The true story of three men and their dreams for a racehorse -- Seabiscuit -- that symbolised a pivotal moment in American history, as the 20th-century's greatest nation found the courage to bet on itself to win against the odds. Now a major motion picture directed by Gary Ross and starring Toby Maguire and Jeff Daniels. In 1936 the habits of 19th-century America were finally consigned to history, just as Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" was published. In their place, modern America was born. But what defined this new era? Nothing more than the story of Seabiscuit, a stunted colt with asymmetrical knees that had for two years been hacked around no-good race tracks leading to permanent leg damage. Yet by 1937 Seabiscuit could draw crowds of 60,000 and had more newspaper column inches devoted to him than Mussolini, Hitler or Roosevelt, his popularity peaking during his appearances at the Santa Anita Handicap. America had gone to the races for the first time since the Depression and fallen in love with a misshapen colt of great character. Now it wanted a winner. 'Seabiscuit' is also the story of three men: Tom Smith, a former Wild West showman was the trainer; Red Pollard, abandoned by his poverty-stricken family at a race track became the rider; and Charles Howard, a pioneer car manufacturer in San Francisco in the 1920s was the owner and financier. These three combined to create the legend of Seabiscuit and epitomise a dream for the emerging new America.
He didn't look
like much. With his smallish stature, knobby knees, and slightly crooked forelegs, he looked more like a cow pony than a thoroughbred. But looks aren't everything; his quality, an admirer once wrote, "was mostly in his heart." Laura Hillenbrand tells the story of the horse who became a cultural icon in Seabiscuit: An American Legend
Seabiscuit rose to prominence with the help of an unlikely triumvirate: owner Charles Howard, an automobile baron who once declared that "the day of the horse is past"; trainer Tom Smith, a man who "had cultivated an almost mystical communication with horses"; and jockey Red Pollard, who was down on his luck when he charmed a then-surly horse with his calm demeanor and a sugar cube. Hillenbrand details the ups and downs of "team Seabiscuit," from early training sessions to record-breaking victories, and from serious injury to "Horse of the Year"--as well as the Biscuit's fabled rivalry with War Admiral. She also describes the world of horseracing in the 1930s, from the snobbery of Eastern journalists regarding Western horses and public fascination with the great thoroughbreds to the jockeys' torturous weight-loss regimens, including saunas in rubber suits, strong purgatives, even tapeworms.
Along the way, Hillenbrand paints wonderful images: tears in Tom Smith's eyes as his hero, legendary trainer James Fitzsimmons, asked to hold Seabiscuit's bridle while the horse was saddled; critically injured Red Pollard, whose chest was crushed in a racing accident a few weeks before, listening to the San Antonio Handicap from his hospital bed, cheering "Get going, Biscuit! Get 'em, you old devil!"; Seabiscuit happily posing for photographers for several minutes on end; other horses refusing to work out with Seabiscuit because he teased and taunted them with his blistering speed.
Though sometimes her prose takes on a distinctly purple hue ("His history had the ethereal quality of hoofprints in windblown snow"; "The California sunlight had the pewter cast of a declining season"), Hillenbrand has crafted a delightful book. Wire to wire, Seabiscuit is a winner. Highly recommended. --Sunny Delaney