devastating time. He was an outstanding horse that overcame so many hardships, just like our world did. It is such an incredible story and one of my favorites! They even made a movie about Seabiscuit and it will give make you fall in love with this incredible animal too. 

5 Seabiscuit Fun Facts:

1. Seabiscuit is a synonym for Hard tack and it is also a type of cracker that sailors would eat.

2. He was ranked 25th in Blood Horse Magazine for the top 100 Thoroughbreds of the 20th Century 

3. A statue of Seabiscuit is displayed at Santa Anita Park and has been since 1941

4. There is a spot known as "Seabiscuit Court" at Santa Anita 

5. In 2009 there was a United States Stamp of Seabiscuit

(Seabiscuit winning against War Admiral) 

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