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Seabiscuit was a champion racehorse. But the facts surrounding his rise to glory and fame aren’t typical. He broke all the rules; he had lousy conformation, was small, and didn’t train well. But he blossomed and captured the hearts of the racing world.
Seabiscuit was the all-time money winner and horse of the year in 1938 and became the nation’s most beloved athlete during the Great Depression. He accomplished his amazing feats while carrying heavier than standard weights.
Seabiscuit solidified his place in racing history after overcoming obstacles and through unique training methods. Here are 10 facts about Seabiscuit all racing fans should know:
1. Seabiscuit was the grandson of Man o’ War
He was the grandson of Man o’ War, one of the greatest racehorses of the 20th century. In two seasons (1919–20), he only lost once out of 21 starts. He set seven-track records and won the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.
Although he was Man o’ War’s grandson, he didn’t look like him, Seabiscuit was a small light bay, and Man o’ War was an imposing chestnut stallion.
2. Seabiscuit had poor conformation.
This great racehorse is the opposite of what a buyer looks for when purchasing a racing prospect. His knees were bucked, meaning they set forward.
In normal horses, the front legs are straight when viewed from the side. Seabiscuit was over in his knees, and this condition typically causes horses to stumble.
He also had long cannon bones on his rear legs, resulting in his hocks being higher than his knees. Most equestrians agree that a short cannon bone is preferable to a long cannon bone for almost all horses.
Seabiscuit didn’t just have unsound conformation of his legs; he was also considered by many to be too small and scrawny ever to become a successful racehorse. To read how a horse’s anatomy works when running, click here.
3. Seabiscuit ran 32 races during his two-year-old season.
In Seabiscuit’s first career start as a two-year-old at Hialeah Park in Florida, he finished in fourth place. Because he disliked training, his handlers elected to run him often.
During his two-year-old campaign, he started 35 races and didn’t notch his first win until his 18th race. His two-year-old season concluded with only five wins, and he was out of the money in 18 races with a total of $12,510.00 in earnings.
His three-year-old season didn’t start much better. He ran 12 times within four months, including a cheap allowance race he won at Suffolk Downs.
In the stands watching him win was horse trainer Tom Smith, who later convinced Charles Howard to purchase the horse for $8,000 and let him be its trainer.
4. Seabiscuit ran in $2,500 claiming races.
Seabiscuit ran in three cheap claiming races in his two-year-old season, and no one claimed the future Hall of Famer. It’s incredible to think anyone could have bought him for only $2,500.
In one of the claiming races, Seabiscuit not only won the race but set a new track record.
5. Seabiscuit was the leading money earner in 1937.
In 1937 the small bay horse began to win consistently. He won the San Juan Capistrano Handicap in March and followed that win with six straight wins before running third on a sloppy track. He came right back after this loss and won three more consecutive races.
He finished 1937 with 11 wins of his 15 starts and was the year’s leading money winner. The scrawny horse with bad conformation has caught the attention of racing fans across the country.
6. Grooms had a standing order not to wake Seabiscuit.
Seabiscuit wasn’t difficult to handle around the barn, but it was hard to motivate him to train. He was accused of being lazy during workouts and inattentive.
Tom Smith, Seabiscuit’s trainer, finally got Seabiscuit to reach his potential. But he recognized that the horse was quirky. He needed his companion animals around, and if he was disturbed during his sleep, he woke in a foul mood.
So Smith told his grooms to “never disturb him when he is sleeping, for any reason.” Because they couldn’t disturb Seabiscuit, the grooms had to wait for hours for him to wake to clean his stall.
7. Seabiscuit had a companion named Pumpkin.
Seabiscuit’s trainer, Tom Smith, was an old-schooled horseman, and with Seabiscuit, he performed a phenomenal turnaround. Before Smith took over Seabiscuit’s training, the young horse had shown flashes of ability, but Smith brought him to his full potential.
Soon after bringing him to his new home, it was evident that the horse stayed agitated. When people walked past his stall, the horse lunged with his mouth open and ear pinned.
He was a nervous wreck; he paced his stall and would break into a lather at the sight of a saddle. He was underweight and chronically tired and refused to eat much of the time.
To try and settle the horse, Tom Smith introduced a pony horse named Pumpkin. The two got along so well that the trainer knocked down the wall separating their stalls and housed them together.
The effect was so positive that Smith introduces other animals to Seabiscuit. A small stray dog became part of the horses’ family and slept and traveled with the entourage along the way.
8. Seabiscuit had a unique jockey, Red Pollard.
Johnny Pollard, called “Red” by most people, had a rough life; he battled alcoholism and fought through life-threatening injuries to ride racehorses while only being able to see out of one eye.
Until Red had a chance meeting with Tom Smith and Seabiscuit in 1936, his career had been uninspiring. The three met when outside of Detroit when the car Red was riding in had a breakdown.
The trio hit it off right away, and the rest is history. Tobey McGuire does a great job depicting Red Pollard in the 2003 film Seabiscuit.
9. Seabiscuit beat triple crown winner War Admiral in a match race.
War Admiral was a big strapping horse and winner of the Triple Crown series in 1937. On the other hand, Seabiscuit was a small journeyman racehorse that was on an impressive winning streak.
War Admiral was the heavy betting favorite, his style of running fit match racing better than Seabiscuits, and he was a front runner; the small bay horse was a pacer with late acceleration.
But Seabiscuit proved his racing prowess and beat War Admiral by four lengths and was named American Horse of the Year for 1938.
War Admiral was Seabiscuit’s uncle.
Not widely known is that War Admiral is Seabiscuit’s uncle. Man o’ War is the sire of both War Admiral and Hard Tack, and Hard Tack is Seabiscuit’s daddy. So yes, War Admiral was his uncle.
10. Seabiscuit became a ranch horse.
In 1940, Seabiscuit retired from racing and moved to Ridgewood Ranch in California. By the time he had retired, he had won more money than any racehorse.
Despite his celebrity status, Seabiscuit was used by the ranch hands to check cattle and for pleasure riding. While in retirement, he had over 50,000 visitors. He also stood as a stud and sired 108 foals. (click here to read about Thoroughbred breeding)
Seabiscuit is one of the fascinating racehorses in history. There are many interesting facts about his life. And most are chronicled by Laura Hillenbrand in her book: Seabiscuit: An American Legend.
It is a great read and was adapted into a wonderful film that I have in my list of best horseracing movies; I ranked it second, only behind Phar Lap.
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