If there ever was a horse with a rags-to-riches story, it has to be Seabiscuit. It's no wonder his life became the subject of a 2003 film which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
As a race horse, Seabiscuit was undersized and often overlooked for most of his life. Perhaps it was his appearance and the fact that his success as a thoroughbred was so unexpected that made the bay colt so beloved. Seabiscuit's victories created a sensation in America and helped people forget some of the pain of the Great Depression. For many people, Seabiscuit was not just a champion, he was a symbol of hope during a time of great difficulty.
Seabiscuit was foaled in 1933. From the very beginning, he was small for his age and also had knobby knees. His owner, Gladys Phillips, recalls that Seabiscuit spent most of his time eating and sleeping.
Gladys hardly considered her colt as championship material. That changed when trainer Jim Fitzsimons entered the picture. "Sunny Jim," as he was called, had previously shaped Gallant Fox into a US Triple Crown winner and saw something in the lazy Seabiscuit. Unfortunately, he spent most of his time training another Triple Crown winner, Omaha, and decided that the best way to scratch Seabiscuit's potential was to subject him to a full season of small races.
Like many fledgling race horses, Seabiscuit struggled mightily during his first season. He failed to win any of his first 10 races and would often be found at the back of the field. Those results were discouraging. Fitzsimons and company eased on training the horse after that.
Things changed for Seabiscuit as a three-year-old. He won five races out of the 35 he rode in, and finished second in seven more races. That was clear progress but, obviously, not the stuff of legends. As a result, Seabiscuit would still be assigned work as an outrider horse on some occasions.
Before the start of the next season, Seabiscuit was sold. It should be noted that Gladys Phillips did fail to recognize Seabiscuit's potential, since she sold the horse for US$8,000, which would be about $100,000 today. Gladys probably realized that Seabiscuit had great value, if not as a race horse then perhaps as a sire. As it turned out, the amount was a bargain. Seabiscuit's new owner Charles Howard, an automobile entrepreneur, was fortunate to get the thoroughbred at that time.
Under his new trainer, Tom Smith, and with jockey Red Pollard at the helm, Seabiscuit would win four times in 1936, capturing the Governor's Handicap in Detroit, the Scarsdale Handicap, the Bay Bridge Handicap, and the prestigious World's Fair Handicap, which Seabiscuit led from start to finish.
In 1937, Seabiscuit competed in the so-called "Hundred Grander" or the Santa Anita Handicap, the most prestigious and profitable race in California with a grand prize of $125,000. He lost by a nose to Rosemont. Undaunted, Seabiscuit would win his next three races before competing in the Eastern racing circuit where he would win five more races. That made Seabiscuit the top money earner in the USA in 1937, winning 11 of 15 races. By year's end, the horse had become a celebrity, widely covered over countless radio shows and newsreels. However, Seabiscuit still lost to Triple Crown winner War Admiral as Horse of the Year.
Seabiscuit would continue to win races in 1938, the biggest one being the Match of the Century head-to-head race against War Admiral in November which Seabiscuit won convincingly despite being a 1-4 underdog.
In 1940, after bouncing back from an injury, Seabiscuit would also win the Hundred Grander by a mere length and a half. With that victory, Seabiscuit had won all the major races around. He would retire the next year.
Seabiscuit died in 1947 but his burial site remains a secret to this day. In 2007, a statue of Seabiscuit was completed at Ridgewood Ranch, the horse's final resting place.