Charles Howard spent $8,000 to buy Seabiscuit. During his day, the champion ultimately became the biggest purse-winner on the horse-racing circuit. Image online, courtesy Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation. PD
Seabiscuit was born in Kentucky on May 23, 1934. His grandfather was the famous Man O’War who, in 1920, was Horse of the Year and is still ranked as the number one thoroughbred of the 20th century. (Another Man O’War offspring - his great-grandson Kelso - raced for eight seasons and won more top honors than any other horse, before or since.)
Seabiscuit was an unlikely champion. He had knees that didn’t straighten and a gait that never matched his competitors. He was the strange-shaped son of the temperamental thoroughbred, Hard Tack. But he had the heart of a winner which his trainer, Tom Smith, coaxed to the forefront.
Some folks who saw “The Biscuit” thought he looked like a scraggly cow horse. Those who understood him - like Tom Smith - believed otherwise.
The book which first documented Seabiscuit’s unlikely, incredible story was published in 1940. (It has since been reissued.) With an introduction by the famous broadcaster, Grantland Rice, Seabiscuit: The Saga of a Great Champion contains eyewitness accounts and period photographs.
Laura Hillenbrand consulted that book when she wrote her terrific bestseller Seabiscuit: An American Legend. She also personally interviewed key people and studied primary source material preserved by Marcela Howard.
Seabiscuit won all kinds of races, and set track records (like the Yonkers Handicap on July 24, 1937), after Charles Howard bought him, Tom Smith trained him and Red Pollard rode him.
Despite all his victories, Seabiscuit was not the first horse to win a million dollars. That honor goes to Citation who, in 1948, won the Triple Crown and was named Horse of the Year. Seabiscuit, however, was the first horse whose winnings topped $400,000 (which translates into $5.6 million in 2002 dollars).
He ran a total of 89 races.
One race, for several years, proved elusive for Seabiscuit and his team. It was the race with the biggest purse of all: the Santa Anita Handicap. But in 1938, in what is still regarded by many as the best horse race in history, Seabiscuit caused a furor at Pimlico.
That was also the year when American newspapers gave more ink to Seabiscuit than they gave to either President Roosevelt or Adolf Hitler.