Seabiscuit: 1938 Horse of the Year

Seabiscuit
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 Equipose, then at the height of
his career. Equipose 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.
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.
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