There are few horses in Thoroughbred racing that are well known in the mainstream. Of course, it really boosts your profile when you have a big time Hollywood movie made about your life – and Seabiscuit’s story was a great one. The timing of his rise to glory, combined with his humble beginnings, endeared him to the American public when they needed something to believe in.
Seabiscuit was born on May 23rd, 1933 in the heart of the Great Depression and named after the snack that sailors often ate at the time. Initially owned by Wheatley Stables and trained by Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, Seabiscuit failed to win his first 17 races. Fitzsimmons, meanwhile, was busy training 1935 Triple Crown winner Omaha. Eventually he won five and finished second seven times in 35 juvenile starts.
Eventually, Fitzsimmons grew impatient with Seabiscuit, and he was sold to Charles Howard who handed him over to trainer Tom Smith. That’s when the magic began.
Seabiscuit won the 1936 Detroit Governor’s Handicap and the Scarsdale Handicap to catapult his career. The following season, Seabiscuit famously lost the Santa Anita Handicap to Rosemont at the wire. The loss was attributed to the fact that Red Pollard, his jockey, was blind in one eye and couldn’t see Rosemount coming.
Success continued for the combination of Pollard, Smith and Seabiscuit through the remainder of the 1937 season where he won 11 of 15 total races and was the season’s highest earner. But he lost out to 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral for Horse of the Year.
Over the course of 1938, the most desired race in the sport was a match race between War Admiral and Seabiscuit. Negotiations went back and forth for months, and in the meantime Pollard had accumulated two major injuries to his chest and leg on separate occasions. George Woolf took over the reins at this point.
Eventually the showdown with War Admiral, who had been ascertained to be unbeatable at this point, was booked for Pimlico Racecourse on November 1, 1938 in what was called The Match of the Century. During a tense and hard fought duel, Seabiscuit was able to best War Admiral in an absolute thriller that saw them both leading at different points. It was a masterful performance by Woolf and Smith that earned Seabiscuit the 1938 Horse of the Year honor.
In 1939, Seabiscuit suffered a terrible injury that many thought would end his career. He would rehab with Pollard, who was still recovering from a severely broken leg. The two would learn to walk together all over again during the remainder of the year.
By the following year, both Bollard and Seabiscuit were healthy enough to compete again. They came third in the 1940 La Jolla and would rediscover their winning ways before beating Kayak II in the San Antonio Handicap. This was significant because Woolf, Howard and Smith had turned their attentions to Kayak II after Seabiscuit’s injury, though Smith was involved in the recovery process for the latter.
The 1940 Santa Anita Handicap would be his final race and Seabiscuit would post one of the greatest in-race comebacks of all time. In front of a sellout crowd of over 70,000 people, Seabiscuit would go from last to first and win by a length and a half, much to the overwhelming delight of the crowd. Thousands rushed the track to celebrate with Seabiscuit and Pollard, who embodied the personal and financial struggles depressing the entire country at the time.
Seabiscuit would retire on top and go on to sire 108 foals before passing in May 1947. He was buried at Ridegwood Ranch in California.
Over the course of his storied career, Seabiscuit made 89 starts and went 33-15-13, with $437,730 in career earnings. Seabiscuit was inducted in to the Hall of Fame in 1958 and has been memorialized with no less than five statues, with one standing outside Santa Anita Park.