If our recent article about history’s most famous horses has sparked your interest in racehorse Seabiscuit, you’ve come to the right place! We all know Seabiscuit as a champion, but what happened to him before, during and after his success? Who were his owners and trainers? What kind of horse was he? How did famous horse Seabiscuit die?
This post is going to draw you deeper into the fascinating history of Seabiscuit. We’ll look at his beginnings, his rise to success and the latter period of his life. In the spirit of good old chronological order and our love of a great story, we’ll start at the very beginning.
Seabiscuit: The Beginning
Seabiscuit was born (foaled) on May 23rd, 1933. His mother (dam) was a mare called Swing On and his father (sire) was Hard Tack. He came from a line of racehorses with mixed success on the race track.
His father, Hard Tack, was a chestnut Thoroughbred thought to have great potential. It was later realized, however, that his stubborn personality would clash too much with the expectation of a glittering racing career. In one notable instance, the starting gate opened and he simply refused to move.
By contrast, Seabiscuit’s grandfather (grandsire) was the celebrated Man O’War. Another stunning chestnut Thoroughbred, history remembers Man O’War as one of the greatest racehorses of all time.
Man O’War won 20 out of 21 races, most notably winning by seven lengths in a race against Triple Crown winner Sir Barton.
Seabiscuit’s Early Racing Days
Seabiscuit’s first trainer was the highly accomplished “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons didn’t expect much of Seabiscuit in his early racing career due to his poor performance in his first seventeen races. He had a stocky body yet short legs and a strange gait, which made him stand out against more elegant-looking competitors.
Fitzsimmons began to consider Seabiscuit as lazy, uncooperative and unfit for the racetrack. He elected to spend more time on racehorses he deemed as having more potential.
Seabiscuit’s early career is what gave him his later reputation as an underdog who completely shattered the odds. Charles S. Howard later bought Seabiscuit and Tom Smith became his new trainer.
Seabiscuit and Trainer Tom Smith
Tom Smith saw great potential in Seabiscuit after witnessing him compete. History credits Tom Smith with turning the “lazy” Thoroughbred around and unlocking his full potential. He took a holistic approach to training horses, something that Seabiscuit really responded to.
Spending his first two years of life on the race track had left Seabiscuit stressed out, anxious and afraid of people. A former jockey had even described him as “mean” due to his habit of “lunging” at people who came into his stable.
Smith saw beyond the horse’s apparent laziness and meanness and knew that his problems were of a deeper nature.
Smith gave Seabiscuit a larger stable and moved in some animal companions for him. They were a stray dog — Pocatell, a horse with an easygoing temperament called Pumpkin and a spider monkey named Jo Jo. Their companionship helped to calm Seabiscuit, who was previously nervous and angsty in his stable.
Smith also took care of Seabiscuit’s physical problems which allowed his sore legs to recover. His goal was to give the troubled Thoroughbred time to rest and recuperate fully before returning him to the race track. When it was time for Seabiscuit to return to the track, Tom Smith needed a suitable jockey for him — someone with a similar approach to training as him.
Seabiscuit and John Pollard
Enter John “Red” Pollard, a former boxer, jockey and homeless wanderer. Life had not been kind to Pollard up to this point — he was partially blind as the result of a horse-related accident and he constantly struggled to earn enough money to survive.
In spite of the unfortunate hands life had often dealt him, his love and compassion for horses stayed strong. He met Tom Smith in 1936, and Smith soon introduced him to Seabiscuit. The two quickly bonded and Smith chose Pollard to be Seabiscuit’s jockey.
Pollard’s gentle nature suited Seabiscuit, who had also endured a lot of stress at a young age, perfectly.
Seabiscuit’s Rise to Success
With Smith and Pollard working with him, Seabiscuit finally started winning between 1936 and 1937. He won six races in a row, after which he lost one race and came back with three more wins. By the end of 1937, he had won 11 out of 15 races and was finally making his money.
As his success grew, so did his celebrity. Seabiscuit merchandise like hats became popular and two military aircraft (WW11 Seabiscuits) were even named in his honor. As he was successful during the Great Depression, Seabiscuit was a great inspiration and served as a symbol of hope to many people.
His troubled history and underdog status made it even easier for millions to warm to and admire him.
Seabiscuit’s Later Career
Seabiscuit’s success continued into 1938. When another horse-related accident left John “Red” Pollard unable to continue racing, George Woolf replaced him as Seabiscuit’s jockey. Despite this, Pollard remained close to Seabiscuit while he was recovering.
Around this time, rumors were floating around about a possible race between Seabiscuit and undefeated champion War Admiral. After all, Man O’War had sired War Admiral and War Admiral lived up to his father’s name in no uncertain terms. Having won the American Triple Crown in 1937, he won the Horse of the Year award over Seabiscuit.
In light of all of this, it’s no wonder that the prospect of the two going head to head filled the nation with excitement. When the race was finally set up, poor weather conditions meant that it was eventually called off. Organizers set a later date, but a leg injury prevented Seabiscuit from participating.
Seabiscuit Faces War Admiral at Pimlico
“The Race of the Century” between Seabiscuit and War Admiral was scheduled a third time for November 1st 1938. This time, it actually happened.
Despite the nation’s love for Seabiscuit, the odds were largely on War Admiral to emerge victorious. The odds on him were 1-4. War Admiral was younger, a brilliant head-head racer and had recently completed an eleven consecutive win streak. Once again, the beloved Seabiscuit was the underdog.
But as we know, Seabiscuit was a horse who consistently defied expectation. Likely every spectator that day’s heart was in their throat as the two champions sprinted for the finish line. Seabiscuit, with Woolf atop him, suddenly charged ahead and crossed the finish line four lengths ahead of War Admiral.
It turned out that John Pollard had advised Woolf to slow Seabiscuit down and he would pull away and take it home at the very end. This tactic worked wonders. The win cast Seabiscuit’s legacy in iron. Scratch that — in gold.
Seabiscuit’s Later Years
Seabiscuit temporarily retired in 1939 because of an injury. In 1940, John “Red” Pollard returned to racing with Seabiscuit and together they won the Santa Anita Handicap. The Santa Anita was a race that Seabiscuit had yet to win. He had been beaten at Santa Anita twice before.
Seabiscuit’s acclaimed career had ended in victory, as this was to be his final race. He retired for the last time just two months later in April 1940. John “Red” Pollard retired from racing in 1955.
Retirement and Death
Seabiscuit spent his final years at California’s Ridgewood Ranch, where he sired more than one hundred foals. He passed away on May 17th, 1947, seven years after his last race at the age of thirteen. The champion Thoroughbred most likely died of a heart attack according to history. He was buried at the Ridgewood Ranch, and people still visit his grave there today.
Charles S. Howard, Seabiscuit’s owner, died in 1950. Trainer Tom Smith passed on in 1957 and John “Red” Pollard, the jockey, in 1981. George Woolf did not outlive Seabiscuit. He died in 1946.
How Did Famous Horse Seabiscuit Die?: Sum-Up
Seabiscuit’s is one of the most intriguing stories not simply because he was a champion. Seabiscuit the racehorse was part of something much greater than his wins.
His story fascinates me because of the hope and inspiration he brought to people in an incredibly difficult time. It tantalizes me because he was the ultimate beater of the odds. Most of all, it intrigues because the people around him formed a spectacular and unbeatable team — a team that wasn’t simply all about winning.
This was a team that deeply loved, cared for, and believed in Seabiscuit the horse, not just Seabiscuit the champion.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this post about the legendary Seabiscuit. As always, thanks for stopping by at Simple Horse Life!