WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #41
THE BOOK "SEABUSCUIT" - THE GREAT RACEHORSE OF ALL TIME!!
It was Betty at the Ranch who told me about the book on
"Seabuscuit" the race horse of the 1930s. I had seen the recent
movie, but never knew there had been a book, written on this
fantastic and great race horse. He was small (barely 15 HH)
for a Thoroughbred race horse, and not much to look at either, as
many would say, an ordinary "cow-pony" of no beauty. BUT that's
were it stopped. There was nothing ordinary beyond looks in this
If you have never read the book "Seabuscuit - an American
Legend" by Laura Hillenbrand, published by Ballentine Books, New
York, then even if you are not a horse racing fan, even if you
are not a horse fan, you need to read this book. It is one of the
best books on true life history I have ever read. It is a LOVE
story, it has all the ingredients of suspense, history, love,
drive, belief, endurance, getting-up from falling-down, and
whatever else you want to add. It is a MASTERFULLY written book,
and Laura in her "Acknowledgement" tells you about the many many
people who contributed to the final draft of this amazing book.
Here are some of the acclaims from the front pages:
William Hill Sports Book of the Year in Great Britain, 2001
"[SEABISCUIT] EXPLODES OUT OF THE STARTING GATE....
Hillenbrand has a dramatist's flair for pacing.... It would be
hard to think of a better story than the one told in [this]
richly detailed and engaging new biography..... This story is
one that should prove irresistible to millions."
"More than a tale of a great horse. It's a window on an era in
American history.... Hillenbrand also proves to be a wonderful
storyteller, with a graceful style that can be appropriately
witty, serious, or taut with suspense. The result is a book that
is great fun to read."
-The Baltimore Sun
"Eloquent ... Seabiscuit was a comeback kid for a comeback time,
and in the course of this scrupulously researched recounting,
Hillenbrand manages to tell not only an inspiring horse story but
also an engrossing human one.... Deftly resurrect[s]
Depression-era U.S. racing in all its dramas, jubilation,
tragedies, risks, and dark secrets.... Sea biscuit is a winner."
"Seemingly written from the saddle ... Even if you're not a
racing fan - especially if you're not - this self-possessed
animal comes across so sharply in these pages that it hurts to
lose him again, even after all this time."
"A fascinating account of one of the sport's most alluring icons
... Seabiscuit often reads like a novel."
-San Diego Union-Tribune
"WONDERFUL ... ASTOUNDING ...
The stories of the races in which Seabiscuit shattered speed
records are ... almost unbearably suspenseful.... The heart of
[this book's] appeal is in its seamless combination of triumph
A wept as I read.... You don't have to like horses to respond to
such a rousing story. Why? Because Hillenbrand doesn't just tell
the story; she re-creates it.... [She] knows horses, knows
racing, knows training, and knows riding, and she relays the
skill and sweat and sweet intuition that go into it.... Guess
what you end up with? A book that's brilliant and convincing.
Seabiscuit belongs in the winner's circle."
"Meticulously researched ... As noble and honest as heroes come,
Seabiscuit was an extraordinary athlete who embodied the heart
and spirit of a nation."
-The New York Times Book Review
"Terrific ... Illuminating a forgotten piece of American history.
Seabiscuit brings alive the drama, the beauty, the louche charm
and the brutality of horse racing. "
[Hillenbrand's] effort shows in the details and the energy of her
story; her historical figures, horses and people, live and
breathe in a lovely, lively way."
Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Horse Heaven"
"SEABISCUIT IS ONE HELL OF A RIDE.... A terrifically appealing
Cinderella story, but it's Hillenbrand's instinctual feel for the
drama of the sport and her formidable literary talents that bring
the tale to life."
"Laura Hillenbrand knows racehorses, riders, and trainers. She
knows our history. She knows how the two combine. Seabiscuit was
a great horse, perhaps the best ever, running in one of the worst
decades ever, the Great Depression, bringing excitement and
pleasure to millions of Americans when they needed those emotions
desperately. This is more than a fine piece of writing about the
sport of racing; it is also about our history."
"The research is meticulous, the writing elegant and concise....
Every page transports you back to the period.... This is a
remarkable tale well told by a writer who deftly blends history
"Compelling ... It is the story of a time when the heroic
generation of the following decade was itself being nurtured, and
when unsuspected strength and endurance were still values to
-New York Daily News
"This is a terrific biography of what might have been the
greatest racehorse that ever lived - and you don't have to know
anything about racing to enjoy it."
"GRIPPING ... A THRILLING RIDE ... FILLED WITH HIGH DRAMA AND
-New York Post
"A galloping success ... A fascinating portrait of an era and a
wildly exciting, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction yarn ... This is
so vividly rendered, it's hard to believe Seabiscuit was written
by anyone who didn't live through the events it describes."
-Time Out New York
"This is a thrilling American story, a book that succeeds as
dramatic history and remarkable sportswriting."
Author of "Explaining Hitler"
"Dazzling ... Seabiscuit does for the world of horse racing what
'Into Thin Air' did for mountain climbing. In daredevil prose
that sprints along at a breakneck pace, Hillenbrand tells [an]
incredible tale ... In the final stretch, it hurtles towards its
National Public Radio, "Fresh Air"
"Hillenbrand's detailed and dramatic re-creation of Seabiscuit's
life and times is a remarkable testament to what four years of
meticulous research and a writer's gift for storytelling can
accomplish. And it's mighty good reading, even if you're not a
Booklist (starred review)
If your still doubting the above reviews, here's chapter 23 of
Every night Smith drifted off to the sound of raindrops
ringing off the barn roof. Every morning he woke to the same
sound. The National Weather Service switchboard took more phone
calls in that week than ever in its history, with nearly every
caller asking if the skies would clear for Seabiscuit's run at
the Handicap that Saturday. The rain didn't relent and Smith had
no choice but to work the horse in the mud.
Early in the week, Smith brought Seabiscuit and Kayak out
together. Howard stood by the barns and blinked at the clouds, a
sarcastic smile on his face. He watched as the horses slogged
through the mud, Seabiscuit dogging and taunting until Kayak
pinned his ears and abruptly quit. They took the two horses back
to the barn and cooled them out together. Kayak, clearly
frustrated, took a lunge at Seabiscuit, dragging a groom with
him. Smith was pleased. Seabiscuit was his old nasty self. Got to
stop working these two together.
The rain kept falling. Smith kept working the horses.
Kayak handled the mud well; Seabiscuit didn't. "You know," said
Howard, "I wish one thing. It's that Kayak's four mudrunning legs
might be attached to Seabiscuit's racing heart. Then I'd have
something." The tapping of rain carried his words away.
Two days before the race, the heavens finally relented. The
drying irons rolled out. Fifty track workers slogged over the
course, sponging the mud out of the puddles. Slowly, the track
Early on the morning of March 2, race day, groom Harry
Bradshaw came down the shed row, poured a helping of oats into
Seabiscuit's bucket, then stepped out from under the shed row
roof. At last the sun was breaking through. Bradshaw turned his
face toward it. "Be with him today," he said.
Smith came up, working a strip of buckskin in his fingers.
"He's right as rain, Mr. Smith," said Bradshaw. "Wrong word,
Harry." The trainer stood back to let the horse eat. Seabiscuit
heard his voice and nosed over his half door. Smith lay the flat
of his hand on him.
"Today's the day," he said.
At eight o'clock Howard's stable agent stepped into the
track secretary's office, scrawled the name Seabiscuit onto an
entry slip, and dropped it into the entry box. He was the first
horse entered. Then the agent dropped Kayak's name in. Rain or
shine, both horses would run.
The sun was still straining to clear the east end of the
grandstand when the Howards pulled up to the barn. Pollard was
already there. Howard looked anxiously at the jockey's leg, the
brace swelling the boot, and put his hand over Pollard's
shoulder. Pollard assured him that he'd be okay. Smith swung
Pollard up on Seabiscuit to stretch his legs. Howard got up on
his saddle horse, Chulo, Smith got on Pumpkin, and the sextet
trotted out to the course for a prerace blowout. Marcela walked
with them to the track apron and watched them go, her hands tight
on the rail. The track was dry and fast. Smith signalled to
Pollard, and Seabiscuit broke off and kicked over the track.
Pollard talked in Seabiscuit's ear as they whirled through a
quarter mile in a scorching twenty-two seconds. Seabiscuit was
ready to go. Pollard dismounted and went home to spend a few
hours with Agnes.
People had begun gathering by the track gates just after
dawn. By nine-thirty, the parking lot was already swollen with
cars. Many people had driven across the nation to see the race;
virtually every state in the union was represented by a license
plate. They threw the gates open at ten. Five thousand fans
gushed into the grandstand and clubhouse, staking out their
territory with blankets and spring jackets. "It looked," wrote
Thoroughbred Record correspondent Barry Whitehead, "like the
Oklahoma landrush." The fans found Santa Anita decked out in all
its splendor. In the clubhouse and turf club, arches of acacias,
columns of jonquils, and giant gardenias with fifteen hundred
blossoms stretched overhead, while peat beds of irises, white
primroses, peach blossoms, and tulips lined the entire interior.
By ten-thirty, the grandstand was filled to capacity. By noon the
parking lot couldn't fit another car, and the overflow spilled
out onto the track's decorative lawns. A horseloving priest from
the church across the street opened his yard to let fans park
there for free. Still the cars kept coming, snarling every local
road for the entire day. Trains chugged up all afternoon; one of
them, from San Francisco, had all seventeen cars filled to
bursting with Seabiscuit fans. Up in the press box, reporters
from all over the world arrived. Over the next few hours they
would churn out half a million words on the Morse wires,
Teletypes, and typewriters. The clubhouse roof and the top of the
tote board were lined with newsreel cameras. In the luxury boxes,
celebrities filed in: Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Jack Benny,
Sonja Henie, James Stewart, and Mervyn LeRoy. Bing Crosby had
stayed up all night recording at Universal so he could have the
day off, and came with Mrs.Bing, rooting for yet another
hopeless long shot from their barn, Don Mike.
By midafternoon, seventy-eight thousand people had
crammed into the track, more than ten thousand in the infield
alone. It was officially the second-largest crowd ever to attend
a horse race in America, but because the record tally, at the
Kentucky Derby, was famously exaggerated, the attendance at this
hundred-grander was undoubtedly the largest. Radios all over the
world were tuned to the broadcast from Santa Anita. The town of
Willits was at a standstill. Up in Flint, Michigan, Howard had
arranged to have the loudspeakers in the Buick salesroom rigged
to broadcast the race.
The afternoon ticked on. The race approached.
At home, Pollard made his final preparations. Agnes strung a
Saint Christopher medal onto a necklace and gave it to him. He
slipped it on under his shirt. Before he left, he promised Agnes
that he'd bring her flowers from the winner's wreath.
The first big gust from the crowd came as Seabiscuit was led
from the barn to the paddock. Marcela, who had stood with him in
the barn, stayed behind. "I'd seen Johnny's leg," she said. "I
just couldn't watch it."
When Pollard walked into the paddock, he was greeted by Doe
Babcock, who had flown down from Willits. The doctor carefully
unrolled Pollard's leg bandages. Yummy, who was there at the
start, was there for the end. David Alexander was with him.
Yummy, Alexander remembered, "sidled up to me like some character
out of a spy novel."
"I've got it," Yummy whispered. When Alexander asked what he
had, Yummy flashed a little bottle of bow-wow wine, secreted away
in his coat pocket. He told Alexander about his promise to
Pollard: If he won, Yummy would sneak it to him.
Pollard strode over to his mount. Smith pulled the saddle
over Seabiscuit's withers and tightened the girth. Marcela's
Saint Christopher medal shone against the saddle cloth. Howard
was beside himself with anxiety. When he was nervous he was
talkative, and he had spent the afternoon calling Marcela at the
barn over and over again and chattering at her. Now he prattled
on at Pollard, giving him every needless detail of how to ride
the race. Pollard humored him, then turned to Smith. The old
cowpuncher lifted Pollard onto Seabiscuit's back.
"You know the horse, and the horse knows you," said Smith,
winking. "Bring him home."
Howard tapped out a cigarette and tried to light it. His
hands were trembling so much that his match went out. He lit a
second match, then a third, and they too sputtered out. Alexander
wished him luck.
"You're shaking like a leaf," he said, watching Howard work
on the fourth match.
"I guess I'm a little nervous," Howard replied, smiling.
Seabiscuit and Pollard stepped down the long lane toward the
track. Howard was whispering, "I hope he can. I hope he can. I
hope he can." His jaw quivered.
As Seabiscuit stepped onto the track, swinging his head
left, then right, the fans erupted in a massive ovation, drowning
out the bugler playing "Boots and Saddles." There was no question
about the crowd's allegiance. In the paddock the horsemen,
virtually to a man, were hoping that if they didn't get it, the
old Biscuit would. "I'd like to see Seabiscuit win," said a rival
owner, "even though I'm running against him." Up in the press
box, Jolly Roger and all the other Wise We Boys had dropped their
objectivity. Even Oscar Otis was up there, cheering Pollard on.
Alexander looked up at Pollard as he passed. The Cougar,
Alexander later wrote, had "the old impish go-to-hell grin" on
his face. Alexander thought of Huck Finn.
Seabiscuit walked to the gate, the applause building and
building. In the hush of the barn, Marcela suddenly changed her
mind. She ran down the shed row, cut out into the daylight, and
rushed toward the track. She knew she couldn't get to the
grandstand in time. She spotted a water wagon parked ahead, track
workers perched up on top of it, and ran toward it. Her dress
whipped in the wind.
The bell rang in Pollard's ears, and he felt Seabiscuit drop
and push beneath him, hammering the track and powering forward.
There was the rushing sound of seventy-five thousand voices and
the tumbling motion of horses and the flight of wind and dirt and
the airy unreal feeling of mass and gravity slipping away. They
rolled down the homestretch for the first time, and Pollard
felt the rightness of Seabiscuit's stride, the smooth strumming
under him. Whichcee had the lead. Pollard let Seabiscuit hunt
him. They bent through the first turn, Pollard holding his mount
one path out from the rail, an open lane ahead. A splendid spot.
Pollard could sense the pace as they straightened down the
backstretch: blistering fast. But he knew Whichcee had stamina,
and he couldn't let him steal away. He had to drive Whichcee hard
to break him. He held Seabiscuit a half length behind him,
keeping just far enough out from the rail to give himself clear
running room. Whichcee strained to stay ahead. The two horses
blazed down the backstretch together, cutting six furlongs in
1:11 1/5; though they were set to run a gruelling mile and a
quarter, the fastest sprinters on earth would have been drained
to the bottom to beat such a time. Whichcee screamed along the
rail, stretching out over the backstretch, trying to hold his
head in front. Seabiscuit stalked him with predatory lunges.
Wedding Call tracked them, just behind and outside of Seabiscuit
as they pushed for the far turn. They clipped through a mile in
1:36, nearly a second faster than Seabiscuit and War Admiral's
record-shattering split in their 1938 match race. Seabiscuit
still pushed at Whichcee. Pollard, up in the saddle, was a lion
poised for the kill.
They leaned around the final turn, and Seabiscuit pulled at
Pollard's hands, telling him he was ready. The rail spun away to
the left, and Whichcee's hindquarters rose and fell beside them.
Wedding Call made his move, throwing his shadow over them from
the right. Pollard stayed where he was, holding his lane one path
out from the rail, leaving himself room to move around Whichcee
when the time came.
The field was gathering, and the space around them
compressed. Horses were all around, their bodies elongated in
total effort. Then, in an instant, they came inward with the
synchronicity of a flurry of birds pivoting in the air. Wedding
Call clattered up against Seabiscuit, bumping him toward the rail
behind Whichcee. The path ahead closed. Seabiscuit felt the
urgency and tugged at the reins. Pollard had nowhere to send him.
He rose halfway up in the saddle, holding Seabiscuit back, his
leg straining under his weight. Whichcee and Wedding Call formed
a wall in front of him. A terrible thought came to Pollard: There
is no way out.
A jockey in the pack heard a deep, plaintive sound rise up
over the shouts from the crowd. It was Pollard, crying out a
prayer. A moment later, Whichcee wavered and sagged a few inches
to his left just as Wedding Call's momentum carried him slightly
to the right. A slender hole opened before Seabiscuit. Pollard
measured it in his mind. Maybe it was wide enough; maybe it was
not. If Pollard tried to take it, it was highly likely that he
would clip his right leg on Wedding Call. He knew what that would
mean. He needed an explosion from Seabiscuit, every amp of his
old speed and more. He leaned forward in the saddle and shouted,
Carrying 130 pounds, 22 more than Wedding Call and 16 more
than Whichcee, Seabiscuit delivered a tremendous surge. He
slashed into the hole, disappeared between his two larger
opponents, then burst into the lead. Pollard's leg cleared
Whichcee by no more than an inch. Whichcee tried to go with
Seabiscuit. Pollard let his mount dog him, mocking him, and
Whichcee broke. Seabiscuit shook free and hurtled into the
homestretch alone as the field fell away behind him. Pollard
dropped his head and rode for all he was worth. Joe Hernandez's
voice cut over the crowd, calling out Seabiscuit's name, and was
instantly swallowed in the uproar from the grandstand. One of the
stable hands yelled to Marcela that Seabiscuit had the lead. She
In the midst of all the whirling noise of that supreme
moment, Pollard felt peaceful. Seabiscuit reached and pushed and
Pollard folded and unfolded over his shoulders and they breathed
together. A thought pressed into Pollard's mind: We are alone.
Twelve straining Thoroughbreds; Howard and Smith in the
grandstand; Agnes in the surging crowd; Woolf behind Pollard, on
Heelfly; Marcela up on the water wagon with her eyes squeezed
shut; the leaping, shouting reporters in the press box; Pollard's
family crowded around the radio in a neighbor's house in
Edmonton; tens of thousands of roaring spectators and millions of
radio listeners painting this race in their imaginations: All
this fell away. The world narrowed to a man and his horse,
In the center of the track, a closer broke from the pack and
rolled into Seabiscuit's lead, a ghost from his past. It was
Kayak, charging at him with a fury. Pollard never looked back. He
knew who it was.
Pollard felt a pause. For the last time in his life,
Seabiscuit eased up to tease an opponent. Kayak came to him and
drew even. Up on Kayak, Buddy Haas had never heard such thunder
as was pouring from the grandstand and infield. He drilled
everything he had, he said later, at Seabiscuit.
Pollard let Seabiscuit savor this last rival, then asked him
again. He felt the sweet press of sudden acceleration. A moment
later, Pollard and Seabiscuit were alone again, burning over the
track, Kayak spinning off behind, the wire crossing overhead.
The world broke over Santa Anita. Howard ran from his box
with his fist in the air. Smith went with him. Yummy banged
around the winner's circle, jumping up and down. Agnes stood in
the throng, sobbing. All around them, men and women hurled their
hats in the air, poured onto the track, drummed on the rails, and
slapped one another on the back. Hundreds of spectators were
weeping with joy. "Listen to this crowd roar!" shouted Hernandez.
"Seventy-eight thousand fans going absolutely crazy, including
Virtually every journalist reported that he had never heard
shouting so loud and sustained. Sun Beau's money-winning record
had finally fallen. Seabiscuit had clocked a new track record
that would stand untouched for a decade: a mile and a quarter in
2:01 and 1/5. It was the second-fastest ten furlongs ever run in
American racing history.
Galloping out in the backstretch, Pollard lingered over his
last few moments of solitude with Seabiscuit. Then he turned him
and quietly cantered him back. He rode back into the world
sitting tall and regal in the saddle, his back straight, his head
up, his face gravely dignified. Tears were cutting down his face
and streaming to his chin. He looked, someone said, like "a man
who temporarily had visited Olympus and still was no longer for
He walked Seabiscuit through the masses of shouting fans to
the winner's circle. The horse was strutting like a prizefighter.
"Don't think," Pollard said later, "he didn't know he was the
hero." Howard rushed up to him, slapping his horse and shouting
to Pollard. They led Kayak into the winner's circle with
Seabiscuit, the camera flashes playing off of them like
lightning. The winner's blanket of roses fell over Pollard's lap.
Beneath it, he felt Yummy's hand in his, slipping the flask of
bow-wow wine into his hand. Pollard dropped his head as if to
smell the roses. "Best-smelling drink I ever tasted," he would
later say. The horse stood calmly, serenely, plucking the roses
off the blanket as souvenir hunters yanked hairs from his tail.
Pollard, his hair running with sweat, pulled the blanket over his
shoulders and slid down from Seabiscuit's back. Yummy, still
pouncing up and down, jumped onto him. The blanket was torn from
Pollard's back, dragged away, and shredded by eager hands before
he could pull out Agnes's promised blooms. Howard never even saw
it. Pollard uncinched his saddle and walked up the track to a
chorus of wild cheering, tears still flowing over his cheeks.
Fans were fighting to get close to him, to shake his hand. He
slipped into the jockeys' room and pulled off his silks. Agnes's
Saint Christopher medal glinted against his chest.
Woolf stood across the room. Whatever had separated him from
Pollard had vanished. Both knew it. The redhead was whisked off
to the press room. He bummed cigarettes off of the reporters as
he praised Smith and Bradshaw and old Doe Babcock, then took a
few shots at Woolf again, as he always used to.
There was no trace of bitterness in Woolf's voice when he
spoke of the race. He didn't mind losing. "There was just too
much Seabiscuit," he said. "Just the greatest horse I ever
Long after the horses and their handlers had left the track,
the din died away and the crowds trickled out. Workmen
crisscrossed the grounds. A lone fan still stood at the east end
of the grandstand. As the sun dropped in the winter sky, the man
called out to the empty track.
"Ha-ray for Seabiscuit! Hoo-ray for Seabiscuit!"
His voice carried up to the press box, where the reporters
were banging out their stories. The room was still ringing with
the sensation of what had happened.
"Oh," wrote Jolly Roger, "that I lived to see this day."
Back at the barn, the Howads gathered to watch the horses
cool out. Howard was wheeling all over the grounds, singing out,
"What a race! What a horse! It was perfect!" Smith barely looked
up from Seabiscuit.
As dusk fell, Pollard walked up. Smith put his hand out to
"Red, you put up a great ride today."
"I got a great ride," Pollard said. "The greatest ride I
ever got from the greatest horse that ever lived."
"Little horse, what next?" a newspaper would read the next
morning. In six years, Seabiscuit had won thirty-three races and
set thirteen track records at eight tracks over six distances. He
had smashed a world record in the shortest of sprints, one half
mile, yet had the stamina to run in track record time at one and
five-eighths miles. Many of history's greatest horses had
faltered under 128 pounds or more; Seabiscuit had set two track
records under 133 pounds and four more under 130 while conceding
massive amounts of weight to his opponents.
He was literally worth his weight in gold, having earned a
world record. $437,730, nearly sixty times his price.
Howard wavered on whether or not to race him again. Pollard
urged retirement. When asked about it, Smith said, "Seabiscuit is
Mr.Howard's horse. I will abide by whatever decision Mr.Howard
Later, someone heard him whisper under his breath, "I hope
he doesn't race anymore."
Howard heeded his trainer's wishes. The partnership was
Charles and Marcela whirled off to the Turf Club Ball at the
Ambassador Hotel Fiesta Room, where they laughed and celebrated
and slurped champagne from a gigantic golden loving cup. Howard's
eyes scanned the faces of the revellers, searching for Smith. He
was hoping that this one time the trainer would show up. He had a
1940 Buick Estate wagon that he wanted to give him. But Smith
never came. Sometime in the evening, Howard snuck away to a
telephone. The phone rang in Smith's room. Howard's voice bubbled
over the line, begging him to join the festivities. Smith
declined; he was already in bed. Howard accepted it. He wished
the trainer good night, put down the telephone, and returned to
Red, Agnes, David Alexander, and Yummy spent the evening in
The Derby, a tavern Woolf had bought in preparation for his
retirement. The place was vintage Woolf, decorated floor to
ceiling in flamboyant cowboy memorabilia.
They gathered around a table and talked. Outside, the
Depression was playing itself out, and with it would go the world
that had been shaped by it. War was coming, and America was
turning its long-averted face upward. It would soon be dawn.
Red Pollard sipped his scotch and reminisced about
Seabiscuit and quietly slipped out of history. The smoke from his
cigarette curled up from his fingers and slowly faded away.
Smith slept briefly, then woke. Before the sun fingered over
the tips of the San Gabriels, his stiff, grey form passed down
the shed row at Barn 38. The air carried the hushed sound of
stirring straw, and the horses shook the sleep from their bodies.
In the darkness, they didn't see Smith coming, but they knew he
This is no exaggeration. The six-furlong split time for the
race was as fast as, or faster than, the winning time of seven of
the ten previous runnings of the nation's most prestigious
six-furlong stakes race, the Toboggan. Though the Santa Anita
racing surface was probably somewhat faster than the Belmont
surface, the Toboggan was run over a straight course, not around
turns, as the Santa Anita Handicap was; as horses almost always
slow down to negotiate turns, times in straight-course races
tended to be considerably faster than those held around turns.
Indeed, the Santa Anita split time was actually faster than the
1940 winning times of many of the nation's most prominent sprint
races, including the Fall Highweight Handicap, the Jamaica,
Hialeah Inaugural, the Interborough, the Roseben, the Paumonok,
and the Capital.
In the race's aftermath, some observers argued that Kayak was
robbed of victory. The reasoning was as follows. Before the race,
Howard had Seabiscuit "declared to win," meaning that if Kayak
and Seabiscuit were running one-two, Kayak could be held back so
Seabiscuit could win. This was legal because they were coupled as
a single betting interest. In the race, Buddy Haas, aboard Kayak,
didn't whip his horse in the final yards, and Seabiscuit won by a
length. Some spectators believed that if ridden harder, Kayak
might have passed Seabiscuit. Later, Haas stated that he could
have won. Thus the speculation began.
Under closer scrutiny, Kayak's case falls apart. Though Haas did
state that he could have won, he also repeatedly stated that he
couldn't have won. "I let Kayak run all the way," he said, "and
he simply couldn't have caught Seabiscuit." What did he really
believe? Howard said he asked Haas privately to tell him the
truth, assuring him that he loved both horses and would be happy
either way. Haas replied that Kayak couldn't have beaten
Even if Kayak had more to give, it doesn't automatically follow
that he could have outkicked Seabiscuit. The Biscuit was a
ferocious competitor famous for slowing down to let challengers
catch him, then annihilating them with dazzling bursts of speed,
even after setting world record fractions. "It may have seemed
that [Kayak could have won], but you have to ride Seabiscuit to
know him," said Pollard. "No horse is ever going to pass him once
he gets to the top and the wire is in sight.... A horse racing
alongside him just makes him run all the harder."
Many others, including most of the jockeys and prominent
reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle, Daily Racing Form,
Thoroughbred Record, Los Angeles Examiner, and other major
publications, agreed. David Alexander, who knew both horses
better than any other journalist, wrote, "Had [Kayak] ever got to
Seabiscuit's saddle girth, Seabiscuit would have come on again
and won anyway." When asked if Kayak could have won, George
Woolf, who had ridden both horses, laughed and said, "If Kayak
had charged at him ... [Seabiscuit] would have bounded away ...
That fellow never saw the day when he could take the champ."
Asked the same question, Tom Smith said, "Kayak never saw the day
when he could beat Seabiscuit, at ten yards or ten miles."
Kayak was a grand athlete, but the idea that he was robbed of the
race isn't very plausible. To speculate about Kayak is to miss
what is by far the most important fact about the race: By any
measure, Seabiscuit delivered an astounding performance, running
a vastly better race than Kayak or any other horse. The early
pace was extraordinarily fast, and Seabiscuit helped to set it.
Any race run with such a fast pace is tailor-made for closers,
exhausting the front-runners and leaving the way open for
late-runners to charge up from behind to win. While Seabiscuit
burned his energy in a fierce speed duel, Kayak lay last,
preparing to pounce when the front-runners grew weary. As the
speed collapsed and closers like Kayak got going, Seabiscuit,
remarkably, sustained his speed, clocking the second-fastest ten
furlongs in American racing history. He did it at age seven,
carrying highweight of 130 pounds, returning from serious injury
Nothing Kayak did that day, or any other, compared to that.
Officially, there were two ten-furlong times that were faster
than Seabiscuit's, but the American record of 2:00, set by Whisk
Broom 2 at Belmont in 1913, is almost universally regarded as
inaccurate, the result of a timer that malfunctioned and recorded
a far faster time than the horse ran. The true American record
was held by Sarazen, who ran ten furlongs in 2:00 and 4/5 at
Kentucky's Latonia Racecourse in 1924.
WOW, now isn't that a great chapter, the horse race that had
alluded Seabuscuit, the Santa Anita Handicap, was finally his.
What Thoroughbred horse today still runs at age 7, I mean in
the very top races of the country. What Thoroughbred today runs
in many dozens of races over those years up to 7 years of age? It
is unheard of. Yes, they work on breeding them finer and finer in
bone structure (like huge greyhounds) and yes the world records
for any distance are not held by Seabuscuit any more, such are
world records, they get broken sooner or later in any running
sport. But how many horses can compete in world class racing form
until 7 years old today, and how many can race in as many races as
Seabuscuit did? Ask any trainer and owner today of Thoroughbred
race horses, if they would dare try to run their horse until 7
years old and enter them in as many races as Seabuscuit entered,
they would think you are nuts for asking such a question and such
a request. Of course part answer would be that a horse who won
some (or even one) of the really big races (like the Kentucky
Derby) are worth more at stud than at the race track (the stud
fees today ... well it is very much the sport of kings and the
very wealthy). Nevertheless, I doubt today that any Thoroughbred
race horse, could come close to matching the staying power of
Seabuscuit (he also came back from injury to beat the best of
them). The breeding practices of today just do not allow
Thoroughbreds to have the staying power over 7 years, as
Seabuscuit had. If some of you rich guys into Thoroughbreds, who
may get to read this, then you have the chance to prove me wrong.
Taking everything into consideration, it is my opinion that
indeed Seabuscuit was the GREATEST THOROUGHBRED RACE HORSE IN
The recent movie on Seabuscuit was very fine, but the book
has it beat all the way from start to finish by a hundred
The coming together of Charles Howard, the repair bicycle
man, turned multi-millionaire car dealership owner; Tom Smith,
the unknown cowpoke horse trainer, and Red Pollard, the tall (for
a jockey) "has been" race horse rider and boxing fighter; were
the ingredients waiting to mix, in order to turn a no good, small
Thoroughbred horse that nobody thought could win anything, let
alone a horse race, into the mightiest racer on four legs that
lived in the world of Thoroughbred dirt track racing. There was
MUCH more to all their lives that Hillenbrand exposes and
relates to us, than the movie could ever give the time to divulge
to us, unless you wanted to make it a serial movie, with say a
triad frame. The book's "epilogue" gives us the rest of the
story; what happened to these men and Seabuscuit, after the
horse had his last race and win in the Santa Anita Handicap,
There are 400 pages of chapters like chapter 23, in Laura
Hillenbrand's book "Seabuscuit - An American Legend" - you will
not be sorry to have it as part of your reading library. I've
just finished reading it, and now I will start all over again,
once just ain't enough.
Keith Hunt (September 2009)