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A Race Horse in the Thirties

Updated on October 16, 2013


A Cure for Depression

Seabiscuit, a cute and lovable name in and of itself, was a success story for which people longed during the Great Depression of the 1930's when many a family felt that failure was upon them. The fantastic story of a horse that could go from obscurity to fame was just what the doctor ordered for the Depression blues.

Like the story of a famous person, Seabiscuit's biographical sketch must begin with his birth. This was in the year 1933 in Kentucky. As he grew, the owners felt he was going to be too lazy to be a good race horse. But they raced him anyway. By June of 1935, Seabiscuit had lost 17 consecutive races. They were races against horses that were not highly rated.

Later, things changed slightly but not dramatically. It was on June 22, 1935, that Seabiscuit won his first race, at Narragansett Park in Rhode Island. As time went on, sometimes he won, but mostly he didn't. When he was 2 years old, he'd win about 20% of the time, but these were just smaller race tracks like the new tracks in Massachusetts that just legalized horse racing that year, 1935.

But during the next two years, up through 1937, Seabiscuit began to blossom under new ownership and training. This was the topic of a success story later made into a Hollywood movie in 2003.

Seabiscuit did well in races in New York and California. Then, in 1938, the great match between Seabiscuit and War Admiral took place at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. Experts felt Seabiscuit had only a slim chance of winning, but he won due to extra training designed specifically to defeat War Admiral. That year, Seabiscuit was the Horse of the Year.

Both Seabiscuit and his jockey broke their legs in accidents thereafter, and took a long time recovering. Finally, in 1940, Seabiscuit resumed racing and started winning again. But by 1940 it was time to retire the horse from racing.

Seabiscuit was so famous that news media in the late 1930's carried more stories about him than any other horse. It's estimated that 40 million Americans listened to the broadcast of the Pimlico race against War Admiral. Not only was Seabiscuit the people's most popular horse, but he even was in the news more than the president himself, Franklin Roosevelt, at the time.

Seabiscuit's jockey, Red Pollard, also became famous. Like Seabiscuit, he also was disabled, but overcame his disabilities to become a champion.

The typical race would be about 6 "furlongs" (that is, about three-fourths of a mile).

“The Blood-Horse Magazine” in Lexington, Kentucky, is one of the most prominent racing magazines in America.” In rating the greatest horses of the last century, they rate Seabiscuit's grandfather the best. His name was Man o' War. Seabiscuit himself is ranked 25th and War Admiral 13th. War Admiral's father was Man o' War, making War Admiral Seabiscuit's uncle in human parlance.

In 2001, there was renewed interest in Seabiscuit when an author, Laura Hillenbrand, wrote the story of his life in a book called Seabiscuit: An American Legend. This book was internationally famous before the movie based on it was released 2 years later. That movie was nominated for the best movie of the year and 6 other nominations for Academy Awards.

Red Pollard

Seabiscuit's Jockey

Red Pollard's real first name was John. He was Canadian by birth. He was bigger than most jockeys, although short compared to most men at only 5'6". He'd become blind in one eye due to an accident. In 1936 he was hired to ride Seabiscuit. That year, he started winning some significant races.

He would ride Seabiscuit until 1940, but for 2 years prior to that, both jockey and horse were recovering from injuries. When Seabiscuit retired in 1940, Pollard continued to ride other horses for more than 10 more years, mostly in New England where he lived.

Not only was Mr. Pollard blind in one eye, but he also sustained other injuries from the dangerous sport, including broken ribs and arms, and a severely fractured leg. But one stroke of luck came of it when he fell in love with the nurse who helped him recover from one of his injuries and later married him.

Red's personality was said to have been full of spirit. He was a great rider and popular sports figure, but also a wonderful father and husband. He sang and played music, but is known for his reading of classics of literature as well, the words of wisdom from which he sometimes quoted to the press.


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    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      Interesting and accurate review of Seabiscuit's popularity during America's Depression years.

      P.S. Check the measurements of "furlong" distances. Eight furlongs equals one mile.