Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall of Fame


1938 Horse of the Year

Hard Tack was certainly bred like a champion. His dam, Tea Biscuit, was sired by the great Rock Sand, who won the English Triple Crown and was one of the top sires in the country. His second dam, Tea's Over, produced the champion Ort Wells and the good mare Toggery, who produced several stakes winners. Tea's Over was by the great Hanover. Hard Tack was sired by the immortal Man o' War himself.

Yet due to a difficult temperament, Hard Tack was only a modest stakes winner, earning a mere $16,820 before bowing a tendon. In 1933 his book included only a handful of mares, including the well bred but poorly made broodmare Swing On, who had also done nothing to distinguish herself on the racetrack. Only her pedigree made her worth breeding at all. A daughter of the great Whisk Broom II, she was from the same female family as two-time Horse of the Year Equipoise, then at the height of his career. Equipoise was out of Swinging. Swing On was out of Balance. Both were out of Balancoire II. Swing On was later the third dam of Kentucky Derby winner Determine.

On May 23, 1933, Swing On had a bay colt by Hard Tack who was later named Seabiscuit. He grew up on Claiborne Farm, with his age mates including Flares, Snark, Tintagel, Forever Yours, and Granville. Snark and Seabiscuit were among the horses bred by Mrs. Gladys Phipps' Wheatley Stable, and when she came to inspect her yearlings in April of 1934, Bull Hancock had Seabiscuit hidden away, knowing she wouldn't be impressed. He was undersized, knobby, and refused to shed his winter coat. Twenty one years later Bull Hancock hid another yearling from Mrs. Phipps. That was the accident prone Bold Ruler.

The great trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons had trained both Hard Tack and Swing On, and he hadn't been fond of either of them. He therefore could hardly be expected to get excited about their undersized son, especially when he came fully equipped with all the conformation faults of his dam, a dangerously sprung knee, and a good dose of his sire's willfulness.

The colt, nicknamed the Runt, did nothing to gain Sunny Jim's respect. The two had a personality clash that was never overcome, and with horses like Omaha, Granville, and Faireno in the stable, the trainer wasn't inclined to go out of his way to pamper what he saw as a claimer with an attitude problem. He worked the colt hard, and was said to have instructed his exercise riders not to spare the whip.

Fitzsimmons pawned Seabiscuit off on assistant trainer V. Mara, who took him to Florida for the winter.

Seabiscuit made his first start at Hialeah on January 19, 1935, and ran fourth. He ran again three days later. The trainer didn't expect victory. He was just trying to get the colt off his hands, sending him to post in a twenty-five hundred dollar claiming race. Seabiscuit closed well to earn second money, but wasn't claimed.

He raced again at that price, and was sixth. He faced the starter for the fifth time on March 8, and ran fourth. He then joined assistant trainer G. Tappen in Maryland.

There, Seabiscuit ran another five times in a span of twenty one days, but did no better than a second and two thirds. The son of Hard Tack then rejoined Sunny Jim's main string.

On the first of May Seabiscuit ran second in an allowance race at Jamaica. Three days later he ran again, this time well out of the money. He improved a tiny bit at Rockingham, hitting the board twice in three starts, and was sent against stakes company.

Still a maiden, Seabiscuit turned in a good effort to run third in the Juvenile Handicap, and was second three days later in a maiden special weight. He finally scored his first win on June 22, 1935, winning an allowance race by two lengths at Rockingham Park. His time of 1:00 3/5 equaled the track record for five furlongs.

Four days later Seabiscuit took the Watch Hill Claiming Stakes by two lengths in :59 3/5, breaking the track record in the process, but the winning form didn't last. The little bay only managed to place once in his next five starts, running second in an allowance race at Suffolk Downs.

At the end of September Seabiscuit was sixth behind future Kentucky Derby winner Bold Venture in an allowance race at Saratoga, was sixth again in the Babylon Handicap at Aqueduct, and two days later was third in the slop. He finally got to the winner's circle again after winning an allowance race, then ran fourth in the Eastern Shore Handicap.

A week later he was a well beaten ninth in the Remsen Handicap, and fared no better in the Constitution Stakes, finishing tenth. Given two weeks off, Seabiscuit won the Springfield Handicap at Agawam in track record time, then won the Ardsley Handicap at Empire City by three lengths, again setting a new record. He was second in the Pawtucket Handicap, and finished off the board in the Walden Handicap, coming home a bit lame and thus ending the season.

Seabiscuit had run thirty five times as a juvenile, winning five times, running second seven times, and earning $12,510. Three-year-old Omaha had run nine times, winning six races and $142,255. His Kentucky Derby victory alone netted $39,525.

As for Seabiscuit's former companions in the fields of Claiborne Farm, Tintagel had been sold to Marshall Field, and was named Champion Juvenile Colt. Forever Yours earned honors as the Champion Juvenile Filly for Mrs. Ethel V. Mars. Both had been bred by Bull Hancock himself. Belair Stud's Granville had won once in seven starts, but was destined for better things. Snark, too, had some glory in his future, and Flares went to England, where he avenged his full brother Omaha's defeat in the Ascot Gold Cup. Seabiscuit was to top them all, but he still had some hard days ahead of him.

He was used as a work horse for Granville. Legend has it that he remembered the colt from their days on Claiborne Farm, and actively tried to beat him in their trials. Horses have been known to do stranger things than that, and it seems that Seabiscuit did run harder in his works with Granville than he did when galloping alone. Whether he nursed an active grudge or simply liked the company can't be proven. The cranky disposition that Seabiscuit developed that winter was sometimes attributed to the fact that he was never allowed to win the matches with the Gallant Fox colt. The cause could have simply been pain in his inflamed knee, or a lack of recreation, but regardless of the cause, Seabiscuit became a stall walker, losing weight and condition. The habit didn't do his bad knee much good, either.

Seabiscuit began his sophomore campaign at Jamaica, running second and third in the space of five days. After a pair of fourths, he won an allowance race at Narragansett. Granville, in the meantime, lost his rider in the Kentucky Derby, then lost the Preakness in a photo finish.

Seabiscuit was badly outrun in the New Hampshire Handicap, sixth in an overnight handicap, and tenth in the Commonwealth Handicap before scoring again, this time in an allowance race at Suffolk Downs. He was fourth in the Miles Standish Handicap, then scored a six length win in the Mohawk Claiming Stakes. A week later he won an overnight handicap by four lengths. It was to be his last race in the Wheatley colors.

Silent Tom Smith had taken an interest in the bay son of Hard Tack, and bought him on behalf of Charles S. Howard for the sum of $7,500. Buying Seabiscuit was the turning point in Tom Smith's career. Once Seabiscuit began winning, he added to his employers growing stable. Coramine, Mioland, and Kayak II all won a number of important stakes for Silent Tom Smith, who even lasted a few years at Mrs. Elizabeth Arden Graham's Maine Chance Farm, winning the Kentucky Derby with Jet Pilot and handling the champions Beaugay, Myrtle Charm, and Star Pilot during portions of their careers.

The first thing Tom Smith did for Seabiscuit was provide him with a social life. He first tried putting a goat in the stall, but when the creature got between Seabiscuit and his dinner, the horse picked it up by the neck and set it firmly outside the door. So instead, the trainer put Pumpkin, the stable pony, in with Seabiscuit. Through the rest of his career, Seabiscuit either roomed with Pumpkin, or was put in the stall next door, and Silent Tom would cut a hole in the wall so the two horses could visit.

The trainer also devised a knee and ankle brace for Seabiscuit to wear in the stall, and kept the horse rather creatively bandaged. The horse's crankiness faded with time.

The story was that the first time Silent Tom worked his new charge, he rode the horse himself and Seabiscuit ran away with him. The horse only stopped when he realized his rider wasn't making any attempt to slow him down.

Red Pollard, a former boxer who had won only three stakes races in his entire career, became Seabiscuit's new regular rider, and the pair took a shine to each other immediately.

Seabiscuit next raced in Detroit, running in the Motor City Handicap, and ran fourth to Myrtlewood, that season's champion handicap mare. (She was to become the second dam of the champion filly Myrtle Charm, who was to be the third dam of Seattle Slew.)

Next came an overnight handicap, and Seabiscuit ran into bad racing luck but still got up for third. Then he won the Governor's Handicap, beating Professor Paul, who had been third in the Motor City Handicap, by a neck.

After running out of the money in the De La Salle Handicap, Seabiscuit ran one more time in Detroit, winning the Hendrie handicap by four lengths. Then it was on to River Downs in Ohio.

Seabiscuit turned in a pair of third place efforts, closing fast both times before running out of ground, and then won the Scarsdale Handicap at Empire City in a photo finish. He was third again when he ran out of ground in the Yorktown Handicap, then went to Bay Meadows and won the Bay Bridge Handicap by five lengths. In his final start of the season, Seabiscuit led from wire to wire to win the World's Fair handicap by five lengths. Having broken two track records in a row, he had earned some time off.

An improving Seabiscuit as a four year old

Granville in the meantime had won the Belmont Stakes, the Arlington Classic, the Travers Stakes, and the Lawrence Realization, earning Horse of the Year honors. Sunny Jim may have overlooked the well hidden talent in Seabiscuit, but he hadn't been wrong in his praise of the Gallant Fox colt.

When Seabiscuit arrived in California he began training for the upcoming Santa Anita Handicap. His training had to be stepped up a notch when he started to gain a bit too much weight. A newly hired groom had taken a liking to the colt, sleeping in his stall and smuggling him treats.

On February 9 he met the highly regarded horses Rosemont, winner of the Withers Stakes and the Narragansett Special, and Time Supply in the Huntington Beach Handicap and ran away from both, winning by four and a half lengths while Time Supply ran third and Rosemont didn't even hit the board.

Forced wide after suffering interference, he finished fifth in the San Antonio Handicap, but showed great courage with his closing drive. Rosemont was the winner.

Next, Seabiscuit made his first try at the world's richest horse race, the Santa Anita Derby. He came from behind to take a short lead at the head of the stretch, and lengthened it to a length. He seemed the sure winner when Rosemont emerged from the field and began a hard stretch drive in the middle of the track. He caught Seabiscuit napping, and won by a nose in the final stride.

Red Pollard blamed his own overconfidence for the loss, and the pair quickly set about making up for the defeat.

A week later Seabiscuit ran off with the San Juan Capistrano Handicap, winning by seven lengths in track record time. He took the Marchbank Handicap by three lengths, then won the Bay Meadows Handicap by a length and a quarter.

Seabiscuit returned to the east coast and in one of his toughest efforts held off Aneroid to win the Brooklyn Handicap by a nose. Rosemont was among the beaten field, as was 1936 Santa Anita Handicap winner Top Row.

Next he won the Butler Handicap at Empire City, giving away weight and winning by a length and a half even after being knocked into the rail repeatedly. He took the Yonkers Handicap by four lengths under 129 pounds, breaking another track record, and carried 130 pounds to victory in the Massachusetts Handicap after War Admiral was scratched.

Saddled with 132 pounds for the Narragansett Special, Seabiscuit met Wheatley Stable's Snark and four others on a sloppy track. Calumet Dick splashed home the winner by a length, while Seabiscuit ran third behind his former stablemate.

A month later he won the Continental Handicap at Jamaica by five lengths, and then showed true courage in dead heating with Heelfly in the Laurel Handicap while giving him twelve pounds. He carried 130 pounds to victory in the Riggs Handicap at Pimlico, then was nosed out by the speedy Esposa, who had beaten Discovery in the 1936 Merchants and Citizens Handicap, while giving her fifteen pounds in the Bowie Handicap.

Finished for the season, Seabiscuit returned to the west coast to train for the Santa Anita Handicap. He had earned $168,580 as a four year old, winning eleven of his fifteen races. He had lost two photo finishes, and had only been off the board once, in the San Antonio. He was named champion handicap horse, and he was also the season's leading money winner, but War Admiral was crowned Horse of the Year, having won the Triple Crown. That the two hadn't met was disappointing to both racing fans and Mr. Howard.

Red Pollard was seriously injured in the San Carlos Handicap, and Seabiscuit began his five year old season with a substitute rider, Sonny Workman. He scored a hard fought second in the San Antonio Handicap, getting nosed out by Aneroid while giving up twelve pounds. Silent Tom blamed Workman for the loss, and George Woolf was hired to ride Seabiscuit until Pollard recovered.

Seabiscuit's next race was his second try at the Big Cap. Eighteen horses went to post for the 1938 Santa Anita Handicap. Seabiscuit was the high weight at 130 pounds. Pompoon and Aneroid were assigned 120 pounds each. The three-year-old Stagehand somehow got in the race with an even hundred pounds, despite having won the Santa Anita Derby.

Badly impeded at the start, Seabiscuit struggled to make up ground. He came from twelfth to take the lead from Aneroid, but was nipped by the featherweight Stagehand in the final inches. Clem McCarthy wrote the next day:

"Seabiscuit, how great a horse - and how unfortunate! What kind of a race is it that makes such things possible? The pitting of a horse burdened with 130 pounds against one carrying an even hundred! Where are the reason, equity, the sportsmanship, involved? The money went to the three-year-old with a feather on his back. But nothing can ever give him the glory or take it away from the little horse with 130 pounds. A brilliant race, a wonderful race, a magnificent, a thrilling, a record-breaking race. Pile up the adjectives as you will. But one in which the best horse was unjustly beaten."

War Admiral, in the meantime, had won the Widener Cup at Hialeah. Both Arlington and Belmont Parks offered $100,000 purses to host a winner-take-all match race. Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons stated that Seabiscuit would win if the race took place, but Seabiscuit's connections would not let him go to post in such an event until Red Pollard could ride again.

While Pollard healed, Seabiscuit went to Mexico and won the Agua Caliente Handicap. He carried 133 pounds to victory in the Bay Meadows Handicap, and then went to New York to meet the Triple Crown winner.

Seabiscuit and War Admiral spent weeks enduring a media circus before the event was canceled. Seabiscuit's knee was badly inflamed. He was rested, and the meeting between the two champions was rescheduled. They would meet in the upcoming Massachusetts Handicap instead.

Disaster struck again when Red Pollard climbed aboard a problem horse and was slammed into the rail. Doctors told him he would never ride again, and would be lucky if he could even walk. George Woolf would have to ride Seabiscuit against War Admiral.

The day of the Massachusetts Handicap arrived, and while the weather was lovely the track was heavy. Seabiscuit still might have gone to post, but when he was unbandaged his tendon was found to be inflamed. To the fury of the stewards and the bitter disappointment of the record crowd, Seabiscuit was scratched after the track veterinarians took a look.

War Admiral proved not himself as well. Instead of going to the lead immediately, he hung back, and then lacked a stretch drive altogether. Previous juvenile champion Menow cantered to a remarkable eight length win while the Triple Crown winner faded to fourth.

When Seabiscuit returned to the races he closed fast after a bad start to finish second in the Stars and Stripes Handicap while conceding twenty three pounds to the winner, then carried 133 pounds again while winning the Hollywood Gold Cup.

A match race was arranged between Seabiscuit and Ligaroti, an Argentine-bred speedball who had won a number of stakes for owner Bing Crosby. The two were never more than a head apart, and in the end Seabiscuit won by a game nose. He had given away fifteen pounds.

Next it was back to the east coast for the Manhattan Handicap. Caught in traffic and forced wide, Seabiscuit was third. He redeemed himself by beating Menow in the Havre de Grace Handicap while giving him eight pounds.

Seabiscuit was beaten by the brilliant Jacola when he tried to give her twenty four pounds in the Laurel Stakes, and therefore he had lost his most recent race when the 'Match of the Century' finally took place in the Pimlico Special, which War Admiral had won the previous year.

Seabiscuit before his match with War Admiral

War Admiral seemed to have all of the advantages. The conditions of the race included even weights and a walk up start. In a match race, the horse who gets the early lead has the advantage, and War Admiral was accustomed to showing the way, while Seabiscuit usually came from behind. But Silent Tom Smith had other plans. Seabiscuit was schooled carefully for the walk up starts, and he bolted away from the Triple Crown winner, leading from wire to wire and winning by four lengths.

Seabiscuit could have retired the undisputed champion of his day. The win over War Admiral had earned him Horse of the Year honors, and it didn't seem he had anything more to prove. When he ran second in an allowance race at Santa Anita in February, it seemed his racing days were over. He came back lame, and was retired to stud.

There was yet another chapter to be written, however, and Seabiscuit returned to the races at the age of seven. Horses simply were not brought out of retirement with success. It didn't happen. But Seabiscuit's connections were determined to try.

Red Pollard climbed up on the champion, claiming that they had four good legs between them, and Seabiscuit ran in an overnight handicap at Santa Anita. He gave ten pounds to Heelfly, with whom he had dead heated three years before, and finished third. He was out of the money entirely in the San Carlos Handicap.

Just when things seemed bleak, Seabiscuit streaked home the two and a half length winner in the San Antonio Handicap. He was assigned 130 pounds for his final try at the Santa Anita Handicap.

Red Pollard kept him out of traffic and close to the early leaders, then took command at the head of the stretch. At the wire it was Seabiscuit, a length and a half better than his stablemate, Kayak II. His time of 2:01 1/5 was a new track record. The win made him the all time leading money winner, topping Sun Beau by $60,986 with $437,730 in lifetime earnings. Seabiscuit was then permanently retired.

Visitors to King Ranch were warned not to mention Stymie, and one might have considered it tactful to avoid asking Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons about the deeds of Seabiscuit, but the trainer proclaimed his castoff to be a great horse, and in fact predicted his win over War Admiral.

At stud, Seabiscuit got some stakes winners, but never topped the charts. Whether he would have had more success had he stood outside of California can't be said. He often carried his owner on trail rides among the redwoods, and when he died on May 17, 1947 he was buried in a favored spot, although Charles Howard never revealed the exact location.

A life sized bronze statue of Seabiscuit stands at Santa Anita, reminding racegoers of his deeds. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1958 and was twenty-fifth on the end of the century poll published by Blood-Horse. The legendary Seabiscuit has been the subject of several books, including Ralph Moody's children's book Come on Seabiscuit and Laura Hillenbrand's best seller, as well as two major motion pictures.

Seabiscuit's Race Record

Year Starts Wins Seconds Thirds Earnings
Lifetime 89 33 15 13 $437,730

Seabiscuit, 1933 bay colt

Hard Tack Man o' War Fair Play Hastings
Fairy Gold
Mahubah Rock Sand
Merry Token
Tea Biscuit Rock Sand Sainfoin
Tea's Over Hanover
Tea Rose
Swing On Whisk Broom II Broomstick Ben Brush
Audience Sir Dixon
Sallie McClelland
Balance Rabelais St. Simon
Balancoire II Meddler

Seabiscuit: An American Experience on DVD
Seabiscuit Documentary

Recommended titles include: Champions from the Daily Racing Form, Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 of the 20th Century from Blood-Horse, and Man O' War: Thoroughbred Legends #1 by Edward L. Bowen, as well as Seabiscuit on DVD .
Seabiscuit DVD

Want to read more about Seabiscuit? Buy the bestselling book.

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