An Unlikely Winner!
On This Day: November 1, 1938
“When the bell rang, Seabiscuit ran away from the Triple Crown champion. Despite being drawn on outside, Woolf led by over a length after just 20 seconds. Halfway down the backstretch, War Admiral started to cut into the lead, gradually pulling level with Seabiscuit, and then slightly ahead. Following advice he had received from Pollard, Woolf had eased up on Seabiscuit, allowing his horse to see his rival, and then asked for more effort. Two hundred yards from the wire, Seabiscuit pulled away again and continued to extend his lead over the closing stretch, finally winning by four clear lengths.”
The story behind Seabiscuit was virtually unknown to most of modern-day America until recent days.
While the story of Seabiscuit has been put to film in recent years (“Seabiscuit” – 2003), shortly after it was put to writing (“Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” by Laura Hillenbrand – 20010, it was 63 years before Hillenbrand’s book was written about this national American experience which excited a nation shortly after the depression years.
- Dangerous: Nineteen Jockeys were killed while racing between 1935 – 1939. Approximately twenty-six were killed from 1929 to 1979.
- A low-paying profession: “If you’ve always wanted to be the front-runner in a horse race, becoming a jockey may be an ideal career goal. Hands down, working as a jockey requires specific physical attributes, hard work and the opportunity to train as an apprentice with a top trainer. Very few jockeys make the run for the roses, but the United States has more than 50 race tracks, and there are even more internationally. Pay can be as little as $28 per race and as much as $124,000 for a triple crown competition.”
- “Physically” Demanding:
“For jockeys who were truly desperate [to lose weight], there was one last resort. Contact the right people, and you could get hold of a special capsule, a simple pill guaranteed to take off all the weight you wanted. In it was the egg of a tapeworm. Within a short while, the parasite would attach to a man’s intestines and slowly suck the nutrients out of him. The pounds would peel away like magic.”
When the host jockey became too malnourished, he could check into a hospital to have the worm removed, then return to the track and swallow a new pill.” – pg 83
- Seabiscuit Foaled: May 23, 1933
- Sire: Hard Tack / Grandsire: Mon O’ War
- Jockey: Johnny (“Red”) Pollard
- Seabiscuit’s Lifetime Earnings: $437,730 million
- Record Odds: 89:1
- Johnny Pollard: He was a boxer, who was abandoned by his parents at a race track in Montana — preface pg 18.
- Pollard was married to “Agnes” in 1939, and they had two children.
- Pollard was blind in one eye due to a stray rock which was kicked up by another horse during a training ride.
- Pollard was the jockey who rode the then 7-year-old Seabiscuit at the Santa Anita Handicap, Arcadia, California, to victory, which was Seabiscuit’s final race.
- Johnny Pollard died in 1981.
- “Within hours of his birth, he had known how to run, and speed had been the measure of his life ever since. He knew what the track was for, and it wasn’t walking. He was frantic to run.” — pg. 297
- Seabiscuit had raced 35 times as a “two-year-old” and came in last almost every time.
- As a “three-year-old” he had run 43 races. One day, “after throwing a fit in the starting gate and being left flat-footed at the bell, the colt won his race that day.” — pg 34
- Seabiscuit’s “gallop was so disorganized that he had a maddening tendency to whack himself in the front ankle with his own hind hoof.
- “Sleeping was his favorite pastime. . . . He could keel over and snooze for hours on end. His inability to straighten his knees all the way may have been the culprit, preventing him from locking his forelegs in the upright position.” pg 38
- Seabiscuit’s fame came from the reality that he won against all odds.
- Seabiscuit lived 14 years — Secretariat lived 19 years / Seattle Slew 28 years
- Seabiscuit’s papers read “retired” — He was bred to seven mares and only produced sired 108 foals. — This is a small number of foals — Secretariat 699
- Seabiscuit was buried under an oak tree on Ridgewood Ranch, which is near Willits, California.
- The Willits Chamber of Commerce conducts “Seabiscuit” tours.
- Jockey Johnny Pollard, fought the curse of alcohol most all of his adult life. He stepped down as a jockey when he was forty-six years old.
- After riding Seabiscuit, “Red” Pollard never rode a horse which came close to winning the fame of that horse.
“Stephen Ives, the director of a documentary about the famous horse, has spoken of Seabiscuit’s contagious appeal:
‘We all love to root for the underdog. Seabiscuit makes us feel that we can do it. That it is possible to make something of yourself with hard work, commitment and a little luck. This message, both now and in the 1930s was intoxicating for the Americans and seemed to embody their American Dream.’”
(“Sunny” James) Fitzsimmons (one of the most successful conditioner of Thoroughbreds in the nation) said, “He (Seabiscuit) struck me as a bird that could sing but wouldn’t unless we made him . . . . I decided to fool the Biscuit to prove to him he wasn’t fooling me. . . . One morning . . . . he paired Seabiscuit with Faust, the fastest yearling in the yard and a future major stakes winner. He told Seabiscuit’s exercise rider to find a stick to use as a whip [This was a departure for Fitzsimmons because he forbid the use of whips on their horses]. . . . .”Keep this colt right up with Faust as close as you can. . . . . Just see how many times you can hit him going a quarter of a mile. . . . . Fitzsimmons expected that, at best, Seabiscuit would be able to cling to Faust for a little while. . . . . Faust never had a chance, Slapped over and over again with the stick, Seabiscuit blew Faust’s doors off, covering a quarter mile in an impossible 22 2/3 seconds. . . . . The bird could sing. “I found out why he wasn’t running. It wasn’t that he couldn’t. It was that he wouldn’t. He was lazy. Dead lazy.” — pgs. 39-40
Key Illustrative Thoughts:
Against All Odds!
Hiding “blindness” in order to be able to be used.
Sometimes, there are those who just have to be made to run!
That bird can sing!
Some don’t know what the “track” is for. Seabiscuit did.
Lazy — Dead lazy.
Failed at boxing in a ring, but a winner at riding on top of a horse.
What some people are willing to experience in order to accomplish an end.
Sometimes it is not that we can’t, but it is that we won’t.
How many want their story to also be the story of overcoming all odds.
Many people live their lives vicariously, through the events and lives of others.
Sometimes, winning is only about that one race.
Maybe a goofy gallop, but a winner.
Does it take “a stick” to see what you can do?
Additional Information & Links
“Red Pollard stood 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) and weighed 115 lb (52 kg), which is considered big for a jockey. . . . Early in his career, he lost the vision in his right eye due to a traumatic brain injury suffered when he was hit in the head by a rock thrown up by another horse during a training ride. Because he would not have been allowed to ride had the full extent of his injury been known, he kept his vision loss a secret for the rest of his riding career.” — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Pollard